The international concern to mitigate the shortage of water has given rise to the \"demand-responsive approach\", as against the \"supply-driven approach\". The international donors, who are active in supporting the water sector in developing countries, have developed seven premises, which seem to overwhelmingly support this approach as being pro-poor and gender sensitive. The premises are: improved water services lead to higher income; payment increases feelings of ownership towards the water supply; private sector involvement leads to effective water services; water is a finite resource and hence it should be treated as a commodity; improved water services lead to higher health benefits; demand-driven approach increases local participation in decision-making; and gender-neutral words can benefit women and men equally. However, the recent studies have countered and challenged these arguments. These studies argue that demand-driven approach will pose a lot of negative implications on poor and marginalised people, especially the women from female-headed households, since they cannot meet the costs of water and hence, will be deprived of the benefits of improved water services. The poor and marginalised people who have no access to and control over resources; who use water only for domestic consumption and not for commercial purposes; who cannot voice their concerns and influence the decision making process due to their poor social and economic status can in no way, as found by many studies, benefit from improved water services. Because many water projects do not introduce any income generating activities and that there are very few opportunities for women to get involved in other productive activities locally, the argument that women and men can generate extra income from their time saved from water hauling, which can then be used to meet the water costs does not hold true. This is where is the need to view the water also as social good and not just as economic good. It is worth appreciating the engendering activities initiated recently by some agencies engaged in the water sector in Nepal, such as Nepal Water for Health (NEWAH) funded by WaterAid and Department for International Development (DFID), Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (RWSSP) funded by Finnish International Development Agency (FINNIDA), and Fourth Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project (FRWSSSP) of the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage (DWSS) funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). However, the study of these organisations show that many of the activities are taken as one-off events and not backed up by systematic long term planning exercises. The most important elements in mainstreaming gender are the attitude and commitment of the people in the planning and policy-making level, which can determine the extent to which various gender issues in the water sector are well reflected in the organisational policies. Only through women-friendly policies can organisations engaged in the water sector help to create a society with greater gender equality in terms of sharing of benefits, power and access to and control over resources.
First South Asia Forum on Water, Kathmandu, November 2001, 15 pp.