The reform of public water utilities has received increasing attention over the past decade. In this paper, the reform paths of five public water utilities from five different developing countries are compared. This paper finds that for each case, an external event or crisis brought the issue of water services high on to the political agenda, leading to a window of opportunity in which relatively radical reforms could be implemented.

However, as political support for continued reforms withered, performance improvements became difficult to sustain. Without continued political support, performance improvements can be followed by a relapse to poor performance.

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