The dismal situation of water supply and sanitation in many developing countries including Pakistan is increasingly blamed on unrealistic policy, ineffective implementation and lack of local participation. This paper aims to understand Pakistan's current and proposed water supply and sanitation institutions in the light of historical and ongoing practices and perceptions of relevant actors. The relevant institutions of the government, their service provision and policy formulation and implementation processes were examined and compared with the field data. An actor-oriented approach, open-ended interviews, group discussions with relevant actors and participant observation were used for data collection. Wide gaps were found between local people's needs, desires and expectations and government policies and services, between people's practices and historical and proposed institutions, and between local people's and policy-makers' understanding of the issues. The study warrants the formulation of realistic and people-centred water supply and sanitation institutions and engaging local actors in the processes. Along with regulatory mechanisms, the findings argue for the use of cognitive and normative instruments in the implementation of policies while tailor-making solutions to local culture, working together with local actors, rather than imposing solutions on them.

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