Equitable Access to Basic Utilities: Public versus Private Provision and Beyond

Providing universal access to basic utilities is justified on human rights grounds and also because of the positive externalities involved. Adequate provision of water, sanitation and electricity contributes to the achievement of the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Access to these services, however, is still unequal in the developing world. Services do not adequately reach the poor. This Poverty in Focus brings together a mix of policy issues and some country experiences. Degol Hailu and Raquel Tsukada provide an overview of the broad challenges involved in making access to basic services equitable and universal. Hulya Dagdeviren and Simon A. Robertson point out the difficulties of expanding utility networks in slum areas, which include technical barriers and a lack of land and housing tenure. They make a case for stronger public interventions. Kate Bayliss argues that the allocation of demand and investment risks during privatisation in Sub-Sahara Africa is distorted. This is because the risks are borne by governments and end users instead of the private contractors. David Hall and Emanuele Lobina provide a critique of both the investment potential of the private sector and cost recovery schemes in the provision of sanitation services. Ashley C. Brown discusses the externalities involved in supplying basic infrastructure to those who can least afford it. He argues that, contrary to established views, cross-subsidy schemes actually benefit all users and not only the targeted population. Alison Post emphasises the benefits of water metering but highlights problems of implementation and poor design in Argentina. Degol Hailu, Rafael Osorio and Raquel Tsukada examine the reasons for the privatisation and then renationalisation of the water supply in urban Bolivia. Andre Rossi de Oliveira explores water privatisation in Brazil. He argues that the expansion of coverage has stemmed mainly from high levels of investment by private operators. Suani Teixeira Coelho, Patricia Guardabassi, Beatriz A. Lora and José Goldemberg note that geographically isolated communities without access to electricity grids, such as those in the Amazon, can be served by renewable energy sources. Luc Savard, Dorothée Boccanfuso and Antonio Estache present the findings of a general equilibrium model that assesses the impact of electricity price changes on the poor in Mali and Senegal. Joana Costa, Degol Hailu, Elydia Silva and Raquel Tsukada empirically show that water provision reduces the total work burden on women in rural Ghana. Nitish Jha conducts a sociological analysis of access to water and sanitation in India, emphasising the challenges encountered in community-based schemes. Julia Kercher explains why and how a human rights framework must guide the design and implementation of private utility provision. We hope that this collection of articles will contribute to the discussion of how to provide vital infrastructure services more equitably. This Poverty in Focus is the result of an International Workshop on Equitable Access to Basic Services held on 5 December 2008 in São Paulo, Brazil. IPC-IG and the David Rockefeller Centre for Latin American Studies at Harvard University (DRCLAS) jointly organised the workshop. We gratefully acknowledge DRCLAS’ contribution. (...)