Removing the Shadow of Corruption

Notes on the 2019 World Water and Development Report - Leaving No One Behind

The recently released 2019 World Water and Development Report, Leaving No-one Behind, recognises very clearly the negative impacts of corruption in the water and sanitation sector as a symptom of severe institutional weaknesses and poor governance. It notes:


“Apart from derailing policy implementation, corruption also reinforces existing inequalities, since payments trickle up to those with more (discretionary) power.”

WWAP. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2019: Leaving No One Behind


The Water Integrity Network (WIN) commends UN Water for this high level recognition of the all too prevalent challenges of corruption and lack of integrity in the water and sanitation sector. Casting a public light on corruption is a critical part of controlling this scourge.

The water sector is thought to be one of the most corrupt in the world, due to a combination of large infrastructure projects, a high degree of monopoly control, and a high level of discretion on the part of decision-makers. Estimates of the financial impact of corruption in the water vary considerably, but, according to WIN’s Water Integrity Global Outlook of 2016, at 10%, corruption would be costing the sector anywhere between $80 – 170 billion per annum – in terms of the financial costs of corruption, not the indirect social and environmental costs such as reduced health and lost productivity, and the time costs of collecting water.

This is not a problem restricted to developing countries. A recent study on Identifying and Reducing Corruption in Public Procurement in the EU, conducted by PWC, found that 27% of projects analysed involved kickbacks and 14% showed a conflict of interest type of corruption. The study, which was not water sector specific, found that, on average, the estimated probability of corruption was higher in water and waste compared to other sectors and ranged from 25% to 35% of projects with a cost of between EUR 27 million and EUR 38 million.

The negative impacts of corruption hit the poor and the marginalised hardest – those without easy access to power or money for bribes. There is a gendered dimension too, as women are forced to use their bodies as payment for services. Corruption results in the daily violation of people’s human rights to water, sanitation and a life of dignity.

WIN works with a range of partners to improve integrity in the water and sanitation sectors. Our work across three continents has shown how knowledge, tools and capacity building can improve integrity in the water sector, and reduce the potential for corruption. Accountability, transparency, participation, and deliberate anti-corruption measures are all necessary elements of the process towards improved integrity, and towards our being able to deliver effectively on the Sustainable Development Goal on access to water and sanitation for the poorest and most marginalised, in particular.

We will have to address corruption and integrity with greater conviction and commitment if we truly want to leave no one behind.

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