Water Supply and Sanitation Services (B2)

Institutions responsible for delivering such services can be public, private, or cooperatively owned and manged entities but can also result from collaborations between these sectors. Service providers are responsible for establishing, maintaining, and upgrading the water supply system, which typically involves for: collection, treatment, distribution, quality control, sewage, and reuse of water. IWRM principles stipulate that water should be provided in adequate, quality, and affordable supplies. An integrated strategy also presupposes that water services should be tailored according to the social, economic, and environmental contexts.

There are several types of institutions that may provide water supply and sanitation services. Such institutions can be public (B2.01), private (B2.02), or cooperatively owned and manged (B2.03) entities but can also result from collaborations between these sectors. Government or public water providers can be locally, regionally and even nationally administered. In establishing public water utility providers, it is important to specify if their finances are considered outside or as part of the government’s budgetary activities (i.e. ring-fenced or not). Other types of public water and sanitation providers can be set up through statutory authority/agency, whereas some others can be fully owned by the government but will formally be operating under commercial law. Private or private public partnerships services providers also normally work under commercial law. Finally, nonprofits as well as community based organizations may as well act as water supply and sanitation service providers.

The main duty of the bodies presented in this section is to provide what is called the water supply network or system. Although this might not be done by one single entity, the provision of water and sanitation services normally refers to the construction, operation and upgrade of this system. Building a water supply system also typically requires other additional infrastructure services such as roads, electricity grids, etc. Irrigation infrastructure can be seen as a specific example of a pipe or channel network (see no. 6) and can also fall in, depending on the context, as part of the reuse systems (see no. 8). In all cases, it is comprised by what is here referred to as the water supply network.

A water supply system is made up of the following typical hydrologic and hydraulic components:

  1. Source point water basin – for the development and accumulation of raw water resources;
  2. Collection point – for the transfer of the raw water resources towards the treatment water facilities;
  3. Purification facilities – for the treatment of the transferred water resources;
  4. Reservoir facilities – for the storage of potable water;
  5. Pressurizing installations – for the pumping (when working against gravity flows);
  6. Pipe or channel network – for distributing the water to end-users;
  7. Sewage – for the collection, treatment, and release of wastewater;
  8. Reuse systems – for the reutilisation of appropriate grey and treated water.

Under an IWRM strategy, water and sanitation services should always be provided in adequate, quality and affordable supplies. Adequate provision refers to delivering the quantities that satisfy end-users needs, while considering the capacity of the freshwater source point ecosystems. A well-defined system of property rights and obligations for water, for all uses, should be first developed so that social fairness and integrity can be sustained (see A2.01). Providing safe water quality is a responsibility that takes into account both health and environmental aspects. Water providers should comply with agreed national and/or international health standards on water quality and strictly respect environmental standards for the release and reuse of wastewater. Water affordability holds together providing the maximum capacity at a minimum price. Systems of water pricing related to volume and timing, for all applications, should be introduced in order to adequately reflect water value (C7.01).

The IWRM approach also holds that organisations dealing water supply and sanitation must show flexibility in providing their services. Different settings are imprint of their own human, economic and environmental facets, which in turn, necessarily embeds for context-specific challenges. The provision of water and sanitation services is said to particularly differ between urban and rural environments. It is not so much in the challenges themselves but rather in the ways they appear that changes. For instance, the treats for supplying adequate water provisions in the cities is likely to come from growing population as well as from industrial activities; but in the rural areas it is rather the agricultural sector which may be at the core of the challenge for water supply. Similar thoughts could be elaborated on issues such as water collection, pollution and reuse. The technical tools and even the types of service provider (public, private or cooperatively owned and managed), thus need to be context-adapted.

In a nutshell, a water supply and sanitation strategy oriented by IWRM principles is one that should show clear consciousness of the following:

  • Although water services are normally provided by governments, other types of providers also exist and may be more adapted depending on the context. The private sector can play a role as service provider, especially when it comes to finance. Community-based water supply organisations are proven to work better in remote villages and areas than their public and private counterparts.
  • Key stakeholders should have their say in every aspect of the water supply and sanitation services; from price regulation to the location of distribution networks.
  • The reuse of grey and treated water is an essential feature of providing integrated water supply and sanitation services.
  • Water should always be provided in adequate, quality and affordable supplies for all. Water services should aim for a careful balance between the social, economic and environmental needs.
  • Providing water and sanitation services will face different challenges according to the setting, thus there is no such thing as "one size fits all". Experience shows that the contrast is particularly stark in providing for rural versus urban areas.