Africa Sector Review - Report

Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council

Working Group on Water Supply and Sanitation Development in Africa


1. Contents

2. Preface

2.1 Africa - from an African perspective

3. Introduction

3.1 The Collaborative Council and the Africa Working Group
3.2 Conceptual basis for the Africa Review
3.3 Project format & Terms of Reference
3.4 Questionnaire
3.5 Country Visits

4. Africa Sector Review

4.1 Responses to questionnaire
4.2 Country visits
4.3 Documentation Collected

5. Summary of observations

5.1 General observations
5.2 Policy issues
5.2.1 Adopted policy
5.2.2 Misconceptions surrounding policy
5.2.3 Obstacles to policy development
5.2.4 Dissemination of policy
5.2.5 Implementation of policy
5.3 Institutional issues
5.3.1 General observations
5.3.2 Frequent changing of institutions
5.3.3 Sanitation
5.3.4 The need for policy and guidelines
5.3.5 Inappropriate institutions
5.3.6 Decentralisation and devolution of powers
5.3.7 Service conditions
5.4 Community Management
5.4.1 General observations
5.4.2 Community management as a way of avoiding responsibility?
5.4.3 Revisiting the community empowerment debate
5.4.4 Undermining community initiative and the culture of entitlement
5.4.5 The realities of community management
5.4.6 Capacity thresholds within communities
5.5 Professional service conditions
5.5.1 Common concerns relating to conditions of service in the sector
5.5.2 The difficulty with alternatives
5.6 Sector investments
5.6.1 Level of public investment in the sector
5.6.2 Displacement of public money by foreign resources
5.6.3 Lobbying for higher public sector budget apportionments
5.7 Operation and maintenance
5.7.1 The capacity threshold
5.8 Payment for services
5.8.1 Financial viability
5.8.2 Affordability
5.8.3 Responsibility, ownership and creating the will to pay
5.9 Political profile of the sector and the politicisation of water
5.9.1 The importance of political support
5.9.2 Questionable political priority
5.9.3 Political responsibility and discipline
5.9.4 Focusing political support for the sector
5.10 Involvement of international agencies and NGOs
5.10.1 Role of International agencies and NGOs
5.10.2 Support for policy development, institutional reform and capacity building
5.10.3 NGO and government relationships
5.10.4 Financial impact in the sector
5.10.5 Limited rural support
5.11 Private sector engagement
5.11.1 A limited option
5.12 Monitoring and evaluation
5.13 Gender issues
5.14 Capacity building in the sector
5.15 Sanitation
5.16 Sector Collaboration
5.17 The role of the Collaborative Council
5.18 The role of the Africa Working Group

6. Recommendations

6.1 Areas of concern
6.2 Further studies
6.3 Africa Working Group activities

7. Conclusion

Notice and Acknowledgements

This report was commissioned by the Working Group on Water Supply and Sanitation Development in Africa (the "Africa Working Group") of the UN Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, as part of the Harare Plan of Action of the Group, as decided in Harare, Zimbabwe in April 1996. The report was written by Len Abrams of LJA Development Services CC, Johannesburg, South Africa on contract to the Africa Working Group with the financial support of UNICEF. Len Abrams is a member of the Africa Working Group.

I wish to gratefully acknowledge the assistance and support of

Ms Ebele Okeke of Nigeria, the Co-ordinator of the Africa Working Group, Messrs Patrick Kahangire and Abbe Mpamhanga, Co-chairpersons of the Africa Working Group, Mr Gourisankar Ghosh, Chief of WES, UNICEF, New York and his staff. Dr Vincent Orinda, Chief of Health & Nutrition, UNICEF Pretoria and the staff of the Pretoria UNICEF office, The UNICEF WES staff in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire for all of the in-country arrangements, The numerous Government Officials and personnel of NGOs and Development Agencies who gave of their time to filling out the questionnaire and interviews, Gill Lee for assisting with translations.



Africa - from an African perspective

With many years of attention being paid to the problems of water supply and sanitation on the African continent, there still remains a great deal to be done. Many would argue that the situation has been looked at from so many different perspectives, by so many different studies and reports, that the issue has long been exhausted.

