IDS working papers;233

Financing water for all : behind the border policy convergence in water management

Published on 1 January 2004

This paper tracks shifts in paradigms and practices around water financing historically to demonstrate how
behind the border policy convergences have gradually emerged around key issues such as the diminishing
role of the state in the provision of water services, shifts in public and private spending on water and an
enhanced role for the private sector. It draws on examples from around the world to examine how policy
and institutional changes have been systematically created through the influence of multilateral and
bilateral donor initiatives and discusses their implications for poor people’s access to water. It argues that
there is often a gap between idealised notions of regulation and market “efficiency” and the existing legal,
administrative, socio-economic and political realities in the “Third World” which can lead to the poor
bearing the costs of changes in water financing. A review of specific initiatives around water financing
(e.g. the Camdessus Panel) reveals that recent calls for additional financing in the water sector in order to
achieve the Millennium Development Goals vary considerably from agency to agency and are deeply
political in nature. Moreover, global debates around water financing have been top-down in nature and
lack participation from southern governments, civil society and poor people. The paper concludes by
making a case for invigorating systems for public financing in order to provide water and sanitation for all.

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