Narrow Ideology Keeps Taps Dry
Friday, August 17, 2007
A BILLION people lack clean water and 2,6-billion lack basic sanitation, but the obstacles they face usually have more to do with ideology than practicality, as we learn in Stockholm where nearly 2500 experts have gathered for World Water Week. Even though private water services deliver clean and safe water to millions around the world, many politicians and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) oppose profit being made from ?essential resources? such as water. Oxfam says: “Rich country governments and international agencies such as the World Bank ? hinder development by pushing private sector solutions that do not benefit the poor.”
In this vision, the private sector consists of large multinationals that serve only the wealthy and exploit the poor. But when public utilities refuse to recognise and connect
slum-dwellers, it is the private sector ? from water porters to larger companies ? that serves the poor.
I recently visited the Kenyan city of Kisumu, where half the population has no domestic water connection ? a consequence of ineffective public management and rapid urban growth . In the void left by the public utility, numerous actors have sprung up to meet the demand for water.
One not-for-profit NGO served about 4000 people through a number of kiosks. Water used to cost up to ? 0,12 a 20l jerry can ? approximately four times the price of tap water in London ? but the kiosks sold it for ? 0,01. But the management committee did not consider the service to be a business and service suffered as a result.
During daily electricity cuts, pumping stopped and the suburb where the kiosks were operating went without water, though a petrol generator could have been used. Some of the kiosk operators went out of business because they could not keep going on the tiny profit allowed.
During power cuts, the price returned to its normal level of ? 0,06-? 0,12 as water was available only through water porters. Finally, the NGO decided to use the surpluses from water sales to finance other projects, rather than save for the eventual replacement of the pump.
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