Dozens of programmes have been launched by the international community and by national governments which have barely succeeded in keeping pace with population increases. The consequences of poor or non-existent services haunt millions of people across Africa and are evident in the health and mortality statistics. Large amounts of hard pressed national budgets in some countries are being spent on the rehabilitation of services which were constructed only a few years previously. Are there solutions to these problems? Is there a different way of looking at these seemingly intractable difficulties?

The Working Group on Water Supply and Sanitation Development in Africa (hereinafter called the "Africa Working Group") of the UN Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, commissioned this present study to look at the issue from its own unique perspective - the perspective of African sector professionals. The Africa Working Group is made up of African professionals from all sectors, including government departments and ministries, NGOs, the private sector and Africans working in international agencies.

Many studies have been undertaken over the past few years to establish the extent of the problems facing Africa and to attempt to clarify the causes. Hopefully this study will not simply be "one more" such study. The report seeks to ask questions which have not been asked before, it raises some controversial issues and makes some new recommendations. There is too much at stake not to be bold but we do so in humility, knowing that many people of conviction and good intention have trodden the road before us.



The Collaborative Council and the Africa Working Group

The years 1981 to 1990 were proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade. Throughout the developing world great effort was put into realising the dream of universal coverage. Reality, however, was to prove to be a harsh teacher, and, by the end of the decade more lessons had been learned than objectives achieved. A momentum had been established through the decade which all agreed would be lost if a mechanism was not found to enable continued collaboration between sector professionals, and so the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council was established under United Nations Charter.

The Collaborative Council meets every two years to review the sector and receive reports from various working groups on a variety of topics in a number of different regions around the world. At the 3rd Global Forum of the Council, held in Barbados during November 1995, the Working Group on Water Supply and Sanitation Development in Africa was established through the efforts of numerous African delegates. The Group was mandated to critically review the status of the sector on the Continent and to establish a plan of action to further the cause of water supply and sanitation in Africa.

A small core of the Africa Working Group met in Harare, Zimbabwe, in mid April 1996 to give content to the general plan of action decided on in Barbados. One of the critical elements of the plan was the commissioning of a review of the status of the sector in Africa.

Conceptual basis for the Africa Review

Water supply and sanitation in Africa has not been a success. Many studies have been undertaken on the subject and hundreds of reports have been written, to little effect. The Africa Working Group has, from the outset, been of the opinion that the issue is essentially an African problem which needs an African solution. Most of the proposals offered thus far have been based on economic theories, cultural presuppositions and value systems which are not indigenous to the continent. Thousands of experts from foreign shores have put their minds to the problem but it remains unsolved. Whilst their contribution has been greatly appreciated, the answers remain elusive.

The underlying concept of attempting to look at the issue from an African perspective has been used throughout the review and is a recurring theme in this report. It is, however, not obvious what an "African perspective" is. This is a large continent with a great deal of diversity and it would be romantic naiveté to imagine that there is a definable, single, "fit-all" African way. As indefinable as the concept may seem, however, there is no arguing the fact that to an African, there is an African way of doing things and looking at problems and a non-African way which defies the neat definitions of the social anthropologist. A number of issues will be addressed in the report such as institutions, the concept of "community", value systems related to such matters as willingness to pay and others, where the "conventional wisdom" will be challenged and different perspectives promoted.

The concept behind the Africa sector review is contained in the Concept Document which was prepared, together with the questionnaire, as part of the project.

Project format & Terms of Reference

The format of the project was decided upon by the Working Group core and endorsed by the donors of the project - UNICEF. It comprised five phases:

  • the compilation of the Concept Paper and the Questionnaire;
  • the sending out, management, and review of the questionnaire returns;
  • brief country visits to 8 countries;
  • the compilation of the report;
  • presentation of the report to a full meeting of the Africa Working Group.

The project was carried out within a very limited time frame with the objective of getting a "snap shot" of the status of the water supply and sanitation sector in Africa. This report should be read in the light of this constraint - it was not the objective of the project to undertake an exhaustive study but rather to identify and highlight key elements which may form the basis of further study or action by the Africa Working Group.

