U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre

This Anti-Corruption Helpdesk brief was produced in response to a query from a U4 Partner Agency. The U4 Helpdesk is operated by Transparency International in collaboration with the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre based at the Chr. Michelsen Institute.


First, what financial and health-related effects does corruption in the water and sanitation sector have on people living in poverty? Second, what kinds of measures can reduce corruption in this sector? Third, please provide a short list of essential reading on this issue.


We intend to present a short brief on corruption in the water and sanitation sector at the 2017 World Water Week. 


  1. Background and the scale of the problem
  2. Drivers and forms of corruption in the water and sanitation services (WSS) sector
  3. Effect of corruption on access to safe water and sanitation for those living in poverty
  4. Measures to reduce corruption in the sector
  5. Essential reading
  6. References
  7. Annex: Governance indicators for WSS sector


Much of the relevant material is around a decade old and therefore a little dated. There is also a major gap in the literature regarding the poverty impacts of corruption in the water sector. The main challenge appears to be the lack of recent data on the levels of corruption, which would be needed to comprehensively analyse the poverty impacts of corruption.


The fact that the poor are the hardest hit by corruption in the water and sanitation services (WSS) sector is almost unanimously agreed upon. Corruption in the WSS sector generates “water poverty” by reducing the quality and availability of services, with massively disproportionate and adverse effects on the poor and marginalised.

Corruption contributes to the failure to enforce laws meant to protect water sources from encroachment and pollution, produces discriminatory outcomes in water flows and irrigation patterns in favour of the powerful, leads to poor quality water infrastructure and fatally undermines fair and affordable access to water and sanitation. It consequentially exacerbates the already precarious lives and livelihoods of the poor – especially where these are related to other vulnerabilities such as gender, age or ethnicity – and reduces their ability to escape poverty.

While a number of qualitative studies have identified the kinds of corruption in the sector which have particularly severe and deleterious effects on the poor, measuring this “poverty impact” has proved more challenging. Nonetheless, some, albeit rather dated, quantitative estimates do exist, and overall the literature lends some impression of the effect of corruption on the poor, particularly in terms of financial and health-related impact.

Measures to reduce corruption in this sector can be categorised in line with a recent “integrity wall” framework developed by the Water Integrity Network. Such approaches range from scaling up diagnostic efforts, promoting fair competition in procurement, strengthening monitoring and oversight from above and below, and promoting participation in water governance by the poorest and most marginalised in society.


Matthew Jenkins, Transparency International, [email protected]


Umrbek Allakulov, Water Integrity Network




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