Makkaoui, Raoudha, and Jean-Luc Dubois (2010). "Ensuring Universal Access to Water Resources: Potentials and Limits of Decentralized Cooperation" Paper presented at the 7th annual conference of the HDCA, 21-23 September 2010, Amman, Jordan.
Water issues are presently at the heart of the international community concerns, particularly the policy makers in developing countries who face high population growth, rapid urbanization and uncontrolled development of irrigated agriculture. The last World Water Forum, held in Istanbul in March 2009, emphasized the seriousness of the issue explaining that social consequences on people’s health and life expectation may be considerable. The UN report on water (2009) showed that 20 percent of the world's population has no access to drinking water and that 40 percent do not have any sanitation base. Consequently, more than five million people die each year from various diseases caused by water inappropriate for human consumption, among which 90 percent are children less than five years. To address this alarming situation, the international community pledged to halve, between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of people without access to drinking water. It encourages all kind of actions and new governance that could improve the access to drinking water and sanitation. In France, a legal and regulatory framework was set up in 1992 to allow local authorities, at the level of the towns and regions, to promote their own cooperative relationships with communities in developing countries. These programs are currently denominated under the label "decentralized cooperation". Decentralized cooperation refers to any form of partnership set up between actors from the French civil society and communities from developing country. Corresponding decentralized programs are based on participatory actions and aim at developing the synergy between the actors of both civil societies. Actors who are involved in the definition and the implementation of focused projects. This vision provides a new impetus to the international cooperation as it allows overcoming the usual limits of conventional bilateral and multilateral cooperation between North and South. This paper discusses this issue of “decentralized cooperation” in the field of water management. To ensure the "access to safe drinking water for all", cooperation between decentralized entities now constitutes a preferred water governance option in many places. In a first part, we will provide an overview of people’s difficulties to access to water in developing countries, showing the current deficiencies in rights and entitlements. Then we will review the various forms of water management, with their potential and limits, emphasizing the new role played by civil society in the definition and implementation of water projects. In a second part, we will address the particular case of Seine-Saint-Denis General Council, in Paris’ area, France, which is presently conducting such type of “decentralized cooperation” in partnership with the city of Figuig in Morocco. We will consider the values and limits of such a process that focuses on people’s capabilities, at both individual and collective levels. This participatory approach, which considers intergenerational equity in the access to water, leads to a more accountable and equitable vision of human development, in both social and ecological terms.