The review was not intended to be an audit of coverage levels and sector statistics. This information has been gathered by numerous bodies over the years and is available from various sources. It is taken as read that the service levels are generally very low throughout the continent, particularly in rural areas. It is also apparent that even where service levels are quoted, there are high and often unrecorded levels of dereliction - many of the services included in the coverage figures are inoperative at any given point in time. The status of sanitation is usually much worse than water supply with coverage levels of effective sanitation less than 10% in many rural areas. This state of affairs is taken for granted - the review was aimed at looking behind the statistics at the causes.

The objective of the report is to be provocative and to look at issues which many agencies are reluctant to raise because they are either considered to be the internal affairs of the countries concerned or because raising them may adversely affect delicate relationships.

Some of the issues raised are done so very tentatively - the ideas and insights may be contentious and some conclusions are untested. This should be read in the light of the fact that most conventional perspectives have not produced sustainable results and so we can hardly do worse. The views are the distillation of many discussions around the continent and the combined experience of many people who have collectively spent many years in the sector.

The report concentrates on water supply and sanitation to poor communities in urban, peri-urban and rural areas. There are many other important matters relating to such issues as water resource management, water scarcity and security, water demand management and others which have not been addressed.


The questionnaire was prepared in the spirit of the project and therefore concentrates mainly on questions of description and opinion, rather than figures and data, although basic country information on water supply and sanitation is requested. Much of the information relates to government policy, institutional detail and budget allocation, although bodies other than government such as NGOs and development agencies were also asked to fill out the questionnaire. It was suggested in the notes to the questionnaire that respondents only fill out those sections for which they had information.


The questionnaire was quite lengthy - 10 pages. It is divided into the following sections:

Respondent Information
General Country Information
Water Supply And Sanitation Policy
Institutional Framework
Budget Priorities
Current Development Programmes and Projects
Capacity Building and Human Resource Mobilisation
Country Level Collaboration
Possible Areas of Support by the Collaborative Council
Supplementary Questions

Institutional Details
Strategic Planning For Sector Development
The results of the survey are summarised in section 4.1 below. The questionnaire was prepared by Len Abrams and, after review by the Africa Working Group Co-ordinator and the Co-chairpersons, it was sent to 44 countries through the UNICEF country offices.

Country Visits

The country visits were carried out on a very tight schedule and most comprised one or two days only. In each case senior government officials were interviewed and representatives from a variety of NGOs and international development agencies. The visits and interviews were found to be very important as they complimented the questionnaires. It was possible to discuss key areas in detail and to get views of sector professionals which they were perhaps reluctant to put into writing in the questionnaires.

In some countries joint, round table discussions were held with a wide range of participants. (In a number of instances these occasions were the first time that sector professionals had met each other.) These meetings were very enlightening because, through the dialogue, a great deal became evident regarding the real state of relationships between parties and the real opinions and levels of awareness of government policies. These occasions also functioned as collaboration opportunities in their own right.

Africa Sector Review


Responses to questionnaire

25 responses have been received to the questionnaire which was sent to 44 countries in Africa (at the time of writing - it is anticipated that more questionnaires will be received in due course.) The responses have all been captured in a database. It is clear from the responses that considerable effort was put into the responses which are consequently very valuable. Some respondents did not fill in all of the sections which was expected.

The responses received are as follows:

The Gambia Dept of Water Resources
Sao Tome e Principe UNICEF
Madagascar Ministry of Energy and Mining
Swaziland Rural Water Supply Branch, Govt
Namibia Dept. of Water Affairs / UNICEF
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone Water Company
Ethiopia Ministry of Health
Ethiopia Ministry of Water Affairs
Sudan National Water Corporation
Nigeria Federal Ministry of Water Resources & Rural Development
Nigeria Anglican Diocesan Development Services
Nigeria National Water Resources Institute
Guin Bissau Ministry of Energy, Industry and Natural Resources
Kenya African Medical & Research Foundation
Uganda Ministry of Natural Resources
Cote d'Ivoire Direction de l'Eau
Cote d'Ivoire Ministre du Logement, Cadre de Vie et l'Environnement
Morocco ONEP - Comprehensive return
Zaire Direction du Programme National d'Assainissement
Eritrea Water Resources Department
Congo Direction de l Hydraulique

