are looking at better ways to cope with water shortages. They're worried about
predictions from scientists that population pressures will increase the demand
for water to meet needs for food and energy. This concern comes
as countries try to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals. Among them -- cutting in half the number of
people needing access to clean drinking water by 2015. From Washington,
reporter William Eagle spoke to several water specialists who say in many
cases, better management and governance can help meet the challenge.
specialists fear the global financial crisis could reduce investments in the
world's water resources.
Many are asking global
donors to include water infrastructure in the stimulus packages for re-starting
their economies. Economists say every dollar spent on water and
sanitation yields $8.00 US in income, productivity and infrastructure-related
They also have
ideas for national and local governments.
One is the expanded
use of microfinance -- loans to community groups and local businesses for water
delivery and purification.
Catley-Carlson is a former chair of the Global Water Partnership and currently
a patron of the group. She says microfinance works best with projects that provide
"[For example]," she explains, "you might go to [a local entrepreneur] making concrete foot pads or bowl for a
latrine. The entrepreneur might use a micro finance loan to increase his
capacity to do that or to buy [a vehicle] for transporting [the final product,
microfinance] may not be good for a family to get a well because it will not create
the short-term cash flow needed to repay the micro-finance loan.]"
countries are experimenting with what's called "solidarity financing," whereby some
of the taxes from wealthier communities and governments are used to help
finance water projects in poor areas. For example, the government of Burkina
Faso uses a levy on water charges to help provide clean water and sanitation in
also see a need to improve government handling of water projects, especially in
areas where financing is limited.
Stef Smits is a program
officer at the IRC International Water and Sanitation Center in The Hague. Sometimes, he notes, local communities lack the technical expertise
to plan and implement a project.
In response, Smits
says, some countries divide the duties between local, provincial and federal levels
"In Latin America," he says, "decision-making responsibilities stay at the local government level but it's at
higher levels, like provincial or departmental, where you can have economies of
scale for technical capacity.... For example, a small rural district cannot
afford to hire an engineer or lease a car, but [that can be done at the
provincial level, by a federal ministry, or by] a couple of municipalities which
are able to join forces."
Support for Government Institutions
Some water experts
encourage a stronger, more centralized approach to the delivery of water
Simon Thuo is the East African coordinator for the Global Water Partnership, an
international network that helps developing countries manage their water
He advocates the
strengthening of public institutions, including ministries of agriculture, whose
roles in developing and implementing water initiatives have been supplanted in
recent years by local NGOs.
Thuo says that came
partly in response to a drive to reduce the role of government-run agencies and
to privatize water delivery and other public services.
agencies]," he says, "felt it was not their role to undertake these functions because [such
tasks] are better carried out by the private sector, which could do better. But
[privatized services] have not been able to perform, and public institutions [have]
been emasculated. So you need to reverse [this focus on non-public agencies]....
If there is an environmental management agency or ministry of agriculture, it
needs to undertake its functions in a more rigorous and efficient way than in
Population and Water Delivery
Thuo says nations
can also cut costs and improve efficiencies by encouraging education and
urbanization -- two things, he says, that can lead to smaller families and therefore
less pressure on water resources.
"It is more expensive
per capita," says Thuo, "to provide water to distributed populations [in rural areas] than to
concentrated [urban] ones. That's because [water supply and distribution] is
more efficient in urban areas than in rural areas where you may have a single pipeline
extending kilometers to serve three or four households or communities."
Other experts say
efficiencies can be made in planning water projects.
For example, participants
at last week's fifth World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, said water from
hydroelectric dams could be stored in aquifers or floodplains. They also
suggested improving metering and pricing to promote savings.
And parliamentarians at the meeting encouraged
greater legislative oversight of water projects. In response, the World Water
Council says it will make them a data base of best global practices and
legislation . It will also create a permanent "Helpdesk" that will answer
questions within 48 hours to 10 days.