Striking the balance: what is the role of the public sector in sanitation as a service and as a business?
With over 2 billion people lacking access to improved sanitation, governments, especially in developing countries, have an enormous challenge to roll out services, increase and correctly target investment and financing mechanisms, and to create opportunities for and manage service providers. Pockets of experience in countries throughout Africa and Asia show that the public and private sectors can partner to deliver affordable, sustainable, high-quality water and sanitation services, linked to the capacity and financial sustainability of providers and authorities (e.g. the existence of an enabling regulatory and institutional framework). Where public services do not reach the poorest, private providers, NGOs or CBOs have stepped into the gap, often without government knowledge or support. To coordinate, provide oversight, and fulfil their legislative mandate, governments need to create an accountable and enabling policy and regulatory environment for non-state entities that ensures they provide affordable services and strengthen demand from their constituencies for sanitation services. This is one of the conclusions of the recent ‘Unclogging the Blockages in Sanitation’ conference that took place in Kampala in February 2014, which provides the basis for this paper and the thematic edition on linkages between the public and private sectors in sanitation services delivery.