Unravelling pro-poor water services: What does it mean and why is it so popular?

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In dealing with the challenge of providing water services to urban low-income areas, the concept of ‘pro-poor water services’ is popular in the policy literature. Based on an extensive literature review, this article examines the relation between the implementation of pro-poor water services and the equity of access. Pro-poor water services comprise a set of technological, financial and organisational measures employed by utilities in developing countries to improve service provision to low-income areas. In practice, the combination of low-cost technologies which limit consumption, measures to enforce payment for services, and the use of community-based and private suppliers, means that pro-poor service often entails the utility delegating part of the responsibilities, costs and risks of providing services to those living in low-income areas. Indeed, it is by partially withdrawing from these areas that utilities succeed in reconciling the objective of improving service delivery with the realisation of their commercial objectives. Our analysis shows that in implementing pro-poor service delivery strategies, there is a risk that concerns about cost recovery and risk reduction on the part of the utility prevail over those about the quantity, quality and affordability of the service for the poor.




Boakye-Ansah, A. S., Schwartz, K., & Zwarteveen, M. (2019). Unravelling pro-poor water services: What does it mean and why is it so popular? Journal of Water Sanitation and Hygiene for Development. IWA Publishing. https://doi.org/10.2166/washdev.2019.086

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