"Water Mafias" Put Stranglehold on Public Water Supply

Tasha Eichenseher in Stockholm, Sweden
for National Geographic News
August 21, 2008

Worldwide corruption driven by mafia-like organizations throughout water industries is forcing the poor to pay more for basic drinking water and sanitation services, according to a new report.

If bribery, organized crime, embezzlement, and other illegal activities continue, consumers and taxpayers will pay the equivalent of U.S. $20 billion dollars over the next decade, says the report, released this week at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

The water sector is one of most corrupt after health and education, added Håkan Tropp, chair of the Water Integrity Network (WIN), an advocacy group and report co-author.

That's because the poor often don't have a voice in strategic water policy decisions, said Christian Poortman, head of the anticorruption group Transparency International (TI), which collaborated with WIN on the study.

(Read about water scarcity in National Geographic Magazine.)

Skyrocketing Prices

In developing countries, corruption bumps up household water prices by at least 30 percent, experts say.

In Honduras, for example, residents who either cannot afford connections to centralized water systems or live in places where water is not easily accessible pay 40 percent more for informal water supplies, said TI's Donal O'Leary.

The water is often delivered in trucks or pushcarts by entrepreneurs, who in some cases secure supplies illegally from a bigger water company, O'Leary explained.

In Bangladesh and Ecuador, mafia-like groups often collude with public water officials to prevent access to cheap water services.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that countries such as El Salvador, Jamaica, and Nicaragua spend more than 10 percent of their income on water services, in part due to corruption. In comparison, those in developed nations such as the United States pay approximately 3 percent.

(Related: "Ban Sale of Water for Profit, Health Activist Says" [November 5, 2004].)

Continued on Next Page >>




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