WOPs are crucial for matching MDGs sustainably

Inclusive Economy27 Oct 2011Koen Maathuis

In 2000, all 193 United Nations member states agreed to join efforts and encourage development by improving social and economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were stated: ‘an ambitious list of eight international development goals and strong commitment from the international community’. The deadline of the year 2015 is now coming close. A lot has been achieved, but much is still to be done.

Zooming into MDG 7c (halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation), I clearly see a focus on numbers: “’Proportion of population’ using an improved drinking water source”; “’Proportion of population’ using an improved sanitation facility”. This focus on numbers inevitably favors a technological approach when it comes to reaching MDG 7c. Millions of toilets need to be constructed, drinking water plants should be build and thousands of taps installed.

Major risk

This focus on infrastructural development causes a major risk when it comes to the sustainability of the MDG. Because the deadline (2015) is so sharp, the operations and maintenance of this so-essential infrastructure on the long run, can be dangerously overshadowed.

Water Operations’ Partnerships (WOPs) have been created by the United Nations as well and are an effective manner to reach sustainable development in the water and sanitation sector. Working with local water utilities ensures improvements are to be embedded in the local context. Capacitating and strengthening public organizations, enable them to run a proper water ‘business’ themselves and make them more effective in their core activity, providing water and sanitation for all in a safe water environment.

Strengthening capaciy

But are WOPs an effective manner to achieve MDGs? The nature of these partnerships are about exchanging knowledge and experience between water experts. This peer-to-peer contact focuses on improving performance of the water operator as a whole. But the tasks and responsibilities of the water operator remain where they are: all partners involved in the WOP are still liable for providing proper services to the population; they remain responsible for upgrading infrastructure in such a way that everybody (including the poor) in their command area have access to safe drinking water and sanitary services, within a safe water environment.

WOPs are therefore not directly involved in the huge infrastructural developments that are needed to comply with the Millennium Development Goals. This is primarily the task of local water utilities and the governments of developing countries where the need for water services are still below standards. Local or nation funding, completed with grants or loans from international institutions should cover for these costs.

WOPs leave this responsibility with those entities, but provides the possibility for direct assistance and long term support at human resource level. Strengthening the capacity of the local organization and improving their positions in the institutional arena, ensures the infrastructural developments are properly executes and sustainable in the long run. Water Operators’ Partnerships do fulfil a crucial role in matching MDGs and sustainability.