AID AGENCIES at the Earth Summit urged western governments to stop considering huge infrastructure investment programmes as the best way of improving water supply and sanitation in poor countries.
The plea came as 170 countries signed up to a target of halving the number of people who lack access to sanitation by 2015.
Speaking at the Johannesburg Earth Summit, Water Aid director Ravi Narayanan challenged the assumption that many standard engineering solutions such as major dam and pipe systems benefit those most in need.
Many parts of the developing world lacked the fresh water needed to justify 'western style' water consumption and sewerage, he pointed out.
Currently 1bn people have no access to clean drinking water and 2.4bn have no proper sanitation.
The World Bank has estimated that spending on water infrastructure will have to rise from US$80bn a year to US$185bn a year over the next 25 years. It is expected that much of the investment will come from public private partnerships.
Bankers said that much of the investment would have to be recouped from consumers.
However Mike Muller, director general of South Africa's Ministry of Forestry & Water Affairs, argued that charging people on the poverty line for clean water was counter productive.
Attempts to do this in his country had driven people to drink dirty stream water rather than pay for treated water, he said.