19 Apr 2012

Catch the mice!

I met some of the folks from AquaFed, the International Federation of Private Water Operators, in Marseille.

AquaFed as an industry organization helps its 300 members in 40 countries improve their operations, but it is also a target of activists that do not like the word "profit" and public operators/unions that do not like competition. (For a brutal critique of how those biases hurt the poor, read Water for Sale.)

As most of you know, I am agnostic on the "public versus private" debate. I care most about results. And that's why I was so pleased to read these AquaFed documents on the policies they recommend [PDF], the results their members have achieved [PDF], and their spot-on economic recommendations [PDF].

Those are policy documents, but this is the money document [PDF] -- the one showing how much work is yet to be done:

Note the difference between the MDG "achievement" of less than a billion people lacking "access to an improved water source" (an inadequate measure of "success" that I've criticized) and the 3.6 billion who lack access to clean water and 4.2 billion who lack access to reliable water. There's a LOT of work to do!

Bottom Line: "I don't care if it's a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice" -- Deng Xiaoping.


  1. Let me disagree with your point No 1. Every human drinks five liters of water a day (with or without so-called access). No sane human drinks dirty water intentionally to die or get sick. If water is dirty people treat it. And if do not treat then they are playing a lottery (with usually known expected probability of getting sick - and it is very low - let us set aside why. Please do not bring Haiti or other disasters). I believe, the term access is obsolete - at least for developing countries - as water is provided by huge variety of sources: from Coca Cola products to super filtered systems - and tap water is losing its appeal. Please check for example the DHS for Indonesia in 2009 - 37% of people reported bottled water as a primary water source for drinking. Do they need access? Or will they drink from the tap if they have that option? The answer is "no" as the "access" in the country is pretty high whatever others say (see JMP report 2010 for details).

  2. Yes, interesting numbers.
    Aquafed is quoting a translation into English of a French publication (2011) by the Académie de l'eau (Le droit de l'homme à l'eau potable et à l'assainissement), which refers to a 2008 UNSGAB report, which is using data by WHO-UNICEF's Joint Monitoring Programme, published in 2006, comparing data from 1990 with those from 2004, compiled during a "rapid assessment of drinking water quality". The latter source states that "Because current surveys do not provide reliable information on the quality of drinking water, either at the source or in households, JMP reports on the use of “improved” sources of drinking-water. These improved sources meet specific criteria in relation to source protection and water treatment, but they do not necessarily provide safe water."

    Bottom line: worldwide population growth is almost as fast as 'improved access to water', significantly slowing down the reduction of the number of people without 'improved access'. In Africa population growth is faster than access has been 'improved'.


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