Improving Water Services Through Innovations in Regulation

The “Lisbon Charter” offers a vision for reforming water management for sustainable development

Water is considered to be the greatest risk facing the world over coming decades; a risk of high likelihood and even higher impact. For water managers, regulators and policy makers, there is a critical opportunity for a transformation in public policy and the regulation of water services to meet these future challenges. Securing the future sustainability of water, sanitation and wastewater services will depend upon it.

Public water policies and regulation remain obscure to many people, yet they determine how water services are delivered, the quality of those services and the price we all pay for them. Water policies and regulation can provide a critical breakthrough in reforming the water sector and attracting investments for much-needed infrastructure and human resource development.

A new set of guiding principles for sound public policies and regulation for water services, adopted today by the International Water Association, promises to deliver a vital stimulus for the water sector to innovate. These principles, embedded in the “Lisbon Charter” offer a visionary and practical pathway for delivering improved water and sanitation services. Critically, these principles are universal, equally adaptable in any water utility anywhere in the world.

The water sector faces multiple challenges and demand for innovative public water policies and regulation is growing. As water professionals we are confronted with this daily when dealing with the financing of infrastructure, the involvement of the private sector or the demand for transparency in tariffs. We’re also confronted with this when we review the use of new technological developments or emerging business models for water services provision.

“It is timely for the IWA, together with the community of water and sanitation professionals and opinion leaders, to agree on an international framework of good practice for public policy and regulation in drinking water supply, sanitation and wastewater management services, with clear reference to the rights and responsibilities of the various stakeholders and users.”
– The Lisbon Charter, Guiding the Public Policy and Regulation of Drinking Water Supply, Sanitation and Wastewater Management Services

The drive to innovate public policies also comes from the expectation on governments to respond to the adoption of new frameworks at the international level, including for example the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Sustainable Development Goals or new policies or agreements at the regional level.

Updating public policies and regulation forms part of a government’s primary responsibility for public policy making. Today a wide variety of models of public water policy and regulation exist around the world. The “Lisbon Charter” brings the experience of these together and sets out five leading principles:

  • Effective water supply, sanitation and waste water make a positive contribution to sustainable development;
  • The provision of services should enshrine accountability and transparency;
  • The economics of service provision should be framed by long-term infrastructure investments and cost recovery instruments;
  • Service provision should take into account the financial, social and environmental aspects of all water resources;
  • Effective service provision relies upon the collective actions of interdependent stakeholders.

Governments and public administrations have a critical role to play at all levels to ensure water services are reliable, of acceptable quality and have affordable prices. They must ensure the formulation and implementation of appropriate public policies including the creation, application and monitoring of norms, standards and best practice.

The “Lisbon Charter” goes beyond the role of governments. It covers the broader rights, responsibilities and good practices for each group of stakeholders by defining the roles of governments and public administrations, regulatory authorities, service providers, water professionals and end-users. For all stakeholders to accept their roles and live-up to the associated expectations continues to be a challenge for the water sector.

The “Lisbon Charter” provides a vision for this, but it is also an opportunity for all stakeholders to work from a solid and practical base and renew their contribution to the delivery of safe water, sanitation and wastewater services to all citizens around the world.

The Lisbon Charter from IWA on Vimeo.

Gerard Payen, IWA Stategic Council Chair, discusses the Lisbon Charter

Please see The Lisbon Regulators Charter here.


Documents and reports attached to this page

Ger Bergkamp

Past IWA Executive Director
Ger Bergkamp is the former Executive Director of the International Water Association. He held the post between the years, 2012 and 2017. Connect with Ger Bergkamp on IWA Connect.   Read full biography