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How do water providers and regulators deal with tariffs in times of high inflation?
Inflation is the rate of increase in prices over a given period of time. When acute, as is the case today in many regions, it has significant impact on the cost of living and of basic services, including water and sanitation. This is often felt most sharply by the poor, who are led to make drastic choices to secure essential services. Water and sanitation service providers must cover costs and deal with rising prices of operations and maintenance, while maintaining affordable service for all. This has its challenges.
In this Integrity Talk, panellists discussed the impact of inflation in the water and sanitation sectors with a focus on tariff setting, the ways to make water and sanitation services affordable to low-income groups, and the role of integrity in realising the human rights to water and sanitation.
With: Dick van Ginhoven (WIN), Virginia Roaf (Sanitation and Water for All, SWA) James Cleto Mumbere (Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network, UWASNET), Rajesh K. Advani, (World Bank), Katia Ochoa Trucios (Servicio de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado de Lima, SEDAPAL).
The human rights to water and sanitation obligate States to use the maximum available resources for realising human rights.
There is pressure to increase water tariffs to cover mounting costs of operations and maintenance.
Low tariffs drive a vicious cycle: insufficient financing leads to poor services; poor services exacerbate low levels of payment; this further undermines the financial health of the utility and leads to lack of investment in maintenance in particular.
There are significant integrity risks in the tariff-setting process: from capture to insufficient transparency or participation. High inflation has sharpened the focus on these.
States and local authorities need to engage with communities to understand their needs and ability to pay. Involving the community in designing and understanding tariff structures can improve transparency and accountability and help reduce petty corruption.
How does high inflation affect the provision of water and sanitation services?
Dick van Ginhoven (WIN Supervisory Board): Some economists attribute the current inflation surge to product shortages resulting from global supply chain problems, largely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, the war in Ukraine has increased energy prices worldwide. There are also other fundamental mechanisms triggering inflation and depreciation of local currencies. Inflation can occur when prices rise due to increases in production costs, such as raw materials and wages, or a surge in demand can cause inflation as consumers have/are willing to pay more for products. This might drive increases in, for example, the cost of energy, chemicals, housing upgrades, investment, and water .
Rajesh Advani (World Bank):
Inflation in the water and sanitation sectors can be heightened by poorly allocated funding. Governments are spending $320 billion per year on water and sanitation service subsidies. From that, 56% is captured by the wealthiest populations and only 6% reaches the poorest 20%.
In utility operations, there is a financing gap when costs are higher than funding. In other words, investment, maintenance and operating costs are higher than the available funding which is obtained through tariffs, taxes, and transfers. In periods of high inflation, utilities have to spend more resources to cover the costs of electricity, staff and chemicals, which, in combination with a reduction of public funds, increases the gap.
What is the impact of low tariffs on the financing gap?
Rajesh Advani (World Bank):
Low tariffs drive a vicious cycle where the higher the financing gap, the higher the requirement for additional financing. As public funds are usually insufficient, maintenance is neglected, worsening the technical performance of the utility. When water service provision is deficient, customers are not willing to pay, weakening financial performance and requiring more capital to restore the system, increasing again the financing gap.
Katia Ochoa Trucios (SEDAPAL):
Peru has one of the lowest tariffs in Latin America. It is not high enough to cover maintenance costs and extend infrastructure coverage.
“When maintenance costs are not covered, water is not delivered properly, affecting directly people’s supply.”
– Katia Ochoa Trucios (SEDAPAL)
How do the human rights to water and sanitation fit in to the discussion on tariffs and inflation?
Virgina Roaf (SWA):
While tariffs should be sufficient to cover costs for delivering water and sanitation, human rights require that these services be ‘affordable’ for people with low or no incomes. This also means that services must sometimes be available for free, with the costs covered by the State or through cross-subsidisation.
Nevertheless, just having a human right to water doesn’t mean that water is immediately available and that it is available for free. States need to make sure people understand this. Human rights impose obligations on States to carefully consider how they prioritise their available resources and to demonstrate that they are making adequate plans and committing adequate funds to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy all their human rights, including water and sanitation.Local governments need to know what aspects of the human right to water they still need to work on, for example: participation, transparency, and how to address corruption. Also, local authorities need to engage with the local community.
Inequalities are deepened through poorly managed tariffs and through inflation, as the poorest are least able to withstand the accompanying financial shocks, sending them into deeper poverty. Integrating human rights principles into financial thinking will ultimately improve the lives of the poorest people on this planet.
“The challenge is no longer whether the human rights to water and sanitation exist, but how they are to be implemented.”
– Virginia Roaf (SWA)
What key factors should be considered for better tariff setting?
James Cleto Mumbere (UWASNET): In Uganda, there is a legal framework where the tariff system is guided by the Constitution. Several policies clearly outline the key stakeholders in water tariff determination. For example, water utilities make proposals using statutory instruments. Then the responsible minister approves them. The current tariff structure is still hampered by two critical factors: service fees, and VAT (Valued Added Tax), which increase the tariff by about 2% and 18% respectively. Service fees and VAT should be removed from all water tariffs, especially for the poor. Furthermore, it would be important to include pro-poor performance indicators for the utilities at all levels.
“For any effective tariff guideline, collection, and payment modalities, it is important to involve the poor in tariff settings to clearly understand their challenges in accessing water.”
– James Cleto Mumbere, Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network (UWASNET)
Katia Ochoa (SEDAPAL):
In the city of Lima, Peru, there is a differentiated tariff according to the types of use (social, domestic, industrial, and state use). The domestic tariff is further differentiated between “beneficiary” and “non-beneficiary”. Lower-income residents are under the beneficiary category and they pay according to their income. This allows for differentiated payment and benefits poor households.
The tariff is established by the regulator with the intention of providing sustainable services, which means, covering the operations and maintenance costs, service delivery, and investment in projects to expand coverage. The regulator establishes the tariff with the objective of limiting negative impact on the population. Nevertheless, challenges remain in tariff setting, mainly because the price set by the regulator does not cover the full operating costs, increasing the financing gap.
How does financing, and especially loans, affect tariffs?
Dick van Ginhoven (WIN Supervisory Board):
There is a need for a clear financial position of utilities and governments. In Kenya, for example, around 50% of the water budget is spent on debt servicing, which is increasing because of depreciation. This is never going to be sustainable. We need to look at local markets to finance investment and link that investment with the regulation of tariff indexing. I suggest that existing debt may have to be restructured into local debt.
How does corruption affect tariffs?
Rajesh Advani (World Bank): Corruption happens on two levels. The first one is petty corruption causing issues both in society and utilities. Some initiatives implemented to fight corruption include using technologies, for example, payment by phone.
In Nairobi, there are multiple issues with endemic corruption but they have little tolerance for it. Utilities use technologies and engage with people by holding meetings and conferences in local areas. By encouraging communication with local stakeholders they have had success in increasing access to water and sanitation in informal settlements. There is a need to involve the community to build social capital and weaken corruption.
On the other side, there is grand corruption. When there are corrupt practices in investment planning and contracting, there is a huge impact on both the operational and financial viability of utilities. Even though there are very strict requirements regarding the procurement of all contracts in multilateral agreements, the main question we face is, what are governments doing? What is the track record of investigating and then of prosecution?
What challenges remain in tariff setting? What are the big priorities?
Virginia Roaf (SWA):
Tariffs are still too low for people who can afford to pay more. People who can access the service are paying less than people who don’t have access to the service, for example, residents of informal settlements.
Katia Ochoa (SEDAPAL):
Lima faces constant population growth caused mainly by migration of poor or extremely poor people to the city. These people generally benefit from a differentiated tariff and this category has seen an increase of 50% in the number of residents. There is still a deficiency in the methodology for identification of beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries of the differentiated tariff: it is sometimes inexact and very subjective. We may be supporting people who are not in need, while the provision of water services must be as efficient as possible to be able to provide affordable prices.
James Cleto Mumbere (UWASNET):
I fully support the idea of more local currency financing. But I think for that to happen, utilities need to improve and build creditworthiness to make them attractive targets for the financial sector. Otherwise, banks will not be interested in lending to companies that will not repay their loans. A legal framework that allows more access to private finances is very important, as is the role of regulation.
Inflation has increased the costs of water and sanitation provision and maintenance. In response, a number of water and sanitation service providers have significantly raised tariffs where possible, but not always in a transparent and accountable manner.
The urban poor are more likely to suffer the effects of inflation than higher-income households as they tend to spend a higher share of their income on water and sanitation. With this in mind, a number of water providers and regulators have undertaken significant efforts to mitigate the impact of inflation and secure affordable tariffs. This Integrity Talk highlighted a number of integrity measures used to mitigate inflation and make tariffs affordable: cross-subsidisation, differentiated tariffs, and mobilisation of the human rights to water and sanitation to oblige States to use the maximum available resources for realising human rights. There is still room for improvement in many regions.