Country visits

The country visits were divided into three trips. The schedules for the trips were as follows:

Zimbabwe 4 August 1996 Johannesburg - Harare
Malawi 6 August 1996 Harare - Lilongwe
7 August 1996 Lilongwe - Johannesburg

Ethiopia 18 August 1996 Johannesburg - Addis
Uganda 20 August 1996 Addis - Entebbe
Kenya 21 August 1996 Entebbe - Nairobi
24 August 1996 Nairobi - Johannesburg

Nigeria 28 Sept 1996 London - Brussels - Lagos
Burkina Faso 30 Sept 1996 Lagos - Ouagadougou
Cote d'Ivoire 2 October 1996 Ouagadougou - Abidjan
4 October Abidjan - Nairobi - Jo'burg

Summarised reports of the visits were made as part of the project.

Documentation Collected

Throughout the country visits documentation was collected from government ministries, NGOs and development agencies. Documentation was also sent accompanying some questionnaires. Most of the documents were related to country level policy.

These documents have been collected by the author as part of the resources of the Africa Working Group.

Figure 1 Countries visited and from which questionnaires were received.

Summary of observations

Top General observations

The water and sanitation sector in Africa is very varied and characterised by both success and failure. A striking observation is the commitment of people within the sector throughout the continent who often work in very difficult circumstances and, particularly in the case of public servants, with very little reward.

There is a general acceptance which was found everywhere that the engagement of communities at grassroot level is key to the success and sustainability of development programs. Acceptance of the notion of community engagement, however, is very different from genuinely implementing such a policy. Similarly, there was general agreement that water supply and, in some cases sanitation, enjoyed a high political priority but this is not generally translated into adequate budget allocations and implementation support from politicians.

The main areas of difficulties in the water supply and sanitation sector observed during the country visits and through the questionnaires were as follows:

  • Lack of follow through on political support for the sector.
  • Lack of finances.
  • Frequent institutional changes in government structures.
  • Lack of policy.
  • Lack of human resources.
  • Poor conditions of service in the sector, particularly for government employees.
  • Different approaches by NGOs and development agencies in the same country.
  • Increasing stress on water resources and the environment in many parts of Africa.
  • Inefficiency and excessive bureaucracy.
  • Lack of collaboration within the sector between all players.
  • General conditions of poverty and weak economies.
  • Lack of genuine handing over of responsibility and authority to local levels.
  • Emphasis on physical delivery and technology without adequate local training and awareness creation.
  • Ethos of entitlement on the part of people "the government must provide".
  • Problems with local payment for services and economic sustainability.

This list of difficulties should not mask the effort and commitment made by many people on the continent with a real concern for those who suffer because of a lack of adequate services. Many of these difficulties are inter-linked. The objective of this exercise is to attempt an honest and genuine review of these difficulties.

It was mentioned by some readers of the initial draft of this report that major programmes undertaken in some countries as joint projects between international development agencies and the governments of the countries in the recent past were not mentioned. The information gathered was on the basis of interviews undertaken and the questionnaires filled out. If a major programme undertaken a few years ago was not mentioned by the country professionals concerned, this reflects on the impact and sustainability of the programme.

Policy issues


Adopted policy

A few of the countries which responded do have developed policy statements on water supply and sanitation. These are as follows:


Nigeria (Draft)

Uganda (Proposed)

South Africa

Burkina Faso


Guinea Bissau (Water Code)

Most of the countries have strategic plans covering various time periods, many of which include processes of institutional adjustment and elements of policy.

Numerous countries stated that they were in the process of developing policy or that there existed Cabinet memoranda on the issue.

Clearly policy development in the sector on the continent is not adequate at present although there is a growing awareness of the need for policy.

