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WORLD: New alliance seeks fight water sector corruption

by Alister DoyleReuters
August 22nd, 2006

Water experts and businesses teamed up on Tuesday to fight corruption feared to be siphoning off billions of dollars from projects to supply drinking water to the Third World.

The Water Integrity Network (WIN), launched at a meeting of 1,000 water experts in Stockholm, would combat graft in a sector where huge contracts are needed to meet U.N. goals of halving the proportion of people with no access to clean water by 2015.

"Corruption is undermining efforts to bring more people water," Kenyan Water Minister Mutua Katuku told a news conference with founders of WIN. He said Kenya had made "serious reforms" in 2002 to the water sector to help end graft.

WIN includes non-government groups such as Transparency International, the Stockholm International Water Institute and Aquafed, an industry body that says it represents 200 companies including Suez, Veolia and U.S. United Water.

"About 1.2 billion people, 20 percent of the world's population ... haven't got access to clean water. That's a scandal in a world where there's enough money around," said David Nussbaum, head of Transparency International, which says it has 90 national branches seeking to fight corruption.

WIN would seek legal and financial reforms to allow greater competition and insight into contracts, and try to inform the public about how corruption was sapping investments. The network would be open to all.

Nussbaum said water was a sector prone to corruption in developing nations from Africa to Asia because big contracts for everything from pipelines to construction of treatment plants were awarded by governments, often with little public insight.

Transparency International's index of the sectors most plagued by bribe payers says construction and public works is worst, ahead of defence and oil and gas.

WIN quoted World Bank estimates that 20-40 percent of water sector finances were lost to corruption. That would mean a projected loss of about $20 billion from needed investments in sub-Saharan Africa over the coming decade, it said.

"Corruption increases costs and reduces efficiency and this is a reason why private operators are strongly motivated to overcome corruption," said Gerard Payen, director of the Aquafed industry group.

He also said petty corruption by consumers could also threaten water supplies. One study in India found that 41 percent of customers had paid a small payment in the past 6 months to falsify a meter reading to cut bills.

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