This Integrity Talk also underscored the need to take into account depreciation. Many States have taken foreign loans to improve water and sanitation services. With inflation, the debt burden has increased due to local currency depreciation. Debt relief and restructuring, as well as local currency financing are important instruments to consider better support service improvements and ensure adequate and affordable access to water and sanitation for all.
15-minute integrity maturity survey for utilities based on integrity indicators validated in research with the Inter-American Development Bank.
Why it is relevant:
Understanding what integrity practices are in place in a utility, and how to improve, is key to having an effective integrity risk management strategy or ESG programme. In the water and sanitation sector specifically, integrity management can support improved service delivery, build trust with users, and reduce costly risks of corruption or unethical behaviour.
This survey provides insight on internationally recognisedbest practices for integrity, adapted specifically for water and sanitation service operators or utilities.
How does it work:
The self-scan is an online survey in English, Spanish or French, that can be filled in by a staff member or small team with knowledge of key governance and control processes.
The data collected is anonymised and processed in the strictest confidentiality by the WIN research team as input to a global trends report on integrity management challenges and best practices for utilities.
All participating utilities receive:
A summary of the answers given;
A personalised benchmarking report comparing individual utility scores with average scores for water and sanitation utilities, across the main integrity principles (when a minimum number of responses is collected for analysis);
A copy of the global trends report.
The reports are shared exclusively with the email provided for the survey.
Integrity Talks are interactive discussions with WIN partners about challenges and lessons for advancing integrity to improve service and reduce corruption in the water and sanitation sectors. All WIN partners are invited to participate.
To receive Integrity Talk invitations, please sign up below.
November 23, 9:30 AM CET
Integrity Talk 5 – Addressing Integrity and Anti-Corruption in the Water and Sanitation Sectors through Emerging Technologies
This Integrity Talk will explore the role that emerging technologies can play to promote integrity and identify corruption risks in the water and sanitation sectors and in climate change finance. It will also explore some of the challenges, limitations, and ethical considerations linked to applying new digital technologies in the water sector and beyond.
Water and sanitation tariffs have been increasing steadily. For many households they have become unaffordable, particularly for the urban poor. Inflation is one of the driving factors. This talk explored integrity measures taken by different water and sanitation sector stakeholders, including utility companies, international banks, governments, and civil society organisations, to address the situation and resolve the tension between making water more affordable and coping with inflation.
Integrity Talk 3 – Water Integrity for Small Water Supply Systems
Many crucial small or community-based water supply systems work through solidarity mechanisms and are often not formally recognised, eceiving very little support or resources from local government. What does this imply in terms of integrity and can integrity management tools contribute to address water quality, infrastructure, land, and maintenance issues?
Integrity Talk 2 – Water and Sanitation in Informal Settlements and the COVID-19 Crisis
How can we assess and address issues of exclusion and marginalisation in informal settlements from a water integrity perspective? How can different stakeholders use integrity and support the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation in informal settlements? What has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Integrity Talk 1 – Regulators and the Promotion of Integrity in Water and Sanitation
What is the role of regulators in securing access to water and sanitation services? How can they promote transparency, accountability and participation, and which challenges do they face in doing this?
Water Integrity Network will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates.
A new research paper from WIN, Change Initiative, Development Organisation of the Rural Poor and UNU-Merit investigates the incidence and risk factors associated with sextortion when accessing water and sanitation services by women in four different regions in Bangladesh. The study contributes to the growing evidence base exposing sextortion as a grave but hidden violation of the human rights to water and sanitation.
Being forced to pay a bribe in exchange for basic services is a grim and unjust daily reality for countless people across the world. It is all the more devastating when it takes the form of sextortion.
“Poor women faced so much difficulty to get water and sometimes some of them had to surrender themselves to those mean men as they were so desperate to get water and other services.”
– Focus Group Participant, Rasulpur (Dhaka South City Corporation)
There is significant evidence that corruption in the water and sanitation sectors disproportionately affects vulnerable populations and hits the poor the hardest, particularly women. There may be no more serious manifestation of this than being forced into paying a sexual bribe in exchange for the resource most essential to sustaining life.
Yet despite increasing awareness that women, girls, and other vulnerable members of society may face risks of violence and abuse when accessing WASH services, there is little information on where and how sextortion incidents are occurring, and scarce conversation focused on awareness and prevention.
Sextortion is not uncommon, and is exacerbated by poverty, water insecurity, and low literacy
Sextortion is both a form of corruption and a form of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). In addition to the SGBV component, three elements must be present to constitute the corruption component in sextortion, including (I) abuse of authority; (II) a quid pro quo exchange; and (III) psychological coercion rather than physical force (IAWJ). This corruption component, and notably the exchange element, may contribute to significant under-reporting of sextortion. It is therefore important to show the inter-relatedness with SGBV, while specifically highlighting the specificity and risk factors related to sextortion.
The new study sought to specifically examine cases where these corruption elements are present, in order to further understand the phenomenon, the inter-relatedness of SGBV and sextortion, and the norms that allow SGBV/sextortion to continue. The survey examined nine different forms of SGBV, four of which are considered sextortion.
Findings from the research show that about 15% of the women surveyed had experienced sexual and gender‐based violence (SGBV) when accessing water, toilets, or bathing facilities. About one-third of these cases constituted sextortion. Due to the stigma associated with experiencing sextortion and/or SGBV, the prevalence of the issue in the study area may be under-reported.
The study found that there are several key risk factors of experiencing sextortion, illustrating the need for further study of compounding risks.
Prior research suggests that women living in poverty are more vulnerable to sextortion, a risk factor also found to be true in this study. With a lack of resources to pay with money and/or goods, women are often left with no choice but to rely on their bodies as the only remaining ‘currency’.
Using a variation of the Lived Poverty Index (Mattes, 2008) to examine poverty at the household level, the research confirmed that those respondents who reported having experienced sextortion were more likely to have a higher score on the Index, signifying a more severe level of poverty.
“People don’t support the poor, when we ask for help or try to complain a crime, nobody believes us. (…) We don’t have any support, any right to be in the position to say no.”
– Focus Group Participant, Rasulpur (Dhaka South City Corporation)
Household water insecurity
Women coming from water insecure households were more likely to experience sextortion as well as to pay bribes in order to receive WASH services, highlighting that those experiencing water insecurity are vulnerable to the discretion of service provider officials. Overall, 23% of respondents live in water insecure households, but make up 43% of reported sextortion cases.
“Most of the women are helpless as they are not capable of giving big amounts of money as bribery to get the legal connection, so they are abused by the service providers.”
– Key Informant Interview, Korail (Dhaka North City Corporation)
Respondents who reported predominately relying on unprotected water sources (unprotected wells and springs, rainwater collection and/or surface water) were also disproportionately affected by sextortion incidents. Notably, none of the respondents that had direct access to WASH services in their homes reported being exposed to sextortion.
Another key aspect that contributed to respondents’ vulnerability to sextortion is their level of literacy, supporting previous research that demonstrates corruption’s potential to feed upon the consequences of illiteracy such as lack of resources, limited access to information and/or diminished power and voice. A majority of sextortion cases (72%) reported in this study affected either illiterate or partially literate women. Those women who are literate made up almost half the sample (48.9%) but accounted for only 28.3% of the reported sextortion cases.
Strengthening the response to sextortion
Much remains to be done to combat the issue of sextortion. Existing legal frameworks, including anti-corruption and SGBV legal frameworks, are largely inadequate at raising awareness and prosecuting the act, and very few countries have adopted or even discussed specific legislation to address the problem (Transparency International, 2022). Globally, significant shifts need to occur to confront the issue head-on through collective action: governments, sectoral institutions, communities and relevant authorities must all work together, first and foremost to make reporting of issues safer and to support victims, while addressing key risk factors.
Service providers must also play a proactive and practical role, leading the way for other stakeholders.
As one key informant stated, “water is a fundamental right and the service providers are responsible to ensure equal distribution of water for all. They need to change their mindset, as they hold the ultimate power and can demand anything in the exchange of service. They have to be taught to be accountable for their duty.”
Water service providers, operators, and vendors therefore should:
Recognise sextortion and other forms of sexual abuse as serious offenses for which there is zero tolerance;
Ensure that sextortion is incorporated in integrity policies and sanction catalogues;
Ensure that leadership, staff, contractors, and other organisational stakeholders are aware of the issue, understand the penalties for engaging in such behaviour, and know how to identify and report potential cases;
Conduct vetting procedures before appointing people to positions where they may abuse their power;
Introduce independent reporting mechanisms that assess the organisation’s capacity to eradicate and address instances of sextortion and/or sexual violence and abuse;
Raise awareness on the issue among water users and their right to report instances of sextortion in accessing water and sanitation services;
Put in place formal reporting and response mechanisms where individuals can report incidents freely, confidentially, and without discrimination;
Ensure that reported cases of sextortion and/or sexual abuse and violence are investigated in a timely manner by trustworthy and independent entities.
