Voices from the Water Leaders Summit, 2010
The Water Leader caught up with some of the luminaries of the water sector during the Water Leaders Summit. Here are some insights.
TWL: Do you think it is important to work closely with the private sector?
Anna Tibaijuka: In many cities, the water utilities are being privatised. Urbanisation means that water has become an engineering activity. Cities are becoming too big for people to manage their water themselves. Rainwater harvesting is fine for small rural communities but for big cities, the scope is very little. So public-private partnerships are very important. We have been partnering with Coca-Cola. Companies like Coca-Cola which can be efficient and also recognise their social responsibility will have a big impact. So the private sector is absolutely important.
Perceptions are changing. The private sector has a network that we don’t have. We can’t deny that. So, why not we take advantage? Why not turn things around? I must say that talking to the CEO of Coca-Cola, I found him very progressive. It is a business of course, but even government needs businesses to get taxation. So let us have a positive attitude and see what we can do with them.
Of course the private sector must be regulated. If you don’t regulate, they will take advantage. That’s why we are in governance. If the government has no idea what to do, how can the private sector play a positive role?
We are keen to improve the capacity of the governments to regulate utilities; after all they are natural monopolies. We have also seen utilities supplying services very well. Privatisation is not a panacea. We have to take it on a case by case basis and it depends on good regulation. There has to be a public oversight.
We also ensure that the local private sector plays an effective role. The small scale independent vendors are also private sector and can play an important role in adding capacity. It’s not about Veolia coming into a village and providing water. It may be a local engineering firm.
TWL: Do you think there is a tendency for governments to focus excessively on centralized methods of delivery of water and sanitation?
Anna Tibaijuka: There is merit in both centralisation and decentralization depending on local circumstances. Imagine a city with five million people living in 700 square kilometres like Singapore. If you do not have proper sanitation, you are going to pollute water sources. So we must look at the reality of the environment. There are some constraints imposed by the size of cities. Imagine 1,800 apartments; if you don’t have a proper source, and sufficient pressure, there will be problems. We should resist from idealising the situation. It really depends on the circumstances, on the size of settlements, on urbanisation itself. If you have huge conglomerates, you limit the prospect of small-scale provision of services. This applies to energy grid also. The scope of rainwater harvesting is also limited in big cities.
That’s why we are recommending policies such that secondary towns are not allowed to become such huge metropolises. There should be a decentralisation of settlements.
To download the source, click here – The Water Leader: Issue 02/2010