Misconceptions surrounding policy

Many countries, when asked about available policy, referred to various 5 or 10 year plans or development strategies rather than policy documents. There evidently exists some misunderstanding regarding the nature of policy and the difference between policy, planning and strategy.

Policy in the water supply and sanitation sector covers such issues as

  • Defining an underlying set of principles and values such as community based development, "some for all rather than all for some", user payment, integrated development and environmental sustainability.
  • Setting standards such as what is considered as basic minimum service levels of quantity per capita per day, maximum cartage distance and minimum quality.
  • Financing policy such as the levels of community contribution, the mechanisms of donor financing and the operation and maintenance financing.
  • The institutional frame work of the sector, clarifying the roles of central, regional and local government.
  • The interaction between sectors such as health, public works and education.
  • Evaluation and monitoring criteria and mechanisms.

Once such policy has been adopted it provides a foundation for planning and the drawing up of development strategies. Policy on its own is of limited value without the political will and the resources to implement it but plans and strategies without policy tends to be haphazard and subject to the changing fashions of the development and donor agencies.

Because of the variety of circumstances observed around the continent, policy needs to be developed at country level to meet the needs of each country. The blanket acceptance of standards and norms because of the pronouncement, however well considered, of one or other UN or donor agency is potentially unwise, leading to unachievable objectives or unfair expectations.

In the absence of clear and adequate water supply and sanitation policies, it is observed that governments do not provide leadership to the sector resulting in a wide variety of different approaches being adopted within the same country by aid agencies and NGOs, and by different government authorities. This results in conflicting and sometimes competing messages being sent to communities and retards development generally. Once a policy has been established all agencies and NGOs should be informed of it and should be subject to it. The temptation to "bend the rules" for some donors or agencies should be resisted as this will immediately undermine the value of the whole policy process.

Clear policy is also necessary to act as a guide and discipline to politicians. Often promises are made by politicians regarding the levels of services which the government will provide or that water should be free which is economically unsustainable resulting in unmanageable burdens on government finances. Such promises are very damaging to progress. If a clear policy was adopted for the country at political level, this would provide a guideline to politicians and officials.

Obstacles to policy development

Although not actually stated, it would appear that some countries deliberately do not have policies in the water supply and sanitation sector because once a policy is published the government becomes accountable and their performance can be assessed in relation to the policy. This raises the question of political will which is discussed more fully elsewhere in this report. Political endorsement and sponsorship is critical to the whole policy development process - it is required to initiate the process and to ensure country level "ownership" and disciplined application. The understanding by politicians of policy and the policy development process is therefore key.

It was also clear that few governments have a very wide consultative process during policy development. Policy tends to be developed "in-house" with perhaps the input of a single development agency or consultant. Some maintain a blanket of secrecy over draft policy until it is approved by senior politicians. This does not tend to produce comprehensive, well balanced policy or commitment to the policy by those who were not party to its development. This is particularly important in countries where external finance exceeds the government budget for the sector which is the case in many instances on the continent. The development of policy without a broad consultative process may lead to unenforceable or unimplementable policy, or it may lead to the redirection of donor finance to other sectors or countries.

Ways should also be found to include local people in the policy making process as well as officials and leaders from regional and local governments. Their experience in what works and what does not work at local level is invaluable and can avoid unrealistic policy development.

Dissemination of policy

It was observed in a number of countries that, although a policy had been formulated and published by the government, agencies and NGOs working in the sector were unaware of its existence and were therefore not working in accordance with the policy. This tends to undermine respect for policy and the state's role of leadership and guidance in the sector.

Implementation of policy

A general comment pertaining to most countries was that although there may be a good policy established by the government, it was not being implemented. This statement however, needs more detailed analysis as it often indicates a confusion between development policy and development planning or strategy. More often than not what is being referred to is the government not meeting its planned objectives in terms of physical delivery - the number of people served or boreholes drilled within a given period. This is not the same as the government not implementing its policy, if policy is defined as in Section 5.2.2 above.