Experiencing sextortion and/or SGBV in accessing water and sanitation services has severe social, psychological, physical and economic implications. Some of the risk factors identified in the study indicate that more vulnerable groups are at increased risk for this gendered form of corruption. Further research on the topic is critical to raise awareness, to identify trends for where, how, and under what circumstances sextortion is occurring, and to hold service providers and decision makers accountable.
Integrity for small water supply systems in Africa and Latin America: successes, lessons learned, and challenges ahead
Small water supply systems play a key role in providing access to water in rural and peri-urban areas. Many of these systems are outside any centralised water network or state service provision scheme and they work thanks to volunteers and solidarity mechanisms for collective repairs or extensions of the service to unserved groups. As many of these systems are not formally recognised, they receive very little support to access credit or legally contract support services. However, they face significant operational challenges, such as ensuring appropriate water quality and timely maintenance, extending infrastructure, or securing land status.
In our Integrity Talk, partners explored different models for small water supply system management in Africa and Latin America and discussed their experiences of working with the Integrity Management Toolbox for Small Water Supply Systems (IMT-SWSS). This tool, initially developed by Caritas Switzerland and WIN for rural water supply systems in Kenya, links small system management committees with local stakeholders and duty bearers. It puts them in the driving seat to develop a step-by-step plan for service improvements, using governance and compliance tools as stepping stones for more sustainable service provision.
“The theme of integrity generates trust, and trust is what we need to reach the most vulnerable.”
– Elvia Arzate, Controla Tu Gobierno
Regularisation of small water systems, or at least formal dialogue with local government, can ensure there is at least more data on service levels from small systems, and, importantly, can ensure committees have access to more resources through grants and loans. However such regularisation is only possible when the legal framework recognises water committees and clearly defines responsibilities. It also requires trust from committees in local and national authorities.
Building trust and links between stakeholders, especially between committees and local authorities, contractors and duty bearers, is crucial for communities to gain access to formal resources and service and in some cases for communities to accept external interventions. Trust between committees and users is also essential to increase willingness to pay, support water conservation, and motivate for good service.
Integrity is the motor for trust through all its pillars: Transparency, Accountability, Participation, Anti-Corruption and Inclusion. Increasing transparency for example -on the funds available and how they are spent, or on water quality and tariffs- limits discretionary service. Acknowledging the contributions and know-how of local communities, especially indigenous communities, is also key. As is ensuring participation from communities, for example by adapting tools for low literacy and taking into account the schedules and time constraints of volunteers, especially women.
What is the role of the Water Services Regulatory Board of Kenya (WASREB) and how does it engage with small water supply system managers?
Peter Njaggah (WASREB): The Kenyan Constitution recognises the human rights to water and sanitation and these have been translated into national standards. Every citizen of Kenya is entitled without discrimination to water that is affordable, reliable, easily reachable, and of good quality. We also have a very strong water regulatory system providing clear rules and regulations to protect water resources and to control the quality of the service.
WASREB has set up a licencing system for any entity providing water services. We work in close cooperation with small system managers to ensure uniform standards, collect data to track the progressive realisation of the right to water, improve cost recovery, ensure that they do not operate in isolation, secure access to credit or resources, and create control systems to protect the right of consumers. In this way, we are able to promote integrity.
Why is important to regularise small systems? How do local communities perceive the process of regularisation?
Peter Njaggah (WASREB): There are over 7000 small water supply systems in Kenya that serve a large part of the population, but many of their management committees are not registered as legal entities and there is no data. Committees that are not registered generally cannot access credit or resources and this is problematic. For example, the national government created a special fund to help communities with small systems during COVID-19. Many could not get these funds because the water committees are informal. We see it as a form of discrimination.
To facilitate regularisation, according to our Water Act of 2016 we offer different licencing models to help small systems depending on their commercial viability. For those systems located in the service provision area of a formal water service provider, we offer four options: 1) The formal water supply provider takes over the system; 2) The formal water supply provider delegates responsibilities to a registered water user association that manages the system ; 3) A cluster of small system committees contract a private operator, with a contract with the formal water supply provider, and 4) the system committee has sufficient capacity to expand and become a formal water supply provider. For those systems that are not commercially viable and are located outside the service provision area of a formal water provider, we offer two options: 1) The County Government, with linkages to WASREB, establishes a contract with the small water supply system committee, or 2) The County Government contracts a private operator, to maintain service delivery standards.
“We create awareness to show the benefits of operating in a regularised way. Rather than forcing regularisation and the adoption of a particular option, we recognise the diversity of small systems and allow them to select the model that is better suited to them. In this way we limit resistance.”
– Peter Njaggah, WASREB
What is the importance of promoting integrity in investment programmes targeting small systems in Kenya?
Namarome Lukelesia (Water Sector Trust Fund): The role of the Water Sector Trust Fund is to provide grants to counties to assist the financing and development of water services in underserved areas. We have done the following to promote integrity in the management of our programmes and these grants: applied a project risk management tool, enhanced capacity of implementing agents, reduced ineligible costs by auditors, and developed a manual for project implementation with clear processes. Strengthening integrity in our operations has ensured continued support from international development partners (e.g., KfW, World Bank, IFAD, EU).
What are the main integrity risks you see related to investment programmes for small water supply systems?
Namarome Lukelesia (Water Sector Trust Fund): The main integrity risks are conflicts of interest occurring during the identification and implementation phase. In many cases, the identification of the project is politically motivated and in the implementation phase, there are many interested parties. Other issues include the limited capacities of implementing partners, poor compliance with laws and regulations, and activities being implemented outside the contract, leading to increasing costs.
To reduce integrity risks, we are investing in capacity building and we have created a project guidance tool with an internal and external audit checklist. We are recruiting officers at the county level, including engineers, and they have played a key role in enhancing accountability. We have also established a mechanism to ensure that grant recipients report back continuously to the Water Sector Trust Fund. With all these measures we aim to secure access to clean water and sanitation to at least 75% of Kenyans by 2030.
What are the opportunities related to applications of the Integrity Management for Small Water Supply Systems (IMT-SWSS)?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In Mexico there are at least 4000 small water supply systems in communities that have been historically marginalised. They face lack of infrastructure and poor access to training, technology, or financing. Controla Tu Gobierno has used the Integrity Management Toolbox for Small Water Supply Systems (IMT-SWSS) with partners and WIN since 2020, with seven small system water management committees (known as comités autónomos or comités comunitarios de agua).
The benefits for integrity and for the performance of the systems are numerous. For instance, some committees worked to set up differentiated tariffs for residential and commercial users. This facilitated the payment of debts to the Federal Committee of Electricity. Another example is improved communication with the community, which has encouraged community participation, generated trust, and promoted water conservation.
Girum Girma (Caritas Switzerland): The Government of Ethiopia has policies and, regulations for water supply in remote areas. One of them is the Ethiopian WaSH Implementation Framework (2013) that puts a clear focus on defining roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, including WASHCOs (community water supply systems in Ethiopia). However, the framework has limitations. Here is where the IMT-SWSS becomes very useful, especially in building capacity of WASHCOs to manage and operate their water system.
The tool, which is visual and didactic, and includes games, clear exercises and hands-on activities, was easy to apply in communities with low literacy levels, allowing for their active participation. The process has had positive results, notably that the IMT-SWSS has helped to create trust between users and management committees.
“The IMT-SWSS created favourable conditions to build trust between management committees and users. For example, we saw that people were willing to pay for operation and maintenance services when they were properly informed, trained, and motivated.”
– Girum Girma, Caritas Switzerland
What are the main integrity challenges small water supply systems face?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In Mexico, water committees face many problems. First, collective forms of water provision are not recognised in the National Water Law. Second, much of the work of the committees is performed voluntarily. Third, the development of megaprojects (e.g. airports) is preventing local communities from accessing water resources by altering land tenure rights. Fourth, it’s a challenge to carry the responsibility of securing water services in the face of natural phenomena such as water scarcity and erosion.
Girum Girma (Caritas Ethiopia): Small water system committees face several challenges. For example, maintenance costs are highly dependent on external finance, there is low state involvement and support for remote systems, and there is no transparency or exchange between committees and water officers or technicians. Building trust requires time.
What have we learned from communities for promoting integrity? What can we learn in particular from indigenous and autonomous communities?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In the beginning, it was not easy to start working with the IMT-SWSS. There was resistance and distrust because the committees did not know the work of WIN and Controla Tu Gobierno. The committees asked, “Why are they giving us something without asking anything in return? Why don’t they ask for money?” Once we got to know each other, we created trust and they recommended our work to other water committees. We have had to adapt to their necessities, timings, and traditions. This is a process of responsibility and mutual learning. We do not teach them, we share knowledge.
