Lack of access to clean water supply is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in developing countries, and this is an increasingly acute problem for residents of rapidly growing, large cities. An estimated one billion people around the world lack access to sufficient supplies of clean water, and an increasing proportion of those live in cities – particularly large, rapidly growing ‘mega-cities’ of the South.
Access to water supply is frequently influenced by factors such as race, class, gender – with implications for equity and service standards. Many variables may influence the differentiation of access to modes of urban water provision (networks, wells, water vendors) in the context of decentralization and informalization of the urban economy; understanding these variables is necessary if we are to design better water supply governance models for the urban poor.
Over the past two decades, an increasing number of international financial institutions and bilateral aid agencies have advocated private sector involvement in water supply management as a means of addressing water supply problems in large cities – a controversial topic. Many large cities in developing countries now have ‘private sector participation’ contracts, operating alongside an informal network of private water vendors supplying water to those without access to the network. The performance of these private operators, and ethics of their involvement in water supply, is the subject of much debate.