"Private Sector Participation in Water and Sanitation: institutional, socio-political, and cultural dimensions"

28 February 2002



The Dahrendorf Room
St. Antony’s College


School of Geography and the Environment
of Oxford

With the collaboration of:

The Oxford Centre for Water Research
The Oxford Centre for International Development
Queen Elizabeth House
The Latin American Centre, Oxford
The Oxford Centre for Brazilian Studies, Oxford
The Development Planning Unit, University College London


* A transcription of most papers presented will be available for downloading in this site.

The workshop’s objectives

The workshop forms part of the first phase of the project, and focused on one of the key aspects of the research: how current national and international policies either hinder or facilitate private participation in WSS. In particular, we sought to identify the strengths and gaps in current policy practices regarding the facilitation of different kinds of private participation in the sector.

One of our research goals is to bring out existing regional differences in the policy practices in Europe, Latin America and Africa, and the papers presented in this workshop contributed to highlight some of the main issues that have to be considered. In particular, most papers addressed the potential impact of the socio-cultural and political context within which current experiences with private participation in WSS take place.

The meeting brought together water experts, academics, and representatives of the government, the private sector, the labour movement, and NGOs.

Morning Session

Don't forget the label.

Eric Gutierrez

Policy Officer
Water Aid

Paper title: "Private sector participation and its impact on the poor: experiences from developing countries"


Eric Gutierrez addressed Water Aid’s current research on the experiences of private sector involvement in water delivery in the developing world. The research also investigates specific cases where private sector involvement has not been pursued but alternatives have been found. A mix of primary research and some desk studies, the project is now at the stage of trying to synthesise and interpret findings. Gutierrez spoke of both the potentials and his concerns for the possible impact of such projects on the poor.

Ken Caplan

Business Partners for Development
Water and Sanitation Cluster

Paper title: "Making the public, private and NGO sectors work together: lessons learnt from the design and operationalization of multi-sector partnerships"


Ken Caplan's paper focused on BPD’s efforts to make the public, private and community work together. These multi-sector partnerships, as he termed them, had produced interesting results in many water projects in the developing world. Hearing from as many voices as possible in the design and implementation phase - and providing a space where differing interests could speak with one another is, Caplan argued, a key to the project’s success.

Mark Drakeford

Senior Lecturer in Social Policy and Applied Social Studies
School of Social Sciences
University of Wales, Cardiff

Paper title: "Providing Water in Wales: is there a Third Way? The Welsh experience with public and private utilities and the emergence of the not-for-profit model"


Mark Drakeford discussed the Welsh experience of water privatisation. He examined the introduction of pre-payment metering in the mid-1990s and the experiences of those unable to pay for a constant supply of water. After the regulator was challenged in the high court, “self disconnection” through pre-payment metering was deemed illegal. Welsh Water, in the meantime had transformed from an efficient public service into a loss-making enterprise. This led to the formation of Glas Cymru, a not-for-profit alternative. Though an interesting and innovative development (with many improvements on the old model and a possible “Third Way”), Drakeford expressed concern about the lack of representation of the poorest sectors of society in Glas Cymru’s board.

Don't forget the label.

Plenary session with Eric Gutierrez, Karen Bakker, Mark Drakeford, and Ken Caplan.

Afternoon Session

Don't forget the label.

David Johnstone

Independent Consultant in water and sanitation
Visiting Industrial Professor
University of Bristol

Paper title: "Some observations, experiences and thoughts on privatisation in the water and sanitation sector"


David Johnstone spoke from his many years of experience working both within and as consultant to the water and sanitation sector. Offering his observations, experiences and thoughts on this, he expressed concern over inappropriate targets being set in the rush to sign contracts. In particular, he emphasised the problems in reducing Unaccounted for Water (UFW). Often, unrealistic targets would suggest the possibility of reducing this by up to 20% in only a few years. Johnstone also emphasised that improvements to the sewerage network provided many serious problems in private concessions. Investments in the water network provide far greater incentives to private companies than so-called “dirty water” investments. This problem must be overcome.

Don't forget the label.

