ID21 research – Public investment in sewers is necessary and affordable
‘Sewerage Works: Public investment in sewers saves lives’, Public Services International Research Unit, by David Hall and Emanuele Lobina, 2008 (PDF)
Donor insistence that poor householders pay the cost of connection to sewerage systems is short-sighted. In 19th Century Europe, governments realised water-borne diseases could only be eradicated by public investment and compulsory connection to sewers. Sewers have been proven to promote health and are an affordable investment that will benefit many generations to come.
A report from UNISON – the UK’s largest public service trade union – and Public Services International – the global federation for public sector trade unions – argues that the inability of the private sector to invest in sewerage systems requires governments to take the lead. It also argues that the costs of urban sewerage are affordable, contrary to the usual assertions.
The benefits of sewerage systems are too great for them to be treated as an optional extra. The authors urge:
— developing countries to use public finance to extend sewerage systems, raise tax revenues to finance them and resist external advice to achieve full cost recovery,
— donors to target funding and capacity building at countries most in need, not those where the private sector sees opportunities for profit,
— all sanitation stakeholders to acknowledge that the private sector has proven unable to sufficiently invest in sanitation improvements,
— acknowledgement that the countries leading the way in building sewers and expanding connections are those such as China, Brazil and India which are most independent of pressures from international financial institutions or donors.