The lack of access to safely managed water and sanitation for 2 billion and 3.6 billion, respectively, is an enduring problem that increases public health and environmental risks and impacts. Despite the dire situation, Rather, a 2021 survey of ministers, agency heads, and other senior officials in the water sector points to institutional fragmentation as being the largest impediment to achieving good water management. This echoes the World Bank’s policy, institutions, and regulation (PIR) approach to tackling the enormous challenges facing the water sector, including low access to safe water and sanitation, inadequate maintenance of existing infrastructure, and the poor quality of services.
PIR: A framework for understanding and addressing deep-rooted challenges in water and sanitation service delivery
PIR can be overlooked in favor of investment needs, infrastructure, and technical solutions. However, we are seeing an increasing urgency around the need for stronger and more robust implementation of PIR principles in the water sector. First, as greater urban demand meets climate change effects, many cities increasingly face the imminence of “day zero” events or risk crossing a “tipping point” whereby water and sanitation service provision starts to degrade. These problems require careful planning, clear policies, and stronger front-line institutions, which are all components of PIR. Second, water utilities and other service providers, who traditionally have had quite a narrow mandate, are increasingly obliged to tackle problems outside their remit, such as public health crises, urbanization, and climate change. At the same time, economic regulation of water and sanitation services is similarly broadening from a traditional focus on market competition to the regulation of external shocks. This shift in responsibilities needs to be matched by strengthened financial and human resources and a clarification of mandates and responsibilities. Lastly, there are emerging opportunities related to technology, private investment, and innovation that can be harnessed to benefit water and sanitation services – provided there is a conducive policy and legal environment. Together with the fact that billions still lack access to water supply and sanitation, these evolving challenges demand adaptive governance, including innovative policies, evolving institutions, and better regulations.
ensure access to water and sanitation for all. A new report, “Water Supply and Sanitation Policies, Institutions, and Regulation: Adapting to a Changing World” reviews the experience of various countries on PIR and finds that:The program is designed to connect all the pieces of the puzzle in order to achieve SDG 6:
- Understanding the PIR aspects of water supply and sanitation service provision is a pre-condition for achieving sustainable service outcomes.
- Progress in achieving meaningful PIR reforms starts with a rigorous assessment of the root causes of water supply and sanitation service bottlenecks.
- In addition to PIR, there are three cross-cutting areas where there is both the biggest binding constraint to progress towards SDG 6, and the strongest demand for reforms and technical support: sector funding and financing, intergovernmental relations, and the resilience of services.
Recent trends in sector reform across the world give us confidence that the sector is beginning to move in the right direction. In Brazil, a new water law has yielded greater investment and service improvements. In Nepal, a new Constitution in 2015 introduced a new federal system of government, with changes underway to strengthen municipal provision of water and sanitation services. As another example, the Nigeria Sustainable Urban and Rural Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (SURWASH) Program is currently using the World Bank’s Program for Results (PforR) instrument to establish a results-based approach that creates incentives for reforms based on PIR principles.
In these and many other areas, the World Bank’s Water Global Practice is witnessing a strong demand for its PIR work and is continuously refining its approach and lessons learned to address context-specific challenges and offer customized solutions.
The World Bank is committed to promoting PIR in projects, technical assistance, and policy support to achieve concrete service outcomes. We call on our partners across governments, international finance institutions, development organizations, and civil organizations to engage on PIR in the pursuit of universal water and sanitation by 2030.