Public-Public Partnerships in water

Published on Pambazuka News, by David Hall, June 7, 2011.

Donors and development banks have largely focused on private-public partnerships in their attempts to develop water management capacity around the world, overlooking the vast expertise of public sector water operators. But now they too are starting to recognise the benefits of Public-Public Partnerships for the provision of public water and sanitation services, writes David Hall.

Water operators need to be efficient, accountable, honest public institutions providing a universal service. Many water services however lack the institutional strength, the human resources, the technical expertise and equipment, or the financial or managerial capacity to provide these services. They need support to develop these capacities.

The vast majority of water operators in the world are in the public sector – 90 per cent of all major cities are served by such bodies. This means that the largest pool of experience and expertise, and the great majority of examples of good practice and sound institutions, are to be found in existing public sector water operators … //



Japan has a strong history of public-public partnerships, which were used extensively in developing the sewerage systems in Japan itself from the 1960s. Since the 1980s, Yokohama, Osaka and other municipalities have run training courses in sanitation for public authorities in other Asian countries, mainly financed by the Japanese aid agency JICA.

Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA) runs a training centre for managers and staff from provincial water utilities to learn from the experiences of Phnom Penh. PPWSA has provided advisory services to the Siem Reap Water Utility, the Binh Duong Water Supply Sewerage Environment Company (BIWASE), utilities in Vietnam aand a sister-city twinning with Iloilo City (Philippines) on sanitation and hygiene promotion activities.

The Orangi pilot project (OPP), in Karachi, Pakistan, was created by community organisation planning and developing a sewerage network throughout the area, constructed by paving the lanes over sewers built using local labour and micro finance, following natural drainage channels. The municipal authority built large mains sewers in the settlements to support the development. Although the project is best known for its community base, it has from the outset described itself as ‘working with government’ and expanding the model through ‘collaboration with state agencies’.

Although the development banks publicise wastewater treatment PPPs in China with the multinational companies Suez and Veolia, the great majority – over 80 per cent – of wastewater treatment plants in China have been developed by municipalities through public-public partnerships with local public sector companies. (Bradbaart et al., 2009)

In India, the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD) has developed a new architecture of democratic change management in water and sanitation services, through a statewide collaborative PUP with water authorities and communities throughout the state. The approach has been adopted nationally by the government of India, and developed through further PUPs with public water authorities in other states in India, including Maharashtra and Jharkhand.


In Honduras, where most rural water systems are administered through community-based bodies, or NGOs, capacity-building through training and technical assistance is given at the development stage by technicians employed by the national water corporation SANAA. (Walker and Velásquez, 1999)

In Brazil, in the 1970s and 1980s, the federal agency PLANASA provided public funding to support the investments of state water companies and their efforts to meet the challenges of growing urbanisation. More recent PUPs include: Ibiporã’s municipal water operator SAMAE has joined ten other municipal undertakings to establish a consortium for the creation of a laboratory for water analysis, and has entered a PUP with Parana State’s technical assistance agency EMATER and a municipality for the extension of water supply services in rural areas.

Costa Rica’s state owned water supply and sanitation operator AyA (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados) also acts as a source of support and capacity for community-run rural services (ASADAS). AyA provides financial and technical support for ASADAS and, after due process, takes over those struggling to deliver services.

In Argentina, after the termination of the Azurix-led concession in Greater Buenos Aires, the provincial government created a new public sector company, Aguas Bonaerense SA (ABSA), with strong public participation at many levels. ABSA is co-owned and operated by a workers cooperative ‘5 de setiembre S.A.’, which is also providing technical assistance to a number of smaller Argentinian water systems[1], and supporting the Peruvian city of Huancayo through a partnership aiming to reduce costs, increase maintenance and investment, to orientate service delivery to the needs of the population, and develop institutional reform to democratise the utility and make it accountable to the public.

The public water company of Uruguay, OSE, has formed a partnership providing technical expertise and support for management improvement in ESSAP, the water authority in Paraguay; OSE has also provided technical support for the design of a water supply system in the area of Lago Nokoué, Benin.


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