The committees managing water supply systems in indigenous or autonomous communities have existed for longer than the institutions supplying water at the state level. Autonomous communities have a strong respect for nature and common goods. They also have their own forms of community practices and collective work. This is a good starting point for us to learn about integrity.
The Water Integrity Network General Assembly just approved our next 10-year strategy for 2023-2033: Catalsying a culture of integrity. WIN will build on past successes and a strong tool and research portfolio while expanding and building capacity of its network of partners. The aim is to push forward a culture of integrity for the water and sanitation sectors, in support of the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation for all.
“The challenges facing the water sector are immense and no single actor can solve them alone. Only through concerted efforts by all stakeholders—including governments, public institutions, businesses, private organisations, and civil society—can these challenges be confronted.”
We thank all our partners for their support and contributions in making WIN what it is today and helping shape this ambitious strategy. We invite you all to join this integrity journey for water and sanitation.
The negative consequences of a lack basic water and sanitation services are often felt most strongly by women and marginalised groups. Inadequate access to water severely affects women’s development and participation in society, impacting their nutrition, health and life expectancy. In 80% of households with water shortages, women and girls are responsible for water collection. This exposes them to a range of risks – particularly gender-based violence – including sextortion, a gendered form of corruption in which sex, rather than money, is the currency of the bribe. The time dedicated to ensuring household water supply also hinders women’s ability to engage productively in other parts of life, including attending school and earning an income.
Ultimately, fairness and impartiality are undermined, resulting in a failure of integrity. By not acknowledging or responding to the water and sanitation needs and priorities of half of the population, we will not reach SDG6 and remain far from SDG5.
So what can be done, and how can we better prioritise gender equality? Whether carrying out service delivery or shaping policy, institutions and sector organisations can do a lot from the inside out, building a culture of integrity through institutional commitment and capacity building for gender equality and social inclusion. This is a first step towards ensuring equitable access to water and sanitation for all.
Showing commitment at the top
Making sure that women have equal opportunities to access leadership positions can help to lay the groundwork for the right structural changes to occur. In Latin America, for example, several WIN partners can now count women amongst the top leadership positions in their organisations. In Pakistan, a woman is for the first time leading the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), the city utility in charge of delivering water and sanitation to over 16 million residents. As of early 2022, women held top jobs in a number of top private water sector companies, notably in the UK where all but one of the top jobs in the UK’s FTSE-listed water companies is held by women.
But empowered individuals at the top, whether they be women or men, does not necessarily mean that institutional transformation or gender-sensitive delivery will follow. Leadership, if pledging to remaining accountable to the populations they serve, must take specific steps to institutionalise gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) beyond their own positioning and into the fabric of their organisation and its delivery programme, with clear goals, both internal and external.
“Setting gender equality as a corporate goal enables leadership to plan and commit the time and resources needed to change organizational culture and achieve gender equality and inclusion. Goal
setting also allows organizations to take a systematic approach, benchmark progress, and establish
longer-term plans for sustained impact.” USAID Goal Setting Guide, p.1
Responsive staffing and programming: a worthwhile investment
To operationalise a commitment to GESI, supportive processes and systems are indispensable. Family-friendly policies, a cooperative workplace environment and work facilities which cater to the needs of women and marginalised groups can go a long way in attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce, as highlighted in the report Women in Water Utilities: Breaking Barriers. Water sector entities can also take a conscious decision to promote gender equality by, for example, supporting women-owned businesses through their supply chains and procurement practices, and through understanding and responding to the different water and sanitation needs of women and men.
Capacity and systems against discrimination and harassment
Effectively addressing and mitigating sexual harassment, both inside and outside the workplace, is also key. To do so is a commitment to upholding the dignity, safety, equality, and integrity of all employees and clients. Organisations need to have clear policies and procedures for staff expectations and how they respond to internal and external cases, act promptly when situations arise, treat all complaints seriously, provide adequate support and redress mechanisms for those who file complaints and train all relevant staff and those in leadership positions on sexual harassment.
In addition, organisations must pay specific attention and work to mitigate the risk of sextortion through public awareness campaigns, staff training, appropriate disciplinary procedures, and whistle-blowing mechanisms. As an issue that appears wherever those entrusted with power use such power over another’s body, sextortion can occur both within an organisation (e.g. a manager asking for a sexual bribe in exchange for giving someone a job), or externally (e.g. field staff demanding a sexual favour from a customer in exchange for water access, a favourable meter reading or a discount).
A few questions can guide the formulation of these processes:
Assess the status quo:
Does your organisation have a strategy that outlines leaders’ responsibility to deliver on gender equality? Having dedicated gender focal points is a good practice, but these do not replace the critical role of leaders in the organisation to advance the gender equality agenda.
Are women and marginalised groups adequately represented in your organisation, and in programme implementation? The ‘nothing about them without them’ approach can serve as a useful reminder about the need for meaningful participation throughout the project cycle. Inquire who is marginalised in a given context, and involve these groups in consultations and decision-making opportunities.
Are there dedicated resources available for GESI? Institutional capacity to carry out GESI may need to be strengthened through training, dedicated expertise, and outreach activities. Without a budget or the proper allocation of resources to gender mainstreaming, commitments can be side-tracked by other priorities.
How are current policies being implemented? Maybe your organisation already has gender equality and inclusion policies in place. Nevertheless, it is good practice to critically assess how these stated goals are being achieved and where there is room for improvement. Are there accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that commitments on paper are being upheld in practice?
Develop KPIs which include gender equality and inclusion expectations
Make a list of incentives and drivers that make the case for GESI to be integrated at the organisational level. Examples can include: Meeting CSR objectives; Better access to funding and donor relationships; Enhancing your organisation’s external reputation and strengthening community relationships; Reaching the most vulnerable households through service delivery
Assess how your company’s attraction, recruitment, retention and advancement procedures work for women and marginalised groups
Establish anti-harassment policies and reliable, confidential complaint processes
Ensure equitable pay independent of gender and other attributes
Increase training opportunities
Assess other integrity-related risks (e.g. conflicts of interest, internal misreporting, poor complaint mechanisms) and how they may exacerbate gender inequalities
Organisational commitment to mainstreaming gender equality and inclusion is a critical first step to ensure availability and the sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. To do this with integrity means going beyond policies and symbolic gestures. It requires real commitment and putting in place tangible processes and capacities to translate promises into concrete measures. Involving women and marginalised groups cannot be neglected in this process.
WIGO is a flagship publication of WIN and its network partners. Published every three years, it is a call for action for water integrity, bringing together the latest research and cases on specific themes.
The first WIGO, published in 2016, demonstrated a growing recognition of the need for measures to improve integrity and to eliminate corruption to enhance performance in the water and sanitation sectors.
WIGO 2021 focused on integrity for urban water and sanitation
WIGO 2024 will focus on the role of integrity in sustainable water and sanitation sector finance. It will examine integrity risks in water and sanitation sector finance and the way integrity can be strengthened at different levels, in public financial management, in the sector, and in individual projects.
We are currently defining the specific scope of this next WIGO and are keen to hear feedback and ideas about partnerships and case studies that are important for the publication.
Interested in taking part or have a case study or idea to share? Please get in touch.
As a network organisation, WIN relies on the engagement of its partnerships to advance the water integrity agenda. Working with a range of civil society representatives, water sector stakeholders, funders, research institutes, IGOs, NGOs and other networks, WIN has shown that a great deal can be achieved through collaboration at all levels and practical action to reduce integrity risks.
In order to remain effective in our mission and responsive to partners’ needs, the annual Partner Survey is an opportunity to learn more about what we are doing right, what we can improve upon and how we can better function as a network. In addition, it allows WIN to take stock of our partner’s needs, find ways to improve our support and define our activities. Similar to the 2021 survey, we asked partners a range of questions related to WIN’s tools, trainings, research and publications, network activities and overall support, as well as how integrity features in their activities and work plans for the coming year.
What we has seen time and again is that improving integrity requires collective action. Through WIN’s strong network of partners that continue to drive the principles of Transparency, Accountability, Participation and preventive Anti-Corruption measures, we are ensuring that integrity remains on the map to help realise the human rights to water and sanitation for all.
Billions of dollars of new, urgent, often poorly traced climate adaptation funding are flowing through relatively untested channels into the water sector, a sector which is vulnerable to corruption because of its fragmentation,technical complexity, and the essential, irreplaceable nature of the services it provides.
Effective “accelerated and equitable climate action” is threatened by insufficient funding and by corruption and poor integrity. These waste resources and talent, divert much-needed funding away from those who need it most, and drive inappropriate adaptation choices.
