Monday, August 30, 2010

Pakistan Drinking Water Policy

Ministry of Environment has prepared a draft policy for drinking water ,which is in the process of government approval.Work on this policy was earlier initiated by the ministry of health almost a decade ago under some UN initiative.Nothing of substance perhaps is initiated in our beloved country unless the impulse comes from the UN system.Finally the policy process was taken over by the Ministry of Environment.It is a good omen and an elaborate policy .

The draft policy announces certain policy principles the most important of which is that access to safe drinking water has been recognized as a basic human right , the existing inequities working against the poor are to be removed and that the drinking water allocation gets precedence over all other uses.The policy also lays out time bound targets related to water access,water treatment etc.It is an elaborate draft, painstakingly prepared,most probably with the assistance of foreign consultants,as is indicated by its relative sophistication ,its emphasis on gender and financial sustainability.

The draft,however,contradicts itself when it deals with financial sustainability and user charges.It should be patently clear that the poor cannot pay.One third of Pakistan is abjectly poor and does not get the required daily nutrition.Most water policies and the associated literature ,I have come across,argue in favor of recouping of O&M costs and not the full cost recovery.If drinking water is a basic human right,water is to be subsidized either through external or cross subsidies, for the poor.There is a strong case for differentiated water rates as is currently being done for other services such as Electricity.I wonder if the policy makers would make the requisite adjustments in this respect.Similarly,one would suspect the role of private sector and private-public partnership,however elegant and fashionable these terms may appear to be.Private sector requires more than adequate return,while in water sector,ROA/ROE are relatively unknown terms.One could however see the role of public-ally subsidized cooperative schemes.

However,drinking water policy coming from the ministry of environment,which is a kind of staff ministry having advisory functions and no implementation resources, may remain a stumbling block.I wonder if the Ministry of Water would have been more appropriate agency for drinking water policy which could have issued it as a part of the broader Water Policy.Perhaps drinking water standards and testing routines ,water and waste water plants standards could be more appropriate for the environment ministry.

If the policy is not to have the fate of just a good document,it has to have ownership of the line ministry concerned which in this case is Ministry of Water and Power.I am not sure whether the delay in announcing the policy might be due to these issues that I am raising here.

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