Water supply is among the most crucial of all the infrastructure services in the urban context. In many cities and towns of the developing world, the formal sector (public or private water utilities) has been unable to keep up with the water requirements of the growing population. Informal small water enterprises (SWEs) have moved to fill the huge supply gap left by water utilities, and are often the main suppliers of water to people, particularly those living in informal urban settlements, who are un-served or under-served by water utilities. Indeed, SWEs make a significant contribution to supplying water to people in developing countries who lack access to safe water, estimated by the United Nations to be over one billion.
Findings from recent research in Africa show that SWEs provide valued water services to up to 50% of the urban population, and even higher percentages in cities with higher proportions of the population living in informal settlements. This fact sheet attempts to shed more light on some of the key issues surrounding SWE provision of water services. It looks at the nature, role and constraints of SWEs, and why water sector managers should give attention to, and recognise, SWEs. The potential for utility-SWEs partnerships is presented, and typical interventions to improve SWEs operation are suggested. The fact sheet concludes that SWEs can contribute to increasing the proportion of people with improved water services, and hence help meet the Millennium Development Goal for water. This can be achieved through support to SWEs and development of win-win partnerships between SWEs and water utilities.