What is Corruption in the Water Sector

The scale and scope of the water integrity challenge

What is corruption?

According to Transparency International, “Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Corruption is about breaking socially established expectations of appropriate behaviour. Corruption does not only take place in the public sector, it also occurs in non-governmental organisations and private enterprises. It involves both the receiver and giver.

Estimates by the World Bank suggest that 20–40 per cent of water sector finances are being lost to dishonest practices. Corruption in the water sector can involve:

  • Collusion or bribes over contracts,
  • Officials turning a blind eye to transgressions,
  • Officials enjoying personal or political gain from favours,
  • Favouritism, clientelism, cronyism and nepotism,
  • Illegal fees to water companies for standard services, or even
  • Fraud, embezzlement and theft.

More specifically, common examples can include: cutting red tape in applications for reservoir water abstraction, giving preference to certain providers in water service or infrastructure contracts, expediting a household’s connection to municipal water supplies, or falsifying water meter readings…


How does it affect the water sector?

Corruption in the water sector is both a cause and a consequence of poor governance in the water sector.

It is not specific to a given country or region and or to the water sector. However, the global water sector does have specific characteristics that make it vulnerable to corruption.

Corruption thrives where transparency, accountability and participation are weak and where public sector and financial management capacity are low. It can be encountered at the highest levels of government where it would distort central functions. This is grand corruption and can involve large exchange of money. Contract awards for large infrastructure projects in the water sector can be affected by such corruption. Petty corruption on the other hand, involves the exchange of small amounts of money, the granting of minor favours or the employment of friends and relatives in lower positions. It is smaller but more frequent and pervasive. In aggregate it can represent large sums of money and significant processes.

Generally, corruption in the water sector:

  • Hinders full and fair enforcement of laws and regulation
  • Deviates money channels from planned purposed in the water sector
  • Destabilizes sharing processes
  • Inflates costs

Whatever its form, corruption in the water sector ultimately leads to higher costs and reduced access to water, especially for the poor and most vulnerable.

Water is a foundation for development. Without it: there’s no economic growth, no industry, no agriculture; disease and infant mortality thrive. The hours lost daily fetching water keep many women out of work and children out of school. By diverting resources from where they’re most needed, corruption exacerbates already difficult challenges far beyond the water sector and puts lives and livelihoods at risk.




Source: Transparency International – Global Corruption Report 2008


What can be done?

Water integrity is the strongest counterforce to corruption in the water sector. Water integrity implies honesty. It is based on the three pillars of Transparency, Accountability and Participation (TAP) and aims for equity and sustainability. It can be promoted and enhanced to address all the major risks of corruption in water.

See the first steps for integrity to support the water sector here.

What can you do?

You can take simple steps to launch an integrity change process. Here are the tools to help you.

Stay informed

Sign up for our newsletter for bimonthly updates on the activities of the network worldwide.

Tell us your story

Are you promoting water integrity in your organization or in your region? Tell us how and help the network learn from your achievements.

Learn from experience

See how people and organizations are changing the water sector with integrity.