Scott Anderson

Roundup: Of Good News and Water Pipe Dreams

There sure has been plenty of good news for people in recent who like good news.

Late last month, the World Bank reported that between 2005 and 2008, the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day dropped in every part of the developing world. According to the estimates, it’s the first recorded across-the-board decline in poverty since the World Bank began keeping track of extreme poverty. It also means that the Millennium Development Goal (MGD) of cutting extreme poverty in half has been reached well ahead its 2015 timetable.

While economist Charles Kenny of Center for Global Development, told the New York Times Dot Earth Blog that the World Bank numbers “need to be taken with a mid-size sea’s worth of salt,” … “Still, the trend is clear: the world’s very poorest people are mostly a little bit better off in terms of income. And to add to that good news, they’re also better off in terms of health and education.”

On the health front, just few days later another MDG with a 2015 deadline was declared complete – this time for access to drinking water. As The Guardian reported:

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation (JMP), between 1990 and 2010 more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells. Using data from household surveys and censuses, the JMP said at the end of 2010, 89% of the population – 6.1 billion people – now used improved drinking water sources, 1% more than the 88% target contained in millennium development goal (MDG) number seven, set in 2000.

As for the 783 million people who still lack access to clean drinking water, there’s not a lot of celebrating to do. Reaching them sustainably (and often where many municipal water systems do not) has been the goal behind numerous market-based water social enterprises. Yet, we’ve seen little to no analysis on what models have been proven effective, let alone ethically profitable. So it was noteworthy to see that in the same week as the drinking water MDG excitement, Water for People released a new report: Private Sector Provisions of Rural Water Services. The study, assesses both the “prominence and potential” of market-based approaches across four categories:

a) household self-supply;

(b) dispersed community water points;

(c) decentralized water treatment services;

(d) small piped schemes.

The report details several case studies of market-based water ventures that have attained moderate success and/or teachable failures when it comes to water supply, facilities’ maintenance, cost-recovery, and profit/loss. Included among the cases is that LIFELINK, which Jonathan Kalan, a NextBillion contributor, chronicled last year. This high-tech off-grid scheme developed by Danish pump manufacturer Grundfos is “a single-point water supply system with a submersible pump that is powered entirely by solar panels; the water is pumped to an elevated storage tank, then led by gravity to a tap unit in a small, secure concrete housing structure. The tap unit (the big black box) also serves as an automatic payment facility, utilizing a unique mobile payment system (M-PESA) and a pre-paid FOB key (with Radio Frequency Identification Technology), which can be re-loaded and paid by customers through a simple text message” Kalan wrote.

Although most of the ventures profiled in the study are less technically sophisticated, they each grapple with the same issues from mechanical oversight, to user fees to the critical relationship between private and government-run systems.

The report is written by Tim Foster, a water and sanitation specialist with experience in both the urban and rural environments. Foster worked as a WASH project manager and engineer throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and is currently a researcher at the Oxford Water Futures Programme at Oxford University. Foster writes that private sector management in rural water services is now promoted at a national policy level in more than a dozen African countries.

Given both policy and industry momentum “ the time is now ripe to innovate and test new private sector management models,” Foster concludes.

In Case You Missed It … This Week On NextBillion

NexThought Monday: Combining Commercial Opportunity With Environmental Sustainability By Bruce McNamerTechnoServe

Bridging the ‘Financial Capability Gap’ to Financial Inclusion By Graham MacmillanCiti

Welcoming the ’Zeronauts’: Pushing Problems Toward Zero By Grant Tudor

poverty alleviation