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Does infrastructure reform work for the poor? A case study on the cities of La Paz and El Alto in Bolivia


  • Vivien Foster
  • Osvaldo Irusta


From 1994 onward, Bolivia undertook a major reform of its infrastructure sectors. The authors examine the impact of the reforms from the perspective of poor households in the adjacent cities of La Paz and El Alto, particularly in terms of access to services. Different policies adopted across the infrastructure sectors led to diverging outcomes. In the water and sewerage sector, the concessionaire was placed under legal obligation to meet connection targets in low income neighborhoods, while customers were given the facility to spread payment of connection charges over a two year period and opt for a lower cost"condominial connection."As a result the rate of expansion of services increased by 70 percent relative to the pre-reform period. In the telecommunications sector, fixed and cellular services tell very different stories. On the one hand, fixed line services remained inaccessible to the poor due to the membership fee of US$1,500 charged by the cooperative, or the alternative nonmember option of paying a US$23 monthly rental fee. On the other hand, cellular coverage increased tenfold from 1996-99 as the advent of competition led to huge reductions both in connection and calling charges, while the introduction of prepayment cards greatly facilitated the control of expenditure The expansion that took place did not bypass the poor. While first quintile households saw barely any improvement in access to utility services in the period leading up to the 1994 reforms, in the five years that followed coverage rates for these households rose by more than 20 percentage points for water and sewerage, and more than 10 percentage points for electricity and telephones. Overall, 80 percent of new water and sewerage connections and 65 percent of new electricity and telephone connections went to residents in the poorest neighborhoods of La Paz and El Alto.

Suggested Citation

  • Vivien Foster & Osvaldo Irusta, 2003. "Does infrastructure reform work for the poor? A case study on the cities of La Paz and El Alto in Bolivia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3177, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:3177

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gover Barja & Miguel Urquiola, 2003. "Capitalization, regulation and the poor: access to basic services in Bolivia," Chapters,in: Utility Privatization and Regulation, chapter 9 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. Navajas, Sergio & Schreiner, Mark & Meyer, Richard L. & Gonzalez-vega, Claudio & Rodriguez-meza, Jorge, 2000. "Microcredit and the Poorest of the Poor: Theory and Evidence from Bolivia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 28(2), pages 333-346, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ariel Fiszbein, 2005. "Citizens, Politicians, and Providers : The Latin American Experience with Service Delivery Reform," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 7371, June.
    2. Philippe Marin, 2009. "Public-Private Partnerships for Urban Water Utilities : A Review of Experiences in Developing Countries," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 2703, June.


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