To illustrate the point - if the number of boreholes drilled is less than planned, this is a failure to meet objectives whereas if communities are not fully engaged in terms of the stated policy, this is a failure to implement policy. Failure to implement policy is far more serious than a failure to meet targets because if physical targets are met but policies such as adequate community engagement are not implemented, it is possible that the investment will be wasted because of lack of sustainability. It is better to do the job properly and thereby ensure sustainability than to meet short term targets and risk long term failure. This is one of the fundamental problems in the water supply and sanitation sector on the African continent.

Institutional issues


General observations

The general impression gained by visiting a number of government offices in several countries is that the officials work in very difficult conditions with minimal resources at their disposal. This is partially because of the economic plight of their countries but also because of the low budgets allocated to the water sector. Given these conditions there is nonetheless an impressive commitment to the sector on the part of the officials which was evident everywhere. The Ministries and government departments are under-resourced and the number of professionals employed in the water and sanitation sector in public service is inadequate.

Frequent changing of institutions

It was clear that in a number of countries the institutional structures of the water sector at government level has changed frequency during recent years. Often the water portfolio is moved about in different ministries for example it is found in the ministries of natural resources, agriculture, public works and the environment. This was not the case in all countries, with some countries having maintained structures for two or three decades.

In the cases where frequent changes have been made, it was clear from the statements of the officials that this was both unsettling and de- motivating. However, many countries felt that the current institutional framework presented one of the biggest obstacles to progress and that reform was desperately needed. It appears that the frequent changes in some areas are as a result of political uncertainty and a lack of political responsibility or appreciation for the problems caused by frequent changes, rather than a structured, organised reform of the institutions.

As many countries on the continent face very similar problems, collaboration on the most appropriate institutional framework between several countries could be of assistance.


In no country visited or reflected in the questionnaires did sanitation have a clear institutional "home". In most cases it is shared amongst a number of ministries at central level and is the responsibility of a number of different authorities at regional or local level. It is usually shared between health, water and public works. As a result sanitation programs are generally weak and ill-conceived. Although sanitation probably needs to be addressed from a multi-sectoral approach, a "lead" agency is often helpful to provide a focus and some institutional accountability for the function. Sanitation is addressed separately below.

The need for policy and guidelines

The effectiveness of institutions depends on them having a clear policy framework which provides them with their mandate as an institution. Therefore, however well structured an institution may be, without a clear mandate it will be ineffective. This is perhaps one of the chief reasons for the failure of institutional reform which is being undertaken in many countries. Policy development should therefore be considered as an important ingredient and prerequisite of institutional reform.

Inappropriate institutions

One of the interesting observations which was made during a number of discussions was the fact that most African countries have changed virtually everything since colonial days between 20 and 30 years ago except the structure and format of their government institutions. Hence, in most countries the format of institutions has not changed, even down to the names of offices such as the "Permanent Secretary" or the High Commissioner. There are a number of institutional reform programs currently under way on the continent and the question has to be asked as to whether the old or, for that matter, the new proposed institutions are really suitable for Africa.

This question is particularly pertinent in relation to the generally agreed notion that community engagement and empowerment is the solution to the sustainability of water supply and sanitation services. The hallmarks of empowerment and capacity building are factors such as transparency, partnership, flexibility, respect and empathy. The institutional models generally associated with government departments, however, are autocratic, bureaucratic, authoritarian and "top down". It is unlikely that an organisation with such characteristics will be able to develop and nurture a whole system of local level institutions which have very different characteristics. This is similar to expecting a sausage machine to produce biscuits. The ethos of government institutions and departments needs, therefore, to be revisited. This is also in tune with the increasing move towards democracy on the continent.

Decentralisation and devolution of powers

With the growing understanding that community management is the only method which is likely to lead to sustainability, there is a growing trend in the water supply and sanitation sector of decentralisation and devolution of responsibility and function to regional and local levels. This is a very positive trend. Some countries such as Nigeria and Ethiopia have strong federal systems and have had a degree of autonomy at regional level for some time. In federal systems water management is often a concurrent responsibility of the states and the federal government. Water supply and service provision is usually the responsibility of the states and local government of various forms.

