Thursday, November 16, 2006

Going in development circles

This World Resources Institute post on Oxfam's latest report about Health, Water and Sanitation for All made me again ask myself if I think it's OK to charge for basic services such as water and basic health care.

Yes, it is OK, I think, and sometimes desirable. In places where the basic structure of tax collection and service provision do not work, you have to think outside the box and I think WRI and other blogs are pushing me to think more about well regulated business as a means to innovate and solve problems. Clearly, that shouldn’t open the flood gates to companies making a killing with basic services, but this question has to get beyond the "right" for everyone to, water and sanitation. In theory, I think everyone should have these things, but it just isn't that easy. This kind of provision, if unregulated, leads to other sorts of exploitation. Certainly free aid is often diverted into commercial markets and I have heard stories of many hospitals charging just so the health workers can feed their own families. Keeping that in the shadows is like poison as the poor still don't get what they need and people who are just trying to get by end up being labeled corrupt.

What is harder to regulate, businesses with the potential to exploit or non-profits with the potential to give too much away and mix up the incentive structures? All in the tedious details, right?

I am going to read the Unilever case study from Indonesia. They were often mentioned in C. K. Prahalad's Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Anyone with insight on this?!


Anonymous said...

Isn't the real issue of regulation of ANY enterprise down to the ability and WILLINGNESS of the government and/or other types of localized authority or law enforcement to uphold compliance. With the death yesterday of the greatest economic minds(and significant intellectual) of our time, isn't the laissez-faire concept really what we're after anyway? Is Unilever really an organization of evil intentions or are they just the scapegoat for a developing economy's inability to police itself or manage the entire supply chain so that poverty level workers can realize more benefits from their participation in this process? My feeble understanding of this is still haunted by the basic thought that corruption is more or less rampant in many of the economies that you discuss and without eradicating this, all other efforts at creating sustainable ANYTHING (let alone basic services) suffer greatly. If there has been success anywhere in the world on this topic, why is it so difficult to replicate? Very tough questions you raise....
Bring me a Tetleys for New Years. Love Tyler

Pavlusha34 said...

Dear anonymous, it appears I was just late in reading my Economist last week. Certainly, "Clean Water is a Right", but it also needs to have a price. Or so they tell us.

Also forgot to mention, in our free time, we should read the UNDP annual report on Human Development, this year on Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis.

bogart said...

As you read in the economist last week, once they made water free it got wasted.. So yes it's a right to have it free, but why does our perception change when is free?

Pavlusha34 said...

If you don't pay for it, some say you don't value it. I think that is a bit simple as paying doesn't mean you value, automatically. But time and time again, if it flows for free and nobody is responsible for fixing it when it breaks, it ain't gonna work for long.