In 2004, nine years into an ambitious program to increase access to potable water in rural areas, Morocco was struggling to reach its goals. Building water networks in remote, economically depressed places was costly and difficult. Many water sources developed during the preceding decade failed after years of drought. Millions of Moroccans still faced health risks from poor-quality water, and women and children, especially girls, had to devote much of their time to hauling water from far-flung wells and streams. The national water utility, then called ONEP (Office National de l’Eau Potable, or National Office of Drinking Water), had support from international donors to create new water-supply infrastructure connected to reservoirs but lacked a cost-effective way to manage the system. With a broader mandate, the utility began outsourcing maintenance and monitoring responsibilities and some construction work to private firms. In 2009, ONEP piloted a new public-private partnership contract model. By 2014, the utility, now known as the water branch of ONEE (Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable, or National Office of Electricity and Potable Water) was reporting that the percentage of rural Moroccans with some access to potable water had soared to 94% from 61% in 2004. More girls were attending school, and many women no longer faced the time-consuming task of hauling water. The program had brought water to more than 12 million Moroccans, although in 2016, questions remained about the financial sustainability of the overall system and the reliability of some connections.
Tristan Dreisbach drafted this case based on interviews conducted with Rouba Beydoun in Rabat, Ben Slimane, and Ain Bou Ali, Morocco during September and October 2015. Lou Perpes, of Science Po's Paris School of International Affairs conducted background research. This case study was funded by the French Development Agency. Case published February 2016.