Context matters: how state forms and reforms influence water provision in Latin America
By LaDawn Haglund | November 2006
No human being can live without water. Yet over one billion people do not have adequate access to this vital resource. Debates have raged over how to improve water provision in less-developed countries: dozens of contradictory works exist, and few clear lessons have emerged. Though private sector participation in water sectors has had some success in expanding the capacity of the state to provide public services in specific times and locations, the rush to implement “best practices” under the Washington Consensus has led to spectacular failures as well. In order to determine under what circumstances state-led reform, private contracting and concessions, and decentralization are more promising solutions, a more sophisticated understanding of institutions and the state is necessary than that underpinning most water management studies.
Our findings indicate that successes and failures of water sector reform depend on preexisting state structures and social relations in determinate ways. We find that the state is not a perverse organization per se: when there is participation, respect for the public sphere, and financial and technical capacity and autonomy, public entities can be quite successful. Contextual considerations must not be brushed aside. This project provides a cautionary tale regarding the wholesale transfer of public goods models from one context to another, as well as a road map regarding which policies and practices might be better suited to the complexity inherent to the essential drive to improve water provision in developing countries.
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