The tendency for greater devolution of responsibility and authority is likely to encourage local level activities although this is not guaranteed. A negative consequence may, however, be that development finances now have a more complex route to follow before they reach community level. This tendency seems to exist in some countries and should be avoided when planning institutional reform. Also, regional governments may not support the notion of local level control and empowerment for political reasons. Central government should therefore retain an overall oversight of the sector. Central government should be responsible for established the basic national policy for water supply and sanitation services and they should monitor and evaluate the progress of regional governments towards national objectives. Within the framework of the national policy, regional and local governments should have as much freedom of activity as possible.

Service conditions

An issue closely related to the effectiveness of institutions is the people who work in them and their conditions of service. Without sufficient human resources of adequate calibre who are well motivated, the best conceivable institutional framework will not function. The issue of the poor conditions of service facing most public servant sector professionals on the continent is discussed in section 5.5 below.

Community Management


General observations

As mentioned above, there is a growing and general acceptance throughout the continent that community based management of services will improve sustainability. This methodology was supported by senior politicians, officials, NGOs and development agencies without exception during the country visits and as detailed in the questionnaires. Although the principle is generally and widely accepted, the implementation of the principle is rarely observed in practice. There is an inevitable time lag between the recognition of a new principle and institutional and regulatory mechanisms being put in place to achieve new objectives.

Another problem is experience in the field in ensuring that the principle is effectively applied. It is not simple or easy to genuinely achieve community based management and most technically trained personnel are inadequately equipped and trained to apply the principle effectively in the field.

These problems seem to be the main reasons why the implementation of genuine community based development is not happening on a large scale in most countries. There are some further reasons as explained below.

Community management as a way of avoiding responsibility?

A number of persons interviewed were somewhat cynical about the embracing of the principle of community based management and responsibility by some senior officials and politicians. A concern was expressed that, because of the general failure of service provision on such a wide scale, some politicians and senior government officials found it convenient to shift the locus of responsibility for the provision of services from themselves to the community level. This is an irony because it is the correct action for incorrect reasons. The problem is that community based management may not be genuinely achieved without the backing of genuine political will.

Revisiting the community empowerment debate

Community empowerment and management has been widely discussed and debated in the development world. Over the past two decades a great deal has been learned about the issue and in some parts of the world successes have been achieved. The theory has developed in stages. Initially development was "done" to communities in their "best interests". This concept gave way to the need to inform communities of development proposals and then to solicit their involvement. This unfortunately is where much of the development practice has stopped. Community involvement is a common term but it still suggests that the community is being involved in a process which is primarily being driven from outside. The decisions are being taken outside the community. This is particularly the case in terms of decisions regarding the financing of projects.

Sustainability of infrastructure requires local responsibility and a sense of ownership. Responsibility is not engendered when people do not have to grapple with difficult decisions and make choices themselves about how resources should be used. There are increasing examples emerging from the developing world where communities have been made responsible for the entire development budget. The level of creativity and ingenuity which such communities exhibit in how to best use limited resources and how to ensure the security and continued operation of their infrastructure is usually a lesson to seasoned development professionals.

There is a great danger, based on what has been observed during the study, that community management stops short of requiring the community to take full responsibility. The general sense is that communities cannot be trusted or do not have the wisdom to manage their own affairs. Whilst they undoubtedly do not have the technical or administrative skills, poverty and illiteracy should not be confused with a lack of wisdom. The role of government departments and development agencies at all levels should be to provide communities with the backup and the resources with which they can develop themselves.

In discussions with a West African Country Representative of one UN agency, the remark was made that ironically, in those countries which have had virtually no government during the past several years, village level development has been more sustainable, albeit at a lower level, than in those countries where the government has said that it will provide services. In countries without government support the communities had no option but to do it themselves.

Undermining community initiative and the culture of entitlement

During the course of the project there were numerous occasions when people commented that communities had come to expect the government to provide services for them. Often this was as a result of promises made on political platforms but also often as a result of stated government policy. Cases were observed where there is an expectation of government provision in one part of the country and therefore very little community initiative whilst in other parts of the country there is little expectation of government assistance and people are far more self-reliant.