What happens when climate finance in the water sector is misused
Corruption does not just result in financial losses. In the water and sanitation sectors, it impacts directly on people’s lives, health, and livelihoods, on socio-economic development and on environmental sustainability. And it hits hardest in the most vulnerable communities, poor coastal and rural populations in developing countries, those affected by conflict and political instability, marginalised communities, those with limited choices of where to live and how to earn a living, women-headed households, the old and the very young, and people with disabilities.
In some cases, poor integrity can increase the risk of maladaptation, where the outcomes of climate adaptation programmes are subverted: climate-related risks increase instead of decrease or new additional risks and vulnerabilities are created.
In practice, there are already many troubling cases of corruption and poor integrity in climate projects, from funds gone missing, to dysfunctional flood protection systems that are not built according to specifications, from capture by elites, to cyclone shelters built for private purposes on private land inaccessible to the targeted community. We are only aware of the tip of the iceberg.
Anti-corruption initiatives in climate adaptation are improving
A number of climate finance actors, including major multilateral funds, have already put in place anti-corruption measures and evaluation mechanisms to ensure the efficacy of their programmes. These efforts are important and valuable even if there is room for improvement.
Wanted: Integrity initiatives built for and with the water sector
We see both a need and an opportunity for a broader approach that addresses the specific risks of the water sector. This has three major implications:
Focusing on the corporate governance and anti-corruption policies of funders themselves is an important first step. However much more can be achieved by also investing in the capacity for integrity of water and sanitation sector actors, and not only the direct recipients of funding. This means supporting their ability to take advantage of accountability mechanisms and their capacity to assess and preventively act on their specific sector, and water-energy-food nexus, integrity risks.
The water and sanitation sectors are not just about pumps and pipes. Existing financing mechanisms are already skewed towards major infrastructure developments even when these are not in line with people’s needs or with the capacity available to maintain or operate them. Climate adaptation funding has similar biases. Not enough funding is spent on improving the governance systems, with the result that governance failures, including corruption, may lead to significant risk of maladaptation. One way to address this is to assess and address corruption risks during procurement processes but also early on, in budget allocation, planning and design phases. This requires more long-term investment in building governance capacity and in corruption risk assessments.
We urgently need to prioritise and invest more in water and sanitation through climate work. We also need to make sure we use available funds to their utmost potential and to the benefit of those who need them most. For this, we need to invest in partnerships with water and sanitation sector stakeholders, and invest in governance and integrity.
Back to basics: here’s a factsheet to better understand ‘sextortion’, a gendered form of corruption where sex is the currency of the bribe.
“When a person is hungry, thirsty, or short on cash, she gets desperate and will do anything to survive. In this position, they don’t have much to do. This is exploited by powerful people.”
Key Informant Interview, Korail-Dhaka (2021), forthcoming WIN research study on sextortion in Bangladesh
Many women, particularly poor women in vulnerable communities where infrastructure is inadequate, face sextortion on a regular basis when fetching water or accessing sanitation facilities. It’s an abhorrent act that needs to be better recognised and addressed in the water and sanitation sectors, with more awareness, training, support for survivors, and safe reporting mechanisms.
Integrity also has substantial benefits for water and sanitation organisations, in terms of performance and service, as well as reputation. When water and sanitation sector utilities proactively implement measures to support integrity and reduce losses from corruption and malpractice, they engage in integrity management. They may do this as part of a specific integrity strategy, or through change management processes, compliance, or Environmental, Social, & Governance (ESG) programmmes.
Where are these efforts leading? How can we benchmark current status and what does it take to progress? These are questions that still have vague answers although new data from integrity assessments are pointing to patterns in how integrity practices are implemented and their relationship with organisational development.
Proposing a 5-level integrity maturity model for water and sanitation utilities
Our new discussion paper proposes a five-level integrity maturity model for water and sanitation utilities based on recent data from integrity assessments using integrity indicators. The proposed model provides an evidence-based simplified vision and guide for utilities working to improve integrity in their work processes.
It suggests utilities at level 1 would have integrity practices in place that are easy to implement and primarily aiming to comply with basic legal requirements. Utilities at level 5 would have stronger mechanisms for control and sanctions in place and proactively communicate on integrity-related topics.
More data and discussion are welcome and needed to strengthen the model and support the ambitions of integrity champions. We are keen to hear more about the needs of utilities and their partners and we look forward to exchanging ideas on a model.
This is the first post in a series focusing on the need and practicalities of mainstreaming gender and social inclusion in water and sanitation from an integrity perspective. To contribute to the discussion or share some insight from your work, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where are the women?
Why are women still so blatantly underrepresented on public platforms? It’s a question raised, once again, after taking part in the preparatory session for the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar, Senegal last October. Meant to solidify a range of conference elements, stakeholders gathered for two days of panel sessions and dialogues where it was disturbing to see the overwhelming prevalence of male speakers in every session. One could count the total number of women speakers on one hand, and still have fingers to spare. Indeed, the matter was raised by one of the few women speakers. While a representative of the WWF explained to us that several women panelists were not available to the session, is this really an acceptable response in 2021? The optics were deeply concerning, a concern that is heightened by the male dominance of the International Steering Committee for the 9th World Water Forum, and, indeed, of the World Water Council itself.
Efforts to achieve gender parity and a stronger representation of marginalised voices at events has been ongoing for many, many years, but experience in a number of forums as well as research on the matter reaffirm that the sector still has a way to go in achieving gender equality – not only regarding speakers at events, but in equality across a range of roles and responsibilities. A 2019 study led by the World Bank’s Water Global Practice, “Women in Water Utilities, Breaking Barriers”, indicates that less than one in five workers in the water sector are women. In sampled utilities, only 23% of licensed engineers are women, and only 23% of managers are female. 32% of utilities in the study had no female engineers and 12% no female managers. This is much lower than their 35% representation in the STEM sector … so why are women not getting appointed? Why are women still missing in leadership and on platforms in the water and sanitation sector?
Integrity in the water sector is constructed on four pillars: transparency, accountability, participation and anti-corruption actions. If women are not at the table, if women are not on the platforms, the very notion of participation is undermined.
Women are the primary household water managers and have specific water and sanitation needs; they must not be brushed aside.
Panel composition speaks loudly to perceptions of who is considered an expert in the sector. When the conversation is dominated by a single group, it sends a message that one must fit a certain mould to be heard and women, girls, and other marginalised groups struggle to see strong role models that they can emulate.
Progress at local levels makes gaps at the top all the more glaring
In our work, we have seen the benefits of women’s involvement at the community level. Perhaps due to the deeper contribution of CSOs and the propensity for stronger women’s leadership locally, workshops and training in communities have seen an improved balance of men’s and women’s participation in some countries. In Mexico, for example, implementation of the Integrity Management Toolbox for Small Water Supply Systems resulted in more women engaging in dialogue and ultimately in the management of the water schemes, increasing the opportunities for these women to become champions of integrity.
The Gold Standard: Making good on promises
Going back to the issue of women and conferences, in 2017, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) introduced a ‘Gold Standard’ for World Water Week, the leading annual event for global water issues. The standard mandates that sessions must include at least 40% women among the speakers and at least one panelist under the age of 35. As almost half of World Water Week participants are women and one-third are under age 35, SIWI acknowledged that this demography needed to be reflected in the event’s panels.
The results have been telling: When it was first introduced, only 10% of sessions met the criteria; after a year this number increased to 80%. More, recognising the need for organisers to have access to a range of qualified speakers, SIWI created two speaker directories where qualifying individuals can submit an application to be considered: Water Women and Young Professionals. Those interested in being considered as a speaker are encouraged to submit their applications to be included in a directory, giving women and young professionals more agency and visibility to have their work and perspectives recognised.
The next step needs to be ensuring that panels are also balanced from a geographical perspective. Particularly with international events, greater focus must be placed on providing a wider range of experiences that all partners can relate to – not just those perspectives coming from the global north.
Devising an approach for success
As can be seen from the Gold Standard, designing and implementing a straightforward policy goes a long way in ensuring a higher representation of women and minority groups. When organising an event, the following recommendations can guide the development of a clear strategy:
Ensure that a gender perspective informs session planning. This can help to mitigate event formats or speaker requirements that are inadvertently biased.
Strive for gender parity or other group quotas from the outset in the selection of speakers and in panel composition. Identify the obstacles that might impede women’s participation (i.e. childcare, funding, sufficient time for scheduling) and work towards implementing solutions.
Plan ahead. Whether this be developing a directory of women experts or securing several back-up speakers, take the steps necessary to ensure that last minute changes or cancellations do not affect your objectives.
Diversify panel topics and place a specific focus on inviting panellists who are true experts in their subject, regardless of their position. Given the disparity between men and women in leadership positions in the water and sanitation sector, organisers are more likely to find a woman panellist with experience and know-how in her field by targeting beyond just heads of organisations.
