The day water ran uphill

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Cartagena, Colombia provides an illustrative example as to how water and sanitation services can be improved. In a city where part of the population once spent up to US$ 40/day for water, a joint initiative between the local government and a private company brought the price down to US$ 8/month and increased the rate of in-home 24hr water access to 98%.

The trick was a flexible combination of civil society activism and regulation reform that gave birth to a public-private solution to the problem. Today, Cartagena is served by a water system in which the local government “retains the control of the service’s assets and provides all the necessary investment capital” while an experienced private company “has complete control over the management of the service”. For a city where 80% of the population lived in poverty and sanitation-related diseases were so acute that they served as a background to internationally acclaimed books, the long-awaited initiative reveals that creativity, commitment and governance can pay off.

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