United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

                                 EXPERT GROUP MEETING



                                  27 - 30 January 1998

                                    Harare, Zimbabwe

                              Towards Water and Sanitation 
                      as Sustainable Basic Social Services for All


              by Franc'ois Brikke', Jan Teun Visscher and Willem Ankersmit 

                                      Paper No.  3

                                    Prepared for the 
                        Department of Economic and Social Affairs
                                     United Nations 


                             "Towards Water and Sanitation 
                      as Sustainable Basic Social Services for All"

             by Franc'ois Brikke', Jan Teun Visscher and Willem Ankersmit *

(*  Fran‡ois Brikk‚ and  Jan Teun Visscher are staff members of IRC,
International Water and Sanitation Centre, The Netherlands; Willem Ankersmit
is a staff menber of DGIS, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The paper
reflects the views of the authors and not necessarily those of IRC or the
Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.)

       This paper embraces the 20/20 initiative as it supports the development
of safe drinking water and sanitation services, basic social services many
people still lack. It stresses the need to improve sector efficiency and to
set clear objectives and establish key indicators to measure the outcome of
efforts that are undertaken. It highlights the need to emphasize the
sustainability of  basic services and emphasizes the growing challenge to do
things differently in the sector. 

1. Introduction

       The International Community met in 1977 at the United Nations Water
Conference of Mar del Plata, and made the following appeal : "All people,
whatever their stage of development and their social and economic
conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantities
and of quality equal to their basic needs" 1/.  Twenty years later we
still need to accomplish this challenge. The same goes for adequate
sanitation which is considered to be one of the foundations of a healthy
human development. It thus seems that at the end of the millennium, our
collective and individual conscience needs to be revived. "We will need
to change our way of thinking and our operations, improving coordination",
2/ enhancing accountability and adopting human-centered and demand
based approaches.

       Lack of supply of safe water and of adequate means of sanitation is
blamed, at least in part, for as much as 80% of all disease in developing
countries 3/. A decent sanitary facility is an unknown luxury for half
of the people on earth (2.9 billion people lack access to adequate
sanitation in 1997, up from 2.6 billion in 1990  4/). It is widely
recognized that the percentage of people with access to sanitation has
fallen in the developing world, because of population growth and
declining investments. Furthermore, there are important disparities
between water and sanitation coverage, showing that the attention given
to sanitation is still lagging far behind the one given to water.
Different from sanitation, in 1996 it is estimated that 3.3 billion
people can count with safe water supplies against a 2.5 billion in 1990 5/.

       Still the coverage is far from being satisfactory, with important
disparities between urban and rural, and within urban areas between the 
"poor" and "better-of". The poor have benefited least and some people
living in low-income urban areas are paying as much as 35-40 percent of
their income to buy water. 

       The rich pay less and consume more. Many households purchase water
at considerable cost from local water vendors. Often this water involves
a high sanitary risk, being contaminated at the source or during
collection or transport 6/.

       OECD global figures indicate that ODA funding has decreased from US$
43.2 billion in 1991 to US$ 39.1 billion in 1996 7/. This decrease in
funding stems mainly from the lower contributions from the United States,
Spain, Italy and Finland, whereas the other countries maintained there
funding level. Nevertheless according to the Chairman of the Development
Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD : "It is hard to imagine that the
volume of ODA will increase dramatically in the near future" 8/.

2.  Lessons learnt 

       While coverage figures for water supply seem to have
increased over the past years, it is false to conclude that we are on the
right track. Particularly in the low-income areas coverage figures have
not been able to keep up with the pace of  population growth. The poor
are still marginalized when it comes to benefiting from sector
investments and present approaches do not allow to solve the problem
efficiently.  Also the coverage figures do provide a rosy picture as many
installed systems provide neither the continuity nor the water quantity
or quality that is needed 9/ . This is partly because the organizations
responsible for providing the service have limited management capacity,
hardly any back-up support and do not succeed to cover even the cost of
operation and maintenance 10/. This leads to inadequate functioning and
eventually to abandoning of systems, representing a considerable loss of
investments. Still the emphasis in the sector seem to remain on enhancing the
coverage through the construction of new systems, because of political
pressure and because doing things as usual is convenient. This approach
generates short term results, but does not consider the negative impact of the
resulting failures, and the deception of the communities involved. 