Track gender balance at events – having accurate numbers on-hand will help organisers to measure progress and fine-tune the gender strategy.
The equal representation of men and women on public platforms and in leadership positions is not just essential for tackling the consequences that water governance and integrity issues have upon the lives of women, youth, and other marginalised groups, but for integrating women and women’s perspectives to improve governance and performance throughout the sector.
Integrity Talks are discussions around transparency, accountability and participation as ways to advance integrity and reduce corruption in the water and sanitation sectors in different parts of the world. This is an edited summary of our second edition. To take part in future Integrity Talks, contact us here.
How can we assess and address issues of exclusion and marginalisation in informal settlements from a water integrity perspective? How can different stakeholders use integrity and support the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation in informal settlements? What has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Water Integrity Network (WIN) advocates for safely managed water and sanitation services in informal settlements by working with regulators, utility companies and small water supply system operators in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We see the exclusion of people living in informal settlements from access to decent water and sanitation services as a failure of integrity. This Integrity Talk highlights the experiences of utility companies, community-led initiatives, and international organisations in addressing this failure.
With: Alana Potter (End Water Poverty), Sudha Shrestha (UN Habitat), Marcelo Rogora (Aguas y Saneamientos Argentinos, AySA) and Nils Thorup (Grundfos Foundation). Featuring a clip of the film Into Dust, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel.
Recognition: Residents of informal settlements deserve recognition as active members of the urban fabric with the same rights as other urban dwellers. Such recognition is fundamental if utilities and the sate are to engage effectively with these communities in the provision of decent water and sanitation services.
Affordability: Water and sanitation services must be delivered at an affordable price. Many residents of informal settlements actually pay more than wealthier neighbours for water of dubious quality. This needs to be urgently addressed with policies that recognise the specific needs of people living in informal settlements. Free basic water allocations or sustainable lifeline tariffs are good examples of how to materialise the principle of affordability of the rights to water and sanitation for those living in poverty.
Responsibility: There is a close link between land tenure and water provision: many people living in settlements around the world are excluded from formal water and sanitation supply because their land tenure status is not recognised. However, there is still a responsibility to deliver services. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that even in times of crisis, utility companies can undertake immediate actions regardless of land ownership to expand service provision.
Pro-poor anti-corruption: the failure to provide decent water and sanitation services in informal settlements leaves the door open for corrupt, discriminatory, and discretionary service, which can put health and lives at risk. Residents may be forced into informal arrangements with water mafias, which in a number of cases are given free rein by authorities. Such arrangements leave no room for accountability and are likely to leave behind the most vulnerable.
Water Integrity for Informal Settlements during COVID-19
What are the main conditions that hinder the provision of water and sanitation services in informal settlements?
Alana Potter (End Water Poverty): More than one billion people worldwide live in informal settlements and they are usually not recognised as legitimate citizens, participants and rights-holders. Informality is commonalty associated with lawlessness and criminality. However, many informal settlements do not exist by accident; they are historically rooted and can be traced back even to colonial times. They provide land for accommodation, and affordable housing near transportation and economic centres of activity. They persist because of state and market failures to provide poor residents with affordable accommodation in well-located areas.
Stigma, discrimination, poor integrity are beneath the reluctance to provide decent services in informal settlements. The results is that residents generally pay more for water and sanitation of uncertain or inadequate quality and do not enjoy the human rights to water and sanitation even when these are constitutionally recognised. During the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of informal settlements have been severely affected because of higher population densities, stagnant water, narrow pathways that reduced mobility and emergency response access.
When residents find ways to claim their rights, these are often criminalised or rejected by authorities. It is critical that we change the mindset and recognise residents of informal settlements as actors and counterparts to engage with.
“People are the ones who claim their rights. Having the right to water and sanitation in the law is nothing until people claim it.”
In some settlements in South Africa, for example, residents organise their own residential and economic land uses, provision of water, sanitation, electricity and solid waste collection services. They defend themselves against evictions and organise local representation and leadership, engaging actively with the state through informal participation processes, in protests, and in the courts.
What measures did UN-Habitat put in place to support the provision of WASH services in informal settlements in the COVID-19 crisis?
Sudha Shrestha (UN Habitat): In Nepal, in the first stage, UN-Habitat mobilised local partners to distribute masks, hand sanitiser and coverall suits due to the shortage in the market. We also launched a community close-watch using mobile phones to collect information on COVID-19 related issues, health, handwashing and sanitation, hygiene and cleanliness, and water. This information filled a database to assist municipalities in the formulation of policies and strategies.
We also used social media to spread news related to COVID-19 measures and created a WASH cluster in the border region between India and Nepal to facilitate migration in and out of the country. We also provided temporary handwashing facilities in healthcare facilities, schools, quarantine centres, public spaces (e.g., markets), and informal settlements while supporting food distribution in vulnerable areas.
What efforts were undertaken by the water utility of Buenos Aires (AySA) to ensure water access in informal settlements during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Marcelo Rogora (Aguas y Saneamientos Argentinos, AySA):AySA provides water and sanitation services to 14.5 million inhabitants in the city of Buenos Aires. We have developed concrete actions to strengthen participatory actions and accountability. In 2021, for example, we incorporated a digital platform called aysa.DATA into our website. This platform provides communication channels and open data to inform the public about concessions while also giving the opportunity to file complaints.
“When we talk about integrity we focus not only on measures to prevent corruption but also inclusion, participation, gender equality and respect for human rights such as universal access to potable water and sanitation.”
In informal settlements, AySA implemented two programmes: “Agua más Trabajo” (Water more work) and “Cloaca más Trabajo” (Sewer more work). Both programmes aim at expanding networked services in vulnerable areas though close cooperation with municipalities and local cooperatives. The benefits of these programs are numerous: first, they supported employment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, our workers are 50 percent women who are engaged in management tasks as well as technical work. This is important to us, as AySA supports gender equity. AySA covers the costs of both programmes and provides training to local cooperatives. Municipalities also play a key role in managing the financial resources provided by AySA and in hiring local residents. For us, these actions are associated with not only anti-corruption but also with integrity.
What kind of legal mechanisms are available for residents in informal settlements to hold governments and service providers accountable?
Alana Potter: When people are delegitimised as formal participants they often turn to inventive forms of participation. I think multiple strategies are needed on multiple fronts. In South Africa, for example, the use of the Housing Act and the Expropriation Act have strengthened service delivery. In the housing sector, the Anti-Eviction Law, in particular, has helped people to secure land tenure so that they are in a position where the settlement can be upgraded and they can receive services. In some cases, the use of the law and litigation is more strategic than direct. In the Marikana informal settlement, it was impossible to relocate 60 000 residents, so the court ordered the city of Cape Town to purchase the land where the settlement was located.
“Even if you do not have the direct right to water and sanitation in the legislation, there are creative ways to use other rights.”
What advice would you have for other utilities that are struggling to navigate legal challenges to secure water and sanitation services in informal settlements? And has the COVID-19 crisis made these challenges easier or more difficult to overcome, and why?
Marcelo Rogora:What is important is the cooperation and coordination between different actors involved in water supply provision such as the government, utility companies, the community, as well as regulators. Otherwise, I see it as very difficult to achieve positive results, particularly when there are legal obstacles against extending the network into informal areas. In Buenos Aires, we have all been working together to make laws and regulation more flexible and to adjust technical guidelines to secure universal access to water and sanitation in marginalised areas.
AySA has faced serious challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, like in many other countries. But we acted quickly to respond to water demands. In a period of one month, we launched an emergency plan to intervene in vulnerable areas, despite complete isolation in Argentina. We equipped local cooperatives with basic instruments to guarantee safe working conditions (e.g., masks, disinfectant). We also focused our efforts on providing support to workers that were on the front lines during the crisis. When somebody got infected and could not work, their economic situation was severely affected. We created a plan to assist workers facing financial difficulties to protect their health and the health of the community.
Why did the Grundfos Foundation decide to support the creation of the “Into Dust” Film, which focuses on the work of Perween Rahman, mapping water mafias in Karachi?
Niels Thorup (Grundfos Foundation): At the Grundfos Foundation we primarily work in refugee camps and rural communities and we supply water pumps globally. We supported this film to raise awareness about water issues globally. As a foundation working with a close link to the private sector it is very important that we raise awareness about real issues such as corruption and that we address real problems. Water will be a huge issue in the future due to climate change and we need to address the problems directly instead of just talking about the good solutions that we see today.
There is the tendency to equate the human right to water with the idea that water should be provided for free. How does this discussion help us to understand possible ways to guarantee the right to water to poor residents without threatening the financial sustainability of providers?
Barbara Schreiner (Water Integrity Network, WIN): Currently, residents of informal settlements often pay much higher prices for poorer quality of water services than those in wealthier areas. This is a profound issue of integrity because the system is penalising the people that are living in poverty.
