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Collaboration key tool in promoting transparency in water industry - experts

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 23 Aug 2011 16:13 GMT
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STOCKHOLM (TrustLaw) - Policymakers are seeking new ways to combat corruption within the water industry as rapid urbanisation puts more pressure on where and how water will flow for domestic, industrial and agricultural needs.

Forms of corruption in the water industry can range from misappropriation of funds to drilling boreholes for access to groundwater in the wrong place, placing boreholes on the property of the local strongman, or not drilling them deep enough so they dry out.

In urban areas some 50 percent of people may be getting piped water, but in many cases they do not have water access all the time. This can lead to corrupt practices, such as tampering with a water meter, tapping into piped water illegally or fraudulent payments.

“Corruption really is very encompassing within the water sector,” said Håkan Tropp, director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Water Governance Facility at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWA).

The water crisis is not related to the physical availability of water, but to unbalanced power relations, poverty and related inequalities, according to UNDP, an environment that can foster corruption.

The problem is expected to get worse due to mushrooming population growth in urban areas.

By 2050 city dwellers will make up more than 80 percent of the global population, which by that time is expected to expand to 9.3 billion from about 7 billion, according to the Water Integrity Network (WIN) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Already almost 900 million people have no access to fresh water and 2.7 billion live without basic sanitation, according to UNDP statistics.

“Population growth and urbanization will magnify the problems of corruption,” Tropp told TrustLaw in an interview at World Water Week in Stockholm.

FACES OF CORRUPTION

Corruption in the water sector can have many forms, ranging from bribes from the private to the public sector to get contracts, to favours, nepotism or cronyism, Tropp said.

 “Private water companies can be very much linked to political levels and people working with water utilities,” Tropp said. “In such cases the people who are supposed to be responsible for improving the water supply are a part of the private water business so in fact it provides a disincentive for them.”

One strategy to combat water corruption adopted by organisations such as Water Integrity Network (WIN) and Transparency International (TI) is to get communities to collaborate on finding solutions, involve the various stakeholders and have them make the changes.

“We can promote certain ideas, we can facilitate, we can assist with offering certain types of methodologies and awareness raising, but I don’t think we can change the situation, that has to come from within,” Tropp said.

WIN has developed tools to help support contracts between bidders and authorities in the procurement process, committing all sides to transparency and integrity. The group says it has had success with a collaborative project in Uganda.

 Anti-graft watchdog TI is working throughout Kenya in several regions to promote open dealings within the water sector.

The group forged an agreement between Kenya’s Mombasa Water Supply and Sanitation and its customers to strengthen complaint-reporting and billing systems. The community committed to improving facilities and actively cooperating with technicians.

"We came to the realisation that long-term sustainable change is best pursued through a collaborative process of working together, in which each stakeholder benefits from the improved circumstances," Moses Kinya, managing director, of the firm told a panel on benchmarking governance of private and public utilities.

 Watch video: INTERVIEW: Building trust improves Kenyan water services

Read more: Stockholm meeting to stir global water crisis debate

Special coverage: Scarcity and access – World Water Week

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