• universal service concept;
  • universal service obligation;
  • water supply;
  • low and middle income countries


The failure of many developing countries water utilities to provide adequate services to low-income urban populations stands in marked contrast with calls for universal access to water services, often based on a concept of human rights. Much of the parallel, regulation oriented, ‘universal service obligation’ rhetoric not only ignores the origins and continuing evolution of the term but equally fails to consider the practical realities of achieving universality of networked urban water supply, particularly in the slums. This paper proposes a ‘universal water service dynamic’ which allows service obligations to evolve transparently and progressively in line with different consumer groups' preparedness to pay, relative to their perception of the benefits. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.