       On the positive side we see that more and more governments and
institutions are gradually initiating a process of change in which they adopt
a more integrated and demand responsive approach to problem solving, and
become willing to place more emphasis on sustainable functioning and effective
use of the systems. We see increasing interest of public sector agencies
in participatory approaches involving the community in their attempt to do
more with less financial resources. Government agencies are searching for
alternatives as they  begin to accept that "blue print" development strategies
have been shown to be ineffective in meeting the basic needs of large numbers
of marginalized, vulnerable people 11/. 

       It is obvious that this shift is needed and that it is essential to
look at the sector in a holistic manner, integrating issues of sustainable
water and sanitation, waste disposal, water resources management, land and
water use, health and nutrition and hygiene behavior. 

3.  Water supply and sanitation a basic services for all

       Originally, basic social services were defined as those services
that are a fundamental prerequisite for the sustainable achievement of
social development. They encompass : population programmes and
reproductive health; health care; nutrition; environmental health
including water supply and sanitation; basic education; and shelter.
Basic social services are of particular importance in reducing the worst
aspects of absolute poverty. They yield high returns and are associated
with  strong positive externalities. Finally, basic social services are
characterized by strong complementarities 12/ . 

       In October 1995, the United Nations Administrative Committee on
Coordination (ACC) established the Task Force on Basic Social Services
for All to help coordinate the response of the United Nations System  and
galvanize the system around priority goals and objectives emerging from
the recent United Nations Conferences. 13/

       Considering water and sanitation as a basic social service has
helped to give this sector a high priority.  It underscores the
importance of the sector for economic and social development and for
poverty reduction as a whole. This however can only be achieved if the
services that are established can be sustained. 

4.  What does the 20/20 Initiative imply for sector financing ?

       The 20/20 Initiative was initially conceived in 1994, by UNDP,
UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, as a pragmatic way of accelerating the
mobilization of resources from national and external sources, in favour
of basic social services, by reallocating 20% of the total government
budget and 20% of ODA to these services. This idea as developed so far
entails important and very positive implications but also some
limitations. Some of the more important ones include:  

-  The initiative may generate additional funding for the sector. The
   present global ratio is approximately 13/10, which means that an
   average of 13 percent of national budgets and an average of 10 percent
   of ODA are used for the financial, human and institutional capacity 
   to deliver basic social services 14/ . Increasing this ratio to 20/20
   would mean generating an important additional source of funding. On the
   ESA side, in theory there is room for increased funding because the
   commitment of OECD countries to devote 0.7% of the GNP to ODA is far
   from being reached for most of them. The economic development however
   makes this expectation less realistic so as an alternative a
   reallocation of ODA funds could be strived for.  Governments face
   similar limitations, and some of them are confronted with drastic
   measures (Structural adjustment policies), which put their spending
   under pressure. So in this case also a reallocation of national funds
   needs to be explored perhaps at the expense of military expenditure
   (see box);

-  Alternative funding is needed. The 20/20 Initiative does not insist on
    the need to develop jointly or in parallel the use of local resources,
    especially at community level, where micro-credit systems could be
    introduced; a public/private partnership can very much help to
    generate additional resources and enhance long term financial
    sustainability. The idea to draw heavier on private sector funding
    that is reclaimed though users contributions is quickly gaining
    ground. User contributions can be increased, provided that reliable
    services are being provided and users get a better say in the
    development of the services. Actually it is only fair that users and
    particularly the better off pay for the services as in the past a lot
    of subsidized systems have primarily benefited them and not the poor.
    This is an important addition to the initiative because it would help
    to redress this balance. This does not imply that the poor should not
    pay at all. They may not be in a position to pay the full price and
    particularly the investment cost, but running cost need to be met by
    the users in order to sustain the service. 

    If private capital will not cater for the needs of the poor, because
    of a possible negative rate of return , public and donor funds have
    to be mobilised for low-cost water supply and sanitation in rural and
    peri-urban areas, where cost-recovery from users is not (yet)
    possible, and this is exactly the aim of the 20/20 initiative.

