Most people who live in cities and large towns throughout much of the developing world occupy neighbourhoods and informal settlements that do not have adequate water services. In fact, evidence suggests that more than 75 per cent of the urban poor obtain domestic water from sources other than a direct-piped mains supply. Is it time we looked at the positive alternative role which independent small-scale water providers play in meeting these people's needs?
In many cities of the developing world, the water supply distribution network does not extend to the informal settlements of the poor, and these inhabitants rely on small water-providing enterprises (SWEs) to bring their water to them. This article arises out of ongoing research into SWEs and describes how SWEs operate in Khartoum, Sudan. Water customers there pay a considerable portion of their income to SWEs, but the rates charged by SWEs are reasonable considering the costs involved and seem to be competitive. The research aims to identify and test strategies that could enable SWEs to deliver a more acceptable water service to poor urban consumers by building partnerships between SWEs and water utilities, based on mutual benefits.