There is a major debate within the water sector as a whole that presents two attitudes, which determinetwo different directions to proceed from. There are those who argue that water is a social good—that allpeople have a right to water because it comes from nature. There are others who oppose and argue thatwater is an economic good—that water brings value to homes and businesses, involving costs that mustbe covered. Perhaps this debate is best summarized by an example:
“My water bill is too high; besides, why should I pay for water when itcomes from the sky?”
“Yes, sir, you are right. The water that falls from the sky is free and youare welcome to collect it or go out to the reservoir and take all you want. But, if you want tohave safe water delivered to your house—available every time you turn on the faucet—thenyou will have to pay us to store, transport, treat, pump, and send it through the pipes.” Like water systems, sanitation and wastewater systems can become subjects of this kind of debate. Forexample, people have the right to a clean and safe environment, and therefore, the government mustprovide sanitation and wastewater treatment for free. The social good of these services is providingpeople clean conditions. The economic good is saving people from costly, unnecessary diseases and beingable to attend school or work, in addition to averting wide-scale health epidemics.The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) water policy views water as both a social and economic good. Thisis ADB's approved policy. Drinking water as a food/medicine, which should be bottled at treatment plants,is the position of an ADB staff in a think piece which has not been peer reviewed or accepted as an ADBposition. Access to water is now recognized as a human right in many countries. ADB advocates thatgovernments and utilities ask people to pay for the cost of delivering water services, not the cost of water as a resource. These services have high costs, and they need to be shared by the consumers.Otherwise, the services cannot be effective and sustainable. On the cover of the book “Asian WaterSupplies—Reaching the Urban Poor” by Arthur McIntosh,
is a picture of a household maid in Manila whopays 900 pesos (P) monthly for water from itinerant vendors while her employer, who lives in a largehome, pays only P200 a month. This disparity led Mr. McIntosh to write a section in his book about “Myths, Misconceptions, and Realities” in the water sector. One of the myths is that the poor cannotafford to pay for piped water supplies and will not pay for piped water.Separate research by ADB onwater costs in 17 Asian citiessupports the reality that the poor pay more—up to 10 times more—forwater from private water vendors than what people pay for piped water utilities.
Business as usual approach
Continue the debate over water as either asocial or economic good.
ORBusiness unusual approach
Agree to disagree on the debate.Water is both a social and economic good.Agree to solutions that will accomplish threegoals:1) expand sanitation coverage to poor,unserviced areas;2) contribute to the sustainability andefficiency of utilities and facilities; and3) contribute to the financial viability of utilities.
Asian Development Bank