Skip to main content

Developing Countries: Sanitation

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the appropriateness of developing water and sanitation projects in developing countries through the privatisation of those systems. (138544)

DFID has funded a number of studies into how private sector participation might support poor people and help them access basic services, all of which draw on extensive external research. These include the study by WELL, the network of resource centres at Loughborough university, into private sector participation and its impact in improving affordable access to water and sanitation for the poor in developing countries.

The track record of the private sector in delivering water in developing countries has been mixed—and it is important that lessons are learnt along the way. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, the failure of private sector water provision led to rioting and the cancellation of the contract with the private provider. In Mozambique, on the other hand, reforms which began in 1994 have ushered in a new era with the introduction of private sector management, cost recovery tariffs and better regulation. A new public-private partnership, whereby assets remain state owned but operations are privately managed, has helped about 70 per cent. of the urban population of Mozambique benefit from better water supply and improved sanitation.

In Senegal, private sector involvement since 1995 has helped about 1.6 million people living in Dakar and secondary cities to gain access to safe water. An innovative public-private partnership has helped make over 140,000 new connections for poor families at subsidized rates, and household water connections reached 76 per cent. of the population by 2006. Senegal’s level of connection to urban water services is now the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Sanitation also improved in urban areas, with 830,000 people getting access to sewerage connections or new toilets and latrines. Our conclusion is to support what works—and what works varies from country to country and region to region.

Through our support of the multi-donor Public Private Initiative Advisory Facility (PPIAF), we helped fund the publication of “Improving Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Utilities in Developing Countries: Drawing the Lessons of the Last Decade of Private Sector Participation and Expanding its Scope”. This draws on lessons from a decade of water projects with private participation. It consolidates the wealth of material available into a comprehensive paper, and provides a basis for building consensus with stakeholders.

However, we agree with the conclusions of the United Nations' recent Human Development Report that the criterion for assessing policy should not be whether it is public or private but what its effect is on the poor. These studies are vitally important, but a blanket approach applied to all assessments does not work because circumstances vary greatly from region to region and country to country and we have to respond to the specifics of each request.

The public sector continues to play the leading role in providing water and sanitation throughout the world. Most of DFID's aid—about 95 per cent. of our bilateral country programme expenditure on water and sanitation—supports the delivery of water and sanitation through governments, and not-for-profit or humanitarian agencies.

Our bilateral support for international private sector participation in the water and sanitation sector has been limited, often focused on helping developing country governments improve regulation for the benefit of poor people. One example where we were asked to help was in Ghana, where we supported a national assessment to examine the regulation of the sector and make recommendations about how services can work better for poor people.