-   Efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of investments needs to
    be increased. Increasing resources does not guarantee efficiency and
    effectiveness and here a lot of efforts are needed (see box). Whereas
    the 20/20 initiative indicates the need for human resource development
    that may help to enhance efficiency, it does not sufficiently stress
    the need to enhance the sustainability of sector investment. This is
    perhaps the most important challenge ahead where ESAs can be acting as
    catalysts and facilitators and implementing organizations should be
    held accountable for the sustainability of their achievements. 

5.  Searching for sustainable solutions

    So we need to include the search for sustainability in the 20/20
initiative. For the WSS sector the following  definition helps to clarify

A water supply system is sustainable when it:

-  continuous to provide an efficient and reliable service, at a level
   which is desired
-  can be  financed or co-financed  by the users
-  can be maintained  with limited but feasible external support and
   technical assistance, and 
-  is being used in an efficient way, without negatively affecting the
   environment, conserving it for  the generations to come 15/.

       The search for sustainability implies that a match is needed between
four dimensions, the community, the environment, the technology and the
legal and institutional context. 

       In this the community dimension includes its capacity to manage,
operate and maintain a system; the availability of skills; its capacity
and willingness to pay, its cultural and social structure, its health
awareness and hygiene behaviour; and its gender balance. The
environmental dimension includes the availability of fresh water
resources (in quantity and quality), its proper management, protection
and conservation. The technology dimension includes, the available
technology, the capacity to respond to present and future demands and
consumption patterns; its capital and maintenance costs; its impact on
environment; its complexity and the availability and cost of spare parts.

Putting the bill for sustained water supply and sanitation coverage in
(Extracts from The sanitation Gap : Development's deadly menace by Akhtar
Hameed Khan, in : The Progress of Nations, 1997, UNICEF)

So far in this decade, governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America have
invested roughly US$ 2.1 billion a year in water and sanitation services
for rural and under-served urban areas - and still they fell behind. The
cost for achieving universal coverage would be an additional US$ 4.7
billion a year (in 1994 dollars) for a decade, bringing the total
investment required to US$ 6.8 billion per year. The figure also includes
$300 million a year for hygiene education programmes, which are just as
important as latrines...Operating and maintaining sanitation systems adds
another 5-20 percent to the bill.

A bill of US$ 68 billion over 10 years may sound high. But it is only 1
per cent of what the world will spend on military expenditures in the
same period. Given the cost to human health of  failing to provide proper
water and sanitation facilities, it is hard to understand how a humane
society can say no...

Water systems are notoriously leaky in developing countries, where 30 to
60 per cent of the water treated and pumped never makes it to the
consumer, because of leaks, illegal tapping (and inappropriate
administration of bills). Such losses cost Latin Americans, for example,
between US$ 1 billion and US$ 1.5 billion each  year - the amount needed
annually to provide water and sanitation services to all the regionžs
currently underserved citizens by the year 2000.

       These dimensions are set within an overall legal and institutional
context of regulations and availability of technical/financial assistance
and support that can best accessed through a partnership between the
community and public or private institutions 16/; most of the
developing countries today are going through important institutional
changes, transferring responsibilities to decentralized and
deconcentrated levels. The role of the central government changes from
provider to facilitator and regulator; this means devolving
responsibility for management of water supply and sanitation services to
the lowest possible level, while government remain responsible for policy
development and the establishment and enforcing of the legislation. This
institutional "change", concerns also the involvement of the "formal" or
"informal" private sector. It may be questioned whether privatization is
the universal solution, particularly because the private sector is weak
in many countries. Also it is not clear if privatization caters for the
needs of the urban and rural poor where profit margins may be small.

       Searching for sustainable solutions requires therefore to integrate
all the consequences that these institutional changes are inducing, in
terms of roles, responsibilities, and capacity. Through an informed
dialogue with the stakeholders sustainable solutions can be found  that
are based on a clear understanding of the different perceptions of the
problems and demands that exists and the possible solutions that are
available, prerequisites of a demand-driven approach. 

