Water and Urban Governance

The presence of basic infrastructure and delivery of core public services are key ways to gauge the effectiveness of governance. Although this data is only part of an assessment of state functioning, it can provide insight into the lived realities of ordinary people. And access to “improved water sources” is one data set that is readily comparable internationally.

Here is the World Bank’s definition of an “improved water source”:

Access to an improved water source refers to the percentage of the population with reasonable access to an adequate amount of water from an improved source, such as a household connection, public standpipe, borehole, protected well or spring, and rainwater collection. Unimproved sources include vendors, tanker trucks, and unprotected wells and springs. Reasonable access is defined as the availability of at least 20 liters a person a day from a source within one kilometer of the dwelling.

One set of data from the Worldwide Governance Indicators looks at access to water in cities. When we consider change over the period 1990-2010, some striking patterns emerge. While global access to improved urban water sources steadily increased over this period of time, some states have seen huge gains, and a few have lost ground.

A few countries experiencing big gains include (1990/1991 data is listed first, followed by the figure for 2010):

Angola: 46%,  60%

Cambodia:  48%,  87%

Cameroon:  76%,  95%

Chad:  49%,  70%

Ethiopia:  79%,  97%

Mauritania:  36%,  52%

A few countries with deteriorating conditions include:

Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire):  90%,  79%

Nigeria:  79%,  74%

Yemen:  96%,  72%

Sudan (data from prior to the 2011 partition of Sudan):  84%,  67%

The World Bank also offers data for rural areas. In most cases, these figures are 30-50% lower than those for cities. This is just one of many reasons for ongoing rural to urban migration and “over-urbanization.”

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.


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