water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

Corruption in the Water Sector: Do ‘Water Mafias’ exist?

Given the Hollywood treatment through the movie Chinatownwe see the California ‘water wars’ in action.  Conflicts between private landowners, municipalities, etc. exist to some extent or another, as does the general issue of sectoral (urban, agricultural, industrial) use and allocation.  While, there are varied perspectives on how this issue plays out (“whiskey is for drinking. water is for fighting over” ? ) on the large integrated water resource management (IWRM) level (‘Big Water’) [and I often defer to those with IWRM expertise, to people such as David Zetland at Aguanomics or one of my PhD supervisors (2008 Stockholm Water Prize Winner) Dr. Tony Allan],  this post focuses on what I like to call ‘Small Water’, or water at the level of the provision of and access to water.

At the level of household drinking water, water can perhaps be considered a (continuous, flowing) service if it is delivered though a utility service connection, but the reality for many in developing countries is water purchased in discrete units.  Many of us have seen the ubiquitous 20 liter jerry cans in which water is sold and re-sold in urban areas.

Since water is therefore a product, rather than a service, it is not unreasonable to look at corruption in water as a market imperfection and/or something that happens as a result of poor market regulation.  Water mafias have been documented in Nairobi, Delhi, Karachi, and many other places.  Water mafias aim to collude, control markets, restrict supply, and keep shortages high.

I will always think back to this failed water supply initiative in the Kibera informal settlements of Nairobi as a classic case of the water mafia.

“The attitude and behaviour of city godfathers [emphasis mine] was considered by many to be the greatest hindrance to private sector participation in Kibera. It has been difficult to pass decisions aimed at improving distribution networks, billing, metering and putting together a coherent and sustainable system involving the various interested parties. In addition to this, it is known that City Council workers collude with unscrupulous persons to frustrate officially recognised connections…

In Kibera, there are power structures within the community that benefit from the opportunities for rent-seeking associated with the existing water supply system [emphasis mine] . There are vested interests within the local administration, to some extent embodied in the positions of the village elders. Political parties have also contributed to the form of the current water system, and people’s positions on water issues are influenced by party affiliations….

water sellers in the settlement are often linked to these power
structures [emphasis mine]…

Since water vendors and kiosk owners are private enterprises, it can be said that there is private sector participation. However, the relationship between these private enterprises and local officials is not the kind of public-private partnership envisaged by proponents of private sector participation [emphasis mine]…

Viewed as a whole, the project did not work. The objectives of the project have clearly not been met. There has been virtually no improvement in distribution, and water prices have not fallen. What remains is a sense of failure and frustration that may well undermine future initiatives.[emphasis mine]…

It might have been better if the project had never been started. [emphasis mine]”

What does this mean in terms of practical purposes for any new water supply initiative?  The complete terrain of formal and informal participants in the supply, management, and distribution of water must be known and the government must be doing something to address any theft, control, or collusion. The Water Integrity Network (WIN) is a great resource for further reading in this area.


What are your thoughts? Do you know an example of a well-intentioned but failed WASH project?

water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

Sanitation and Hygiene Institutional Policies in Africa: Review of SEI Report on Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania

Rather than stay up at the 10,000 foot level of analysis of some of my previous posts, today I’d like to focus down on a recent report from the Stockholm Environment Institute that highlights some major concerns that exist in terms of the enabling environment in Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania for investments in sanitation and hygiene.

The report assesses enabling environments in each of these three countries in terms of institutional roles and responsibilities, legal frameworks, effective targeting of populations in need, service levels, environmental and health issues, and in terms of finances.

Institutional commonalities of all countries surveyed in this report include a general tendency towards centralized/ministerial policy development with limited local capacity.  Horizontal coordination across ministries was noted as a concern in all three countries, as there sometimes were confused roles and responsibilities.  Vertical coordination down to the local/community level was also identified as an issue.  There were some bright spots in the report, as institutional strengthening, decentralization, and a general movement towards community level ownership and operation.  Furthermore, each of the three countries have made recent moves to clarify policy through Sector Wide Approaches, or SWAps.

Perhaps the most salient point in the whole report was the recognition that in all three countries there was no clear separation between service delivery and the regulation, monitoring, & evaluation.  This is of critical concern, as the presence of separate regulatory bodies can, at least in theory, hold feet to the fire, so to speak.

On a related note, there was a noted disconnect in all three countries between stated targeting at the policy level and actual budget allocation.   The identified a lack of legal framework specifically focused on sanitation and hygiene in all surveyed countries muddies the waters further.

Lastly, the report correctly notes that technical specifications were often identified, without a particular focus on functionality or effectiveness.

While I have not worked in all three of these countries, much of this is quite consistent with what I learned while reviewing sanitation and hygiene policy in Tanzania last year with the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP)’s Scaling up Rural Sanitation initiative.   There, I saw a country that is making strides in terms of clarifying roles horizontally and moving towards decentralized responsibilities.

Reports like this that focus on the enabling environment in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are critical to the effectiveness any and all sector programming.  Global efforts that help countries improve sector coordination and implementation, such as the Sanitation and Water for All program, the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-water (GLAAS)  program, and the Tracking Financing to Drinking-water, Sanitation and Hygiene (TrackFin) initiative, are critical pieces of WASH sector policy effectiveness.


What are your thoughts on this?