Every drop counts: improving aid for water and sanitation.


24 June 2014

One of the aims of overseas development assistance is to make a positive difference to the lives of the poor and vulnerable. Improving the access to safe drinking water and sanitation systems can play a significant role in achieving this aim. However, there are several challenges when it comes to scale up and replicate policy successes.

Improvements in water and sanitation infrastructure are important for a number of reasons. Firstly, they contribute directly to saving lives, secondly, they contribute to improving quality of life, and thirdly, they produce positive spillover effects in terms of improved school attendance and educational performance, and improved productivity for workers via better health status.

The effectiveness of aid to water and sanitation

The proportion of people having access to water increased from 77 per cent in 1990 to 83 per cent in 2002, and the proportion of those with access to sanitation increased from 49 per cent in 1990 to 58 per cent in 2002. The number of people provided with improved water between 1990 and 2000 was US$991 million, and those provided with sanitation was US$955.85 million. During the same period the total amount of aid to the water and sanitation sector for these countries was estimated to be US$11.14 billion. Thus it cost approximately US$5.88 per person to provide access to water or sanitation.

Two key factors seem to play a role in determining the effectiveness of aid to water and sanitation: population size and the extent to which the water and sanitation facilities and infrastructure are provided by the private sector. Countries with large populations and greater levels of participation of the private sector in the provision of public services seem to benefit more from aid to water and sanitation. Population size is important because the larger the population the greater the economies of scale in providing water and sanitation services.


The positive relationship between privatization and aid effectiveness is also associated with institutional reforms. Countries with high levels of private involvement in social sector infrastructure in the 1990s introduced institutional reforms that are likely to have contributed to improve aid effectiveness.

Key challenges in scaling up and replicating successes

Long-term vs. pro-poor solutions

Investing in piped water supply and sanitation represents a more long-term approach to social service provision. However a strong emphasis...

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