Access to basic services remains low in many developing countries. For instance, in Latin America, on average 91 percent of population has access to safe drinking water, though this figure can be as low as 70 percent in urban and 51 percent in some rural areas. Sanitation covers 87 percent of the urban population, but in some countries coverage in rural areas is equivalent to those rates found in sub-Saharan Africa, where only 37 percent of the population have access to sanitation. In this region, about 56 percent of households have access clean water and electricity consumption stands at 594 kwh per capita (as compared to consumption of over 4,000 kwh per capita for developed countries).
The record of the public sector in ensuring access to basic services also raises important concerns. In many developing countries, the management of utilities has been linked to maintenance failures, taps running dry and electricity blackouts. The current trend in provision of basic services has involved governments retaining ownership and paying for capital investment, but handing over management to the private sector. But this modality is also coming under severe criticism. Private companies are hesitant to make the substantial investments needed in infrastructure and distribution systems without assurances that they will receive adequate rates of returns on their investments. In some notable and troublesome cases, the disputes over water and electricity contracts have resulted in termination and the return of administration by the public sector. High tariffs hurt low-income consumers. Water and electricity tariffs make up high proportion of household income - well above the 3-5 percent benchmark. Basic services, more often than not, cover only urban centres. Thus, the tension between cost recovery (efficacy gains) and social policy goals remains marked.
The objective of the International Workshop on Equitable Access to Basic Services: Insights for Latin America is to assemble experts and re searchers to discuss the following questions:
What is the relationship between poverty and access to basic services?
How will the urgently needed investments in basic services be financed?
Will re-structured public provision of basic services increase access?
Is private provision working as a means of increasing the quality and quantity of basic services being provided to households in the developing world?
What are the success stories of public-private partnerships in ensuring equitable access to basic services?
Has a strong regulatory environment, including the legal frameworks to enforce and negotiate contracts, helped to ensure greater service provision to the poor?
The outcome of the project will be enhanced understandings on how to improve access to basic utility services.
The outputs of the workshop will include a series of eight articles that will be released together in a special issue of Poverty in Focus devoted for the benefit of UNDP and the wider community of practitioners and re searchers in 189 countries.
The workshop is jointly organised by the International Poverty Centre (IPC) and the Brazil Office of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University in São Paulo (DRCLAS) .