6.  Strengthening the 20/20 initiative

       The WSS sector can benefit from the 20/20 initiative and can help
to make it happen by drawing on some of the lessons learnt. What is
particularly needed is to:

-   Put stronger emphasis on sustainibility of investments. This will very
    much help to reorient the thinking and the action, shifting the focus
    to longer term objectives instead of short term results. This is
    crucial as it will place much more emphasis on adequate water
    resources management, prevention of pollution and ensuring the
    development of good quality facilities that provide a continuous and
    adequate service that is effectively used. This will have an
    additional benefit in that it makes sector investments more

-  Setting objectives and indicators together with the stakeholders to
   clarify expected results and make it possible to enhance
   accountability.  Objectives and indicators need to move away from input
   and output and focus on sustained outcome. So not just number of people
   reached with new projects (coverage) but number of people having access
   to water supply and sanitation systems that are functioning and are
   effectively used (sustained coverage). Governments and ESAžs adopting
   this approach will be in a position to guide their agencies and make
   them accountable for results.
-  Adopting a learning perspective in capacity building and technology
   sharing, as blue print approaches do not work. It is essential that the
   different perceptions of problems and solutions are shared in a
   learning environment in which academic knowledge and community
   experience are equally valued and shared in a dialogue that allows the
   adaptation of technologies and methodologies to the local environment 17/.

-  Create or strengthen platforms for decision making and resource
   negotiation to establish the dialogue between stakeholders and ensure
   a better management and distribution of resources and benefits. This
   requires access to information for all and strengthening the bargaining
   powers of men and women in communities, to make them a better match in
   the discussion with the other stakeholders.

-  Enhance community and individual access to local resources and private
   funding. It is positive that the commercial value of water supply is
   being recognized and that users are expected to pay a reasonable price
   for it. If those who can afford and have access to loans coming from
   private banking, in order to improve their facilities, these costs
   could not longer be part of government programmes, hence freeing up
   resources for the poor. This implies that the bottleneck of access to
   funding needs to be overcome, by establishing banking facilities,
   micro-credit schemes, revolving funds, national/international guarantee
   funds and leasing.
-   Focusing the subsidies to the poor. At the end of 1995, 1.3 billion
   people were estimated to live in absolute poverty and if current trends
   persist this number will be growing. So subsidies will remain necessary
   but they need to be better targeted to the poor and should be more
   easily accessed by them. Governments need to develop guidelines for
   investments giving priority in using public and donor funds to meeting
   the needs of the rural and urban poor.


1/   United Nations, 1977, Report of the UN Water Conference, Mar del Plata,

2/   OECD, 1996, DAC Report, p.4

3/   WHO, UNDP, 1995, The healthy route to a sustainable world, p.4

4/   UNICEF, 1997, The progress of nations, p.5

5/   UNICEF, 1997, opus citae, p.12

6/   Gosh,G. And Nigam,A., 1995. Comments on "Financing water supply and
sanitation under Agenda 21", in : Natural Resources Forum 1995 Volume 19
Number 2.

7/   OECD, 1997, DAC Report, ODA funds annexes

8/   OECD, 1996, DAC Report 1995.

9/   Visscher, J.T ed, 1997, IRC Technical Paper 32.

10/  IRC, 1996, 1997, Country reports in Courses held in Colombia, Mozambique
and Vietnam
11/   Thomson,J. , 1995, Participatory approaches in government bureaucracies:
Facilitating the process of institutional change.

12/   UNCTAD, UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF, 1996, Implementing the 20/20 Initiative,
Oslo meeting.

13/   United Nations, 1997, Basic Social Services for All . Web site :

14/   Oslo meeting 1996. Implementing the 20/20 Initiative

15/   Visscher, JT, 1997, IRC Technical paper n.32

16/   IRC - CINARA, 1997, "Management for Sustainability of water supply and
sanitation programmes" Training Course package.

17/   Garcia, M. and Visscher, J.T. (1996). Formaci¢n de actores del desarollo
en el marco de proyectos de transferencia para el aprendizaje en equipo.
CINARA, Cali, Colombia.

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Date last posted: 8 December 1999 15:15:30
Comments and suggestions: DESA/DSD