New currents in water supply

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As we head towards World Water Day this Wednesday, we here at the World Bank Group are still mulling over our annual Water Week, held at the end of February. We heard about some emerging issues of importance such as the role of water in climate change adoption, as well as the need to focus more on groundwater as well as water quality. However, in terms of the intersection between water and the private sector, we also took stock of the landscape in water supply and sanitation public-private partnerships (PPPs).

The total number of countries with water PPPs in operation has been growing every year. Sixteen countries have introduced for the first time private sector participation in water since 2000, including Russia. However, 20 countries which had water PPPs have reverted to public-management-only models.

These trends show a more distributed role for public and private actors, as well as for civil society, in the water supply arena. We have been seeing lots of "hybrid" models which work in terms of distributing risks more realistically. Hybrid financing schemes involve the sourcing of financing from both public and private sources, unlike the more conventional private project financings for bulk water and service-level activities.

What else is new in water supply PPP? We are seeing not only...

publicly-owned water utilities in Europe, but also from developing countries, become more active in the water sector. Similarly, there are private operators in the developing world taking on international roles more often than before.

As smaller cities start to see faster population growth in the future, historical roles for large water utility operators in large cities will be challenged. These hybrid management models are likely to be the source of solutions for towns considered too big for rural solutions and too small for traditional utilities. In short, water is anybody's (and everybody's) business ....


Tracy Hart

Senior Environmental Specialist

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