This paper provides an overview of the reform of water institutions in developing countries in the last three decades focusing on the ‘what, why and how’ of institutional reform, and outlines their implications for policy and research. The review covers four areas: (1) water rights and river basin institutions; (2) decentralized irrigation management; (3) private sector participation in urban water supply; and (4) regulation of water infrastructure. The review suggests that (a) the theoretical rationale for reforms is mostly grounded on arguments for efficiency, effectiveness and fiscal sustainability with little considerations for equity; (b) models of institutional design varies from incremental to comprehensive; and (c) implementation experiences among countries are mixed, given the conditional nature of institutional reform; and (d) changes in elite perception holds the key to reform.

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