To understand why water provision is especially vulnerable to corruption, consider this "equation":
Corruption = monopoly + discretion - accountability.
Thus, you see why I spend so much time on this blog discussing the troubles with monopolies, asymmetric information (water managers know more than us) and community oversight of water agencies.
And here are more details on water's vulnerability to corruption (quoting from the report):
- Water governance spills across agencies. Water often defies legal and institutional classification, creating a regulatory lacuna and leaving governance dispersed across countries and different agencies with many loopholes to exploit.
- Water management is viewed as a largely technical issue in most countries. Managing water is still predominantly approached as an engineering challenge. Consideration for the political and social dimensions of water, including corruption issues and their costs, is limited.
- Water involves large flows of public money.Water is more than twice as capital-intensive as other utilities. Large water management, irrigation and dam projects are complex and difficult to standardise, making procurement lucrative and manipulation difficult to detect.
- Private investment in water is growing in countries already known to have high risks of corruption. Nine of the ten major growth markets for private sector participation in water and sanitation are in countries with high risks of corruption, posing particular challenges for international investors.
- Informal providers, often vulnerable to corruption, continue to play a key role in delivering water to the poor. Informal water providers provide important bridging functions in many developing countries to bring water to the poor. They often operate in a legal grey zone, however, making their operations vulnerable to extortion and bribery.
- Corruption in water most affects those with the weakest voice. Corruption in water often affects marginalised communities, the poor or . in the case of its impact on the environment -- future generations. These are all stakeholders with a weak voice and limited ability to demand more accountability.
- Water is scarce, and becoming more so. Climate change, population growth, changing dietary habits and economic development all exacerbate local water scarcities. The less water there is available, the higher the corruption risks that emerge in control over the water supply.
- In Mexico, the largest 20 per cent of farmers reap more than 70 per cent of irrigation subsidies. Moreover, corruption in irrigation exacerbates food insecurity and poverty.
- In China, corruption is reported to thwart the enforcement of environmental regulations and has contributed to a situation in which aquifers in 90 per cent of Chinese cities are polluted and more than 75 per cent of river water flowing through urban areas is considered unsuitable for drinking or fishing.
- In developing countries, corruption is estimated to raise the price for connecting a household to a water network by 10-30 per cent.
I leave you with this bottom line from Wangari Maathai (2004 Nobel Laureate for Peace):
Water is the driving force of all nature. It is essential for the workings of our ecological systems. It is essential for our health and the health of our communities. It features prominently in our spiritual life. It binds us together through shared waterways and shared water sources. It shapes our relationship with nature, politics and economies.
Managing water wisely is as paramount to our common future as it is difficult to achieve. Different visions, values and interests compete for shaping water governance. But one fact is clear: the global water crisis that destroys sources of water and waterways, and leaves a large portion of the world without access to safe drinking water, that destroys lives and livelihoods all over the world and that continues to create ecological disasters at an epic and escalating scale is a crisis of our own doing.
It is a crisis of governance: man-made, with ignorance, greed and corruption at its core. But the worst of them all is corruption.
Corruption means power unbound. It gives the powerful the means to work against and around rules that communities set themselves. This makes corruption in water particularly pernicious. It allows the powerful to break the rules that preserve habitats and ecosystems, plunder and pollute the water sources that entire world regions depend upon and to steal the money that is meant to get water to the poor. Corruption shuts smallholders out of irrigation systems, displaces communities with impunity during dam construction, disrespects carefully crafted arrangements for water-sharing across borders, and permits the poor and ignorant to carry out activities that undermine the environment and their livelihoods, all with grave consequences for environmental sustainability, social cohesion and political stability. Perhaps most destructive of all, the force of corruption threatens to create a situation in which the rules continue to be gamed in favour of the powerful and efforts for reform are thwarted.
Tackling corruption in water is therefore a prerequisite for tackling the global water crisis.