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    Improving Water Supply and Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor

    By Keith R | August 20, 2009

    Topics: Sanitation, Water Issues | No Comments »

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    I’ve discussed in the past here on The Temas Blog some of the challenges Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) faces in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water supply and sanitation (here, here, here and here), particularly in providing these services to the region’s poor.

    The Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP), a multi-donor partnership started in 1979 by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank but now administered just by the Bank, recently released a set of useful “Guidance Notes” based on the WSP’s experience that identies several institutional, legal, financial, and technical barriers common to providing adequate services to the urban poor in developing countries, and proposes practical solutions based on the experience of a number of relevant cases (some of them from LAC nations).

    Given the relevance of these “Guidance Notes” to LAC work in this field, I am summarizing some of these tips below and adding this publication to the Temas Recommended Reading List section on Water and Sanitation.

    Give the Poor a Voice

    The voice of the poor too often is not heard, and mis-perceptions about the poor persist.

    Neutralize Vested Interests Water vendors, organized crime, public officials, and utility staff may have a vested interest in preventing better services for the poor.

    Sometimes confrontations can be avoided by giving informal service providers and other vested interests new roles or incentives that bring them into the formal system.

    Eliminate Administrative and Legal Barriers

    Land ownership and tenure issues often create barriers to the provision of services to the poor.

    Until legal reform arrives to enable the poor to gain secure tenure, adequate housing, and services,  innovative strategies can be used that get around land tenure requirements to get services, such as allowing alternative documentation. For instance, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board agreed to permit residents to present lease documents and other ‘proof of occupancy’ documents such as ration cards, identity cards, election cards or electricity bills instead of land titles and tax receipts.

    The poor may be unaware of administrative and legal requirements, or find it difficult to understand and comply with them.

    Strengthen Capacity, Autonomy, and Accountability of Service Providers and Provide Incentives to Serve the Poor

    Public service providers sometimes lack the autonomy, financial and human resources, and incentives to provide services to the urban poor.

    Municipalities and utilities are not held accountable for the provision of satisfactory water supply and sanitation services.

    The services provided by small private service providers (SPSPs) are not recognized, encouraged, and regulated.

    Taking advantage of the services of SPSPs can be an essential component of strategies to expand and improve services to the urban poor.  Working with SPSPs may require finding innovative ways of linking them with formal utilities, providing small amounts of investment finance, introducing appropriate regulatory mechanisms, and adopting strategies for eliminating illegal and abusive SPSP activities (if they exist) without driving SPSPs out of business.

    Adopt Appropriate Financial Policies

    – Tariffs do not cover the full cost of efficient services.

    – Poor households find it difficult to pay upfront connection fees.

    – Poor households find it difficult to pay monthly bills.

    – Increasing block tariffs penalizes households that share a single connection.

    – Small-scale service providers lack adequate finance to extend networks into peri-urban informal settlements and small towns.

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