Obviously, when providing sustainable water services, funding has to come from somewhere. And we need to ask where the money comes from. How much time and money should be put into collecting small amounts of money from poor people? When should tax-based schemes be mobilised to subsidise tariffs, or cross-subsidisation? There are a number of ways to cover financial costs from different sources rather than sqeezing revenue out of poor residents. In South Africa, a Free Basic Water policy was introduced to ensure that nobody was denied access to water because they could not afford to pay.
INTO DUST is a documentary that tells the story of Perween Rahman, an activist who decided to uncover the exploitative strategies of water cartels in Karachi informal settlements. She fought against water injustices and for accountability, exposing the perverse effects of water corruption in marginalised areas. (Director: Orlando von Einsiedel, Country: Pakistan, Year: 2021)
Integrity Talks are discussions around transparency, accountability, and participation as ways to advance integrity and reduce corruption in the water and sanitation sectors in different parts of the world. This is an edited summary of our first edition. To take part in future Integrity Talks, contact us here.
What is the role of regulators in securing access to water and sanitation services? How can they promote transparency, accountability and participation, and which challenges do they face in doing this?
The Water Integrity Network (WIN) works in close cooperation with regulators in Latin America and Africa to promote integrity in the water and sanitation sectors. For this Integrity Talk, WIN partner organisations shared their experiences and reflected on their work on driving integrity, not only inside their own organisations, but also in relation to governments, water service providers, and consumers.
With: Pilar Avello (SIWI); Corinne Cathala (Inter-American Development Bank, IADB); Giovanni Espinal (Water and Sanitation Services Regulatory Entity ERSAPS, Honduras); Robert Gakubia (former head of the Water Services Regulatory Board WASREB, Kenya); Chola Mbilima (Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation Regulators Association, ESAWAS).
Integrity starts from within: it is important to implement integrity measures also within a regulatory institution and then with water and sanitation providers and consumers.
There are no fixed formulas for regulators to drive integrity in the water and sanitation sectors. Each regulator has its own individual mechanisms for approaching integrity according to the context where it is operating. Integrity assessment tools or indicators can help better target and adapt interventions.
No real change will take place at the regulatory level without the cooperation of governments and respective ministries, or without the engagement of stakeholders and users.
Working with vulnerable or marginalised communities and water supply committees in rural areas is an essential element of the integrity work of regulators.
Regulators can play an important role in promoting integrity by making budget allocations clear and by informing consumers about how resources are used to improve coverage and quality of water services
Regulators and their functions
Regulators are essential in the provision of adequate, affordable and reliable water and sanitation services. They set up rules and standards for utility companies, ensure adequate tariffs, monitor and report on quality of service, ensure effectiveness of investment and sustainability, and secure citizen involvement (WIN, 2021). They are crucial in balancing the interests of governments, consumers and utilities, while also limiting harmful behaviour (Twyman and Simbeye, 2017).
In contexts where corruption and integrity failures compromise the performance of water and sanitation service providers, appropriate regulatory frameworks can promote transparency, accountability and participation and support the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation. To build integrity in the water and sanitation sectors and boost service delivery, the Water Integrity Global Outlook WIGO (2021) recommends these actions for regulators:
Regulate for equity, providing incentives or standards for pro-poor services.
Regulate for integrity, setting standards and specifically monitoring procurement and corporate governance in utilities.
Regulate with integrity, in a transparent and accountable manner, giving voice to residents.
Regulate non-utility service provision.
Regulators and their role in promoting integrity
What kinds of tools are available to regulators to support their work in promoting integrity in the water and sanitation sectors?
Pilar Avello (SIWI):The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), WIN and cewas have developed tools to support regulators in promoting integrity. The Integrity Management Toolbox for Regulators addresses how regulators can be accountable to policy-makers, service providers and consumers. Following the WASHREG approach, we selected six regulatory areas (what regulators regulate): tariff setting, service quality regulations, competition regulation, consumer protection, environmental regulation and public health regulation, and key activities performed by regulators (how regulators regulate): enforcement, definition of rules and approval of licences as well as monitoring and information.
For these areas and activities, we identified a set of integrity risks that could occur and the tools that could be used to mitigate them. The ultimate goal is for regulators to develop roadmaps to improve integrity within their own organisation. In the long-term, we are planning to implement the Toolbox in Paraguay, Honduras and Ecuador between 2021 and 2023.
How can regulators put integrity into pracitce in the water and sanitation sectors?
Robert Gakubia (former head of the Water Services Regulatory Board WASREB, Kenya): We do not perceive regulators as anti-corruption fighters but as key players in identifying violations on integrity in order to ensure that people have access to sustainable water services. The role of regulators is to provide an environment that facilitates efficiency, effectiveness and equity in the provision of water and sanitation services, while addressing the sustainability of the service.
WASREB looks at the whole water service chain from governance all the way to the consumers. We look at the governance by addressing different aspects: how service providers organise their services in terms of provision, how they do their financial management and develop their human resources, how commercial aspects are connected to consumer services, how they engage and inform consumers, how they prioritise investments. All these issues are connected to integrity.
Giovanni Espinal (Water and Sanitation Services Regulatory Entity ERSAPS, Honduras): The benefits of integrity are connected to the principle of transparency. Regulators are obliged by law to enforce transparency by providing all information to service providers and consumers in terms of water quality and investment plans to improve coverage rates and achieve universal access.To secure accountability, we organise consumer assemblies, and team up with local supervision and control units (unidades de supervición y control local) to make information available. We also promote “consumer forums” to inform a wider public about their rights and responsibilities and the quality of water they receive.
Our work with integrity was initiated with the implementation of an Integrity Management Toolbox. The Toolbox has been very useful to identify new indicators that have helped us to promote integrity. In particular, it has helped us to guide water providers on how to use their own resources and manage bidding for tenders. These aspects are very important, because in Honduras resources are limited and if they are used in an inefficient or illegal way, water provision will be negatively impacted.
“One of the main challenges for regulators is to promote integrity within their own organisation before engaging with water providers and consumers. We are constantly facing complex questions such as: what is integrity for us, how do we manage our own resources, and how do we take decisions.”
As a regulator, I suggest looking at what integrity means, how it manifests itself. It is important to understand that we do not operate in isolation. Integrity can help us to make sustainable use of our resources in order to solve the problem of lack of water and sanitation.
How do you establish commonality about integrity issues across the region?
Chola Mbilima (Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation Regulators Association, ESAWAS): Currently our organisation has 10 members. We approach regulation from different perspectives. First, we provide a framework for the discussion of regulatory issues and by doing so, we promote good governance as a way to achieve integrity. It is very important to define clear responsibilities in order to promote accountability and transparency. Second, we develop instruments and tools that guide regulators in performing their functions. In particular, we have designed guidelines for regulators with implications for integrity.
I will give an example: we have developed a guideline for tariff setting for the entire region to assist regulators. This relates to a lot of issues of corruption, exclusion, and accountability. The guideline articulates how consumers can participate in tariff setting and raise their voice. We try to make information clear so consumers are aware about how tariffs are set up and what people can do to get a new connection. We try to help each other in the region.
“For regulators, information and data management are key aspects to fight corruption and promote integrity. Most of the time we are hit with lack of data and this becomes a problem because it is a recipe for corruption. If people do not have information they won’t be able to know what road to take and that can bring issues of corruption.”
As regulators, I have noticed that, in the region, corruption primarily emerges from lack of information and unclear rules. We try to establish clear regulations and share information as much as possible. We have also done regional benchmarking to share information. We agree to set standards as a region and we make information available to a wider public. By doing this, we try to promote transparency, however, member countries also have their own individual ways of approaching integrity.
From a financier’s perspective, what is your motivation to invest in promoting integrity within regulators and what do you see as the direct benefit to your financed projects?
Corinne Cathala (Inter-American Development Bank, IADB):The IADB has worked in close cooperation with WIN, cewas and SIWI to assist regulators in the management of their information management systems. This has brought transparency to the way they handle information and accountability to the consumers. We are currently working with 22 regulators in 14 countries. We also aim at strengthening frameworks among regulators as well as supporting partnership and creating a collaborative environment with governments and all water sector stakeholders.
The IADB also backs the AquaRating initiative, a performance rating system for water and sanitation utilities. In collaboration with WIN, we have developed a focus analysis targeting integrity and transparency and it has been applied in several water and sanitation utilities. Although this tool was originally designed for utilities, several regulators from Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia have approached to us to also use these indicators.
How do you provide opportunities to marginalised communities in Honduras to hold regulators and utility companies accountable?