This should not be read as a criticism of the genuine concerns which political leaders and government officials have for their people. There is no doubting the admirable intentions of many concerned people who are engaged in the fight against poverty on the continent.

The realities of community management

Whilst there has in the past been a tendency to romanticise community empowerment and community management, the impression gained during the country visits was that the difficulties of doing this work successfully are becoming more widely appreciated. The process requires sensitivity and skills which are generally not part of the training of conventional engineers and technicians. The need for multi-disciplinary approaches to development and staffing is becoming more widely accepted, although there are still many government departments who do not fully knowledge this. Again there are many instances where people are now using the right terminology but still perhaps do not fully appreciate the implications and have not ensured that real changes have been made at an institutional level.

Capacity thresholds within communities

The impression was gained during the project that the issue of capacity building within communities remains somewhat vague and ill-defined. There is limited understanding of the relationship between the ability of communities to operate, maintain and administer infrastructure, and the skills required in communities. Unless the skill within the community matches the technology and the complexity of the administrative function, the infrastructure will not be sustainable. There are therefore a number of factors such as technical, mechanical, book keeping, administrative and governance skills, each of which must exist at an adequate level or threshold within a community, suited to the proposed development, or sustainability will not be achieved.

Capacity building and training programs can be used to bring each aspect of capacity up to the threshold required to sustain a particular technology solution. However, there are limits to both the levels which can be expected to be achieved and the time period required for capacity building, given the educational background of villagers and the time available to them out of their daily routines. Where the thresholds cannot be achieved in any of the different functions, consideration should be given to lowering the level of the technology or the complexity of the development programme appropriately.

Capacity building and training is observed to be mainly restricted to isolated project level activities and is seldom viewed on a programmatic and regional level. Capacity building on a programmatic level allows for the different stages which communities find themselves in to be accommodated. It reinforces the monitoring of progress and assists planning. It allows a strategic view of capacity building and training to be taken in a given area rather than an ad hoc project-by-project approach. A programmatic and regional approach to capacity building presupposes, however, substantial resources which are not available in most countries.

Professional service conditions


Common concerns relating to conditions of service in the sector

One of the most often repeated observations during country level discussions and within the questionnaires was the question of the service conditions for sector professionals on the continent, particularly those serving in the public service. Resources in most of the countries are very limited and this, coupled with the low budget priority given to the water sector in general, results in very low salaries as well as difficult working circumstances.

Transport is a continual problem resulting in many public servants not getting into the field sufficiently frequently to be effective. Other facilities such as offices and computer equipment is often lacking or in very poor condition. This leads to demoralisation and a large turnover of staff. Often the most promising professionals are lost to the government service and take up positions with development agencies and NGOs. Occasionally they are lost to the country or to the sector as a whole.

It is unlikely that the sector will succeed in the long-run if this problem is not solved. This has a major impact on the issue of properly functioning institutions across the continent.

The difficulty with alternatives

This issue has been known to be a problem for some time. Various options have been tried such as the payment of public servants working on projects funded by agencies and NGOs, project allowances out of the funds for the project. This has been discontinued in many places because of administrative difficulties and the problems caused within the government structure where the majority of the personnel cannot benefit from such schemes.

Financial support from donor sources of one sector such as the water supply and sanitation sector is very difficult to do without causing problems amongst other public servant colleagues in other sectors such as health, public works or similar ministries.

Because this issue appears to be so wide spread throughout the continent, it should be made a priority requiring urgent attention and possible further research and collaboration.

Sector investments


Level of public investment in the sector

A common finding throughout the study was that government spending on water supply and sanitation infrastructure is universally very low. The proportion is usually less than 1% of the national budget. This is confirmed by the detailed information supplied by many respondents in the questionnaire.

The low level of spending in the sector does not tally with the expression of political support for the provision of services which is increasingly being given by politicians. This raised political profile is clearly because the priority given to water supply and sanitation by local people is being recognized as an important canvassing topic. The consequences of low levels of investment in the sector is evident throughout the continent. Of particular concern is the lack of investment in operation and maintenance of existing services. The burden of these recurