Sustainable development cannot be realised when a large proportion of people do not have access to improved water services. Indeed, despite concerted international effort and publicity made in the last two decades to increase coverage of improved water and sanitation services, the number of people without improved water and sanitation services continues to increase. Water utilities are not serving a large proportion of the urban population and small water enterprises (SWEs) have moved to fill the gap. This paper looks at the growing urban water problem and outlines the role played by SWEs in providing water services to those un-served or under-served by water utilities. Typical constraints faced by SWEs are outlined and the rationale for developing utility–SWE partnerships for the benefit of water consumers (customers) is provided. Potential opportunities for developing utility-SWE partnerships are discussed. The paper argues that utility-SWE partnerships can enable SWEs to provide affordable good quality water services to customers, while providing benefit to the utility and thus also assisting the utility to meet its mandate. The paper proposes win–win utility-SWEs partnerships aimed at achieving the objectives of utilities and SWEs while improving water services to customers in informal urban settlements of developing countries, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

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