Giovanni Espinal (ERSAPS):The majority of water providers in Honduras supply rural areas and they work on a voluntary basis. Integrity is part of their heritage as they operate through participatory schemes. They do not receive any economic benefit from tariffs and they represent a true example of what constitutes integrity in the provision of water services. However, they are rural communities and we have to make an effort to make their work visible and to support them to make wise use of the few resources they obtain, especially to reinvest in the improvement of the water service and resources. As regulators, we should avoid any distortion of the system of integrity and volunteer commitment, and recognise their contribution to collective forms of water service provision.
Photo: ERSAPS, November 2021
While promoting integrity within the work of regulators, how does the IADB articulate the human right to water compared to issues of economic efficiency?
Corinne Cathala (IADB): This is tricky question. The UN resolution on the human right to water and sanitation is oriented to incorporate elements such as effective availability of water, minimum levels of consumption, quality and access to water. These are very important aspects that we are working on with regulators. But we also look at economic efficiency to foster rational use of water resources without undue political interference.
However, these aspects should be part of a long-term view that incorporates mechanisms of subsidies to help the most vulnerable population. Many countries, for example, have adopted a scheme of gradual adjustment of tariffs in order to subsidise families that have payment capacity problems. There is lots of work not only at the regulatory level but also at the public policy level with ministries.
How do you encourage a regulator to start to work with the concept of integrity?
Chola Mbilima (ESAWAS): A key strategy to motivate regulators is to invite them to visit places where things are working. We support regulators that supposedly are not doing so well to visit regulators that do things better. They have the opportunity to ask questions and they appreciate how the system works. We also encourage them to visit regulators, policy-makers and service providers to get ideas about how to make their own internal changes. In ESAWAS, we do not force people, but we expose them to institutions that work well. It’s a strategy to push regulators to implement integrity.
Twyman, B. And Simbeye, I. 2017. Regulating Lusaka’s Urban Sanitation Sector. The Importance of Promoting Integrity and Reducing Corruption. Berlin: Water Integrity Network (WIN) and Aguaconsult.
“There is strengthened evidence that the global water cycle will continue to intensify as global temperatures rise, with precipitation and surface water flows projected to become more variable over most land regions within seasons” –IPCC 6th Assessment Report Climate Change 2021
The climate crisis is already significantly impacting the health, social and environmental dynamics of millions of people. The most vulnerable communities, and coastal and rural populations in developing countries as well as those affected by conflict, are unjustly bearing the harshest burden. Without significant investment in adaptation, the consequences will be dire. This means we must ensure new climate funds go where they are intended and most needed. In turn, this means integrity is essential.
The water and sanitation sectors are currently the primary beneficiaries of climate funds for adaptation. However , these sectors are already fragmented and complex in terms of governance. The influx of funds from new sources and stakeholders creates new opportunities for corruption and important integrity risks. Over 40 percent of all climate-related overseas development assistance is received by initiatives in countries among the riskiest places in the world for corruption (U4 Brief 2020:14).
An integrity approach is key to ensure adaptation processes stay on track. An integrity approach is also essential to limit maladaptation, an emerging concern largely driven by corruption and integrity failures in climate adaptation.
Maladaptation heightens expected climate-related risks instead of lowering them, or creates new sets of risks.
This new brief, developed with the Green Climate Fund – Independent Integrity Unit,
Examines how corruption and integrity failures may heighten the risk of maladaptation.
Highlights the importance of adopting preventive integrity measures to reduce the risks of maladaptation.
Encourages further research and discussion on the relationship between maladaptation and corruption.
Water and sanitation services mean life and dignity for city residents and are essential to urban development.
Poor integrity practices in sanitation and water operators impact severely on the delivery of these services. They directly raise costs and legal risks, weaken service levels, and threaten operators’ reputation and long-term sustainability. Improving integrity on the other hand can improve service delivery, efficiency, and credit-worthiness.
For too long, integrity risks have been underestimated or ignored by water operators because they were too difficult to measure, too misunderstood to fix, or too sensitive to address.
The first two barriers now have solutions. There are well-established tools to assess integrity risks and to address them by strengthening corporate governance, management and compliance. Water operators can now take advantage of these tools to improve and ensure sustainability of service delivery.
“An action utilities can take is prioritising transparency and accountability in corporate governance. This is what a service provider in Ecuador did with the Integrity Management Toolbox. They looked at risks and found ways to act preventively. They invested in accountability through public consultations, presentations and publications. They also used innovative ways to reach communities, promoting participation through community theatre, adding information on bills, and investing in communication technology.”
Marcello Basani – Lead Water and Sanitation Specialist, Inter-American Development Bank
Tools for integrity: understanding and mitigating common integrity risks
Getting a good understanding of the critical integrity risks is the first step towards being able to address them. There are a number of tools to help with this process: internal financial or compliance audits can provide useful input on corruption risks, as can data analysis on key risk areas such as procurement. More comprehensively, there are a number of governance indicator frameworks and assessment methodologies that can be used.
The international Aquarating utility benchmarking standard has recently launched an additional Focus Analysis to measure integrity. WIN also has two complementary tools for integrity risk assessments in utilities depending on their scale and resources, including an indicator-based Integrity Assessment.
Such tools can bring to light integrity red flags and help to identify the most severe risks at a given time: are procurement rules adhered to or more frequently applied with exceptions? Are high level positions exercised by under-qualified people? Are staff accepting bribes within the exercise of their duties?
WIN’s assessment tools are generally applied as part of a longer term integrity management change process. The Integrity Management Toolbox (and the extended version, referred to as InWASH) is used to drive a process of identification of priority risks and the tools to mitigate them. It includes tools to improve integrity across different areas, such as human resources, customer service, procurement, governance, and financial management.
The Integrity Management Toolbox has already been used by water and sanitation operators across the globe serving over 4 million users.
Priorities for integrity action for sanitation and water providers
There are many ways for operators to advance integrity. And every step counts. TAPA, short for Transparency, Accountability, Participation, and Anti-Corruption, is helpful in framing the key elements for integrity.
Transparency: Ensure users and staff know their rights, see how decisions are taken and money is spent.
Accountability:Clarify responsibilities, give space to complaints and discussion, ensuring stakeholders uphold mandates.
Participation: Engage with the people affected by your decisions.
Anti-corruption:Play by the rules, leave no space for corruption or impunity.
In addition to internal governance and management risks, the Water Integrity Global Outlook 2021 highlights specific integrity risks that require attention from urban service providers. Addressing these risks can play a major role in driving change and supporting the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6.
Case studies: water operators in Latin America lead with integrity and see results in customer satisfaction
Several sanitation and water operators across Latin America are successfully using integrity assessment and management tools. They shared their experiences at the Stockholm World Water Week 2021 (see full video of their interventions here).
Like many sanitation and water operators we work with, these leaders are using integrity as a cross-cutting management principle to improve service and build resilience and effectiveness.
An integrity change management process like the one they have all initiated, usually starts with an integrity assessment followed by training and awareness raising, internally and for users. Most of these operators have already seen efficiency gains and are particularly positive about the impact of customer engagement measures and efforts to open service and management data.
Water Operator: SEDAPAL
Location: Lima, Peru
Population served: 11.512. 594
Representative: María del Pilar Acha, General Secretary
“With WIN and support from IADB, we worked on mapping integrity risks to mitigate acts of corruption in procurement, clandestine connections, and abuses in water billing. We also created the Office of Regulatory Compliance and Institutional Integrity.
Both, paying customers and users who have received free water during the pandemic have access to complaint mechanisms and can provide comments. We’ve made a clear commitment to transparency and included this in our KPIs and monitoring via Aquarating.”
Water Operator: CEA
Location: Queretaro, Mexico
Population served: 1.920.539
Representative: José Luis de la Vega, Head of the Transparency Unit
“We see integrity as a way of acting in all administrative and operational processes. We see transparent management, accountability and participation as fundamental elements to mitigate acts of corruption and embezzlement. We put this into practice by creating a results-based budget, implementing institutional internal control, and directly engaging with the public via a portal for communities.
The Integrity Management Tool made it easier for us to assess the effectiveness of practices we have been applying such as a code of conduct.”
Water Operator: AySA
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Population served: 14.441.422
Representative: Marcelo Rogora, Director of Integrity and Best Practices
“The integrity consortium (WIN, SIWI and cewas) has collaborated with us in identifying risks, monitoring and evaluating them. We developed an online tool (AySA DATA) which has four pillars: integrity and transparency, citizen participation, open data and digital transformation. With it, we seek to incorporate the citizens’ perspective in the management of the company and to adhere to accountability processes.
When we refer to integrity risks, we cannot only focus on internal mitigating processes; citizens are essential. They can make complaints, queries, suggestions and thus, serve as sources of risk identification.”
Overall, building water integrity into the values of an organisation can be transformative. It is a new way to identify and address root causes of recurring issues and to strengthen trust with users and funders. As such, it benefits sanitation and water operators. And, it benefits users, who receive better sanitation and water services, as is their human right.