Veronica Strang

Fellow in Urgent Anthropology
Royal Anthropological Institute
Goldsmiths College, University of London

Paper title: "Evaluating water: cultural beliefs and values about water quality, use and conservation"


Veronica Strang explained how UK water privatisiation had transgressed many people’s perceptions of the important cultural value embodied in water. This had much to do with attitudes towards purity and trust and can be traced back through religious and non-religious metaphors. Any future moves to involve the private sector in control and supply of water should pay attention to the important cultural meanings that people attach to water.

Andrew Nickson

Reader in Public Management and Latin American Development
International Development Department
School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham

Paper title: "Public-Private Partnerships in urban water supply in Latin America: do they help the poor? Lessons from Cartagena (Colombia) and Córdoba (Argentina)"


Andrew Nickson presented his research findings on Public-Private partnerships and the poor in Latin America. He spoke of the experiences of Cartagena in Colombia and Cordoba in Argentina. In both instances, he felt moves had been made to help the poor through these PPPs and through increased community involvement. Answering a question on whether the PPPs were in fact pro-poor or pro-cost-recovery, Nickson replied that he did not see a contradiction between the two. Although the poor may experience payment difficulties, and this could lead to future disconnections, he argued that this was a much better situation than relying on highly exploitative water vendors.

Graciela Schneier-Madanes

Research Director
L'Institut des Hautes Études de l'Amérique Latine (IHEAL)
Centre de Recherche et de Documentation sur l'Amérique Latine (CREDAL)
Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Université de Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle

Paper title: "Conflicts in the Buenos Aires water concession"


Graciela Schneier-Madanes spoke of conflicts over the water concession in her native city of Buenos Aires. She addressed the crisis of the infrastructure charge that was deemed to place an unfair burden on the poorest citizens of Buenos Aires. When this was abandoned, in favour of greater cross-subsidies, the resulting charge was also deemed unfair. Analysing the situation spatially, Schneier-Madanes highlighted where conflicts had arisen and how charging had affected residents of different areas differentially. The closing of residents’ wells, as the network expanded, had also led to people challenging the cost burden for the new services.

The Speakers

Eric Gutierrez is a Policy Officer at WaterAid, the UK's only major charity dedicated exclusively to the provision of safe domestic water. He is co-ordinating WaterAid's research on private sector participation, now being conducted in Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Nepal, Argentina, the Philippines, and Mexico. He has written and edited a number of WaterAid briefing papers, including a paper on water security and financing. Prior to joining WaterAid, he worked for newspapers and non-government organisations (NGOs) in the Philippines

Ken Caplan currently serves as the Co-ordinator for the Business Partners for Development Water and Sanitation Cluster, housed in WaterAid's offices in London. The BPD seeks to demonstrate that partnerships among the public, private and civil society sectors can achieve more than these groups acting individually. The Cluster is currently working with 8 projects dedicated to improving access to safe water and effective sanitation particularly for the urban poor. Before BPD, Ken worked with the Department for International Development's Business Partnership Unit and the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum to design a project incorporating this tri-sector approach to address health and safety standards in the shoe industry in Vietnam. He also worked for several years as a voluntary environment and training officer in rural Thailand with USAID/Bangkok, and also as a volunteer for different international NGOs (including the British-based ActionAid) in Vietnam (both north and south). Ken holds a Masters degree in International Development from American University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, also in Washington, D.C.

Mark Drakeford is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy and Applied Social Studies at the University of Wales, Cardiff. He has a long-standing interest in the provision of basic utility services under privatisation, particularly in the Welsh context. He was the secretary to the Local Government Anti-Poverty Forum Commission of Inquiry into Utility Poverty (1996 - 98) and the specialist adviser to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Inquiry into Social Exclusion in Wales (1999 - 2001). He is currently seconded to work as the Cabinet special adviser on health and social policy at the National Assembly for Wales. Among his main publications are: "Water regulation and pre-payment meters", in Journal of Law and Society, 25 (4), pp 558-602; "Social Work with Minorities in Europe", in Social Work and Minorities, Routledge, 1998; Social Movements and their Supporters, Macmillan,1997; (jointly with M. Vanstone [Eds.]) Beyond Offending Behaviour, Ashgate, Aldershot (1996).

