Aims and Objectives

Improvement of water supply and sanitation services (WSS) in developing countries remains crucial to improving the living conditions of billions of people. Vast financial resources continue to be made available for this purpose. The resulting efforts do not, however, always achieve their objectives. The reasons are not only technical, but also socio-economic, organizational, institutional, political and cultural. In many cases, the problem is more often caused by policy and institutional factors, rather than from technical failure. In our perspective, the adoption of sustainable WSS policies requires not only a consideration of the environmental dimension, but also involves achieving greater social equality and democratic accountability in the management of water resources.

Private sector involvement

Our project addresses different forms of private sector involvement in the provision of WSS. However, we recognize that in the context of increasing globalization of markets in capital and services, especially since the 1980s, the dominant form of private involvement in WSS has become the large corporate conglomerates that operate at the global scale. Although we pay special attention to cases involving this particular form of private involvement, as its global expansion is closely intertwined with the reigning policy frameworks that we aim to scrutinize, we also explore other forms of private involvement that might offer alternative models for the provision of these services.

In this connection, during the 1990s investment from industrialized nations has flowed into the water sector of developing countries as a result of public and private aid programmes, and as a consequence of private business initiatives ranging from fixed-period concessions to outright privatization. We aim to investigate the increased but uneven expansion of private capital investment in the water sector of developing countries during this period, as we argue that this is one expression of the integration (more often hurried than progressive in practice) of developing economies to the global market. We intend to contribute to the understanding of interactions between international money flows, investment and trade in the provision of WSS, and their impact on the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of the sector. This project will address both the regional and global impacts of national economic and environmental policies, and interactions between industrialized and developing countries.

Prevailing policy frameworks

Regarding the prevailing policy frameworks behind the recent developments, PRINWASS will inter alia carry out an analytical study of the existing theories being applied in water improvement programmes from a number of disciplinary perspectives. The project will also evaluate current policies and arrangements based on a number of case studies where actual efforts at improvement of WSS through private sector involvement have been made or are being planned. This will be done in order to ensure that the work is rooted in practical experience, as a basis for identifying improved policies and implementation processes. The case studies include urban areas in Europe, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sustainability

PRINWASS understands that the sustainability of WSS systems entails not only environmental considerations but also the social, economic and political dimensions, irrespective of the relative degrees of public or private involvement in the sector.

In this regard, our research is concerned with the increased pressure that economic development processes are placing on water resources and on the environment at large. Falling water tables as a result of overexploitation to meet the increased demand for fresh water, and the large-scale degradation of water resources due to the release of untreated wastewater flows into the environment, are the most evident consequences of this pressure.

However, there are other aspects that also affect the sustainability of WSS, which we believe have received less attention in the mainstream policy frameworks and specialized literature. Despite the formal statements, the increasing evidence suggests that the currently prevailing forms of private involvement in WSS may have contributed to the increasing social and economic inequality characterizing large areas of the developing world, while the absolute number of people who lack access to WSS continues to grow. In addition, the political and financial arrangements surrounding the involvement of private global corporations in the provision of WSS have often been marked by short-term considerations, lack of accountability, and disregard for the social and cultural specificities of the countries where these processes have taken place.

Therefore, we assume that improvements to WSS should be comprehensively and fairly available, and that their planning, implementation, and management should be transparent and publicly accountable. The social, economic, political and environmental sustainability of WSS should be given precedence over the interests of private corporations and narrow societal interests. The research will examine current practices in the countries studied, and identify and evaluate policy options that might contribute in establishing more sustainable water management models.

Overall objectives:

Specific objectives:


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