Corruption Continues to Deprive Millions of Water

Widespread corruption leads to upwards of 343 million people in Africa lacking access to a decent water supply, according to an analysis by IRIN, the news arm of the UN’s office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The system of water distribution in many African nations relies on bribes and is rife with corruption, the group reported. In these environments of widespread graft, basic necessities often come at a high price.

A 2008 report by Transparency International highlighted the deadly effects of corruption in the arena of water distribution: the report estimated that corruption cost over one billion people access to safe drinking water, and over 2.8 billion access to proper sanitation. Corruption also costs the continent much needed international aid. The cost of efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation -- eight global targets set by the international community ranging from reducing extreme poverty and hunger to combating HIV/AIDS” -- is inflated by an estimated $48 billion, IRIN News reported.

There are three key issues driving corruption in the water sector, namely “limitations of participation, transparency and accountability,” according to IRIN. Those most affected by water scarcity are rarely involved in decision-making, funding for programs is often opaque, and checks and balances on corruption often do not exist. Corruption is also rampant in water infrastructure projects; the placement of water collection points is often impacted by political clout and pressure.

The ineffective institutional mandates governing the water sector further limit clean water distribution in Africa. In Kenya, there is no requirement for income from water services to be put back into the improvement, maintenance, or repair of infrastructure. As a result “it is not uncommon to see leaking and broken pipes and water pumps in many parts of urban and rural regions of Africa countries,” Barrack Luseno, a Kenyan water sector analyst, told IRIN.

The human cost of water sector corruption goes beyond finances;  diarrhea linked to poor sanitation has resulted in annual deaths of 400,000 children in the [African] continent in recent years, according to a February 2013 report by Water Aid. At the current rate of implementation, the MDG targets for water and sanitation will not be met in Sub-Saharan Africa well into the next century, the report said. Greater government transparency and an emphasis on tackling corruption and waste in the water sector are imperative, the report concludes.