David Johnstone is an independent consultant with nearly 40 years experience in the water and sanitation sector in 25 countries. Over the past 10 years he has worked on many privatisation projects mostly in Latin America and South East Asia carrying out 'due diligence' evaluations, advising investors, creating ‘virtual water companies’, performing post privatisation audits on behalf of investors and regulators, and spent a period as Certifier of Aguas Argentinas. He has recently advised the Government of Panama on the strategic planning of sanitation services following its decision not to privatise the national water utility.  He is a former Director of Sir William Halcrow and Partners prior to which he was a Divisional Scientist and later an Operations Manager with Thames Water.  He is the author of 35 technical, scientific and institutional papers, five book chapters and co-author of textbook on wastewater treatment. He is currently a Visiting Industrial Professor at the University of Bristol.  His current research interests are on standards, regulation and benchmarking.

Veronica Strang is a cultural anthropologist. As a writer and researcher she has been involved in environmental issues for nearly 20 years, focusing in particular on land and resource conflicts and environmental legislation. Her interest in water began in Canada: from 1984-1988 she worked extensively on acid rain and forestry issues, and was involved in producing Canada's contribution to the Bruntland Report. Her subsequent doctoral research (at Oxford University, 1991-1994) centred upon an analysis of the environmental relationships of different groups in Far North Queensland, Australia. This produced a comparative ethnography "Uncommon Ground: Cultural Landscapes and Environmental Values", published by Berg in 1997. Her ongoing Australian research is largely concerned with water issues and the different perspectives of indigenous groups and European Australians. From 1994-1997, Dr Strang was based at the Environmental Change Unit in Oxford, conducting research on domestic energy use, conservation and demand side management in the UK, with a remit to provide advice to policy makers. She moved to the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wales, Lampeter, in 1997, and began the three year Dorset study described in this paper. This was funded by eight of the UK water companies, and the report was published by Water UK. She is also a member of the OFWAT Customer Services Committee for the Thames region.

Andrew Nickson is Reader in Public Management and Latin American Development at the International Development Department, School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham. He has expertise in public administration reform, decentralisation, strengthening of local government and community participation and has acquired extensive international experience of development projects. He works for DFID, EU and UN agencies on numerous consultancies worldwide, and is currently the Director of the European Union Project for Reform of the State in Paraguay. His most recent publications are: Local Government in Latin America (Lynne Rienner, Boulder, Col. 1995), The Transition to Democracy in Paraguay (Macmillan, 1997), "The public-private mix in urban water supply" in International Review of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 63 No. 2 (1997), pp 165-186, and Paraguay: an Annotated Bibliography (ABC-Clio Press, 1999).

Graciela Schneier Madanes is both an architect (University of Buenos Aires) and a geographer (University of Paris I Sorbonne). She currently serves as Research Director of Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at CREDAL (Centre de Recherche et de Documentation sur l'Amérique Latine). Her work centres on urban affairs in several Latin American countries and at the moment she is working on several projects related to architecture and networks, especially regarding the internationalization of urban water management. Dr Schneier is also Director of the CNRS GDR Groupement de Recherche "Water, cities and territories" which includes 12 research laboratories in France working as an international network in the subject. Her academic responsibilities include a professorship at the Latin American Institute of Graduate Studies and at the School of Architecture of Paris la Villette, as well as the coordination of the program of Architecture and Urbanism: Europe/Latin America. In addition Dr. Schneier is a member of the National Committee for Scientific Research in France. Her published works include Buenos Aires, Portrait de Ville  and L'Amérique Latine et ses Télévisions, du Mondial au Local.


General Coordination: José Esteban Castro
Logistic Assistance: Martin Langsam, University of Oxford
Alexander Loftus, University of Oxford

We are also very grateful to Alan Knight (St Antony's College), Laurence Whitehead (Nuffield College, Oxford) for his support, to Karen Bakker (Jesus College, Oxford) and Ben Page (St Peter's College, Oxford) for chairing the sessions, and to Jessica Budds (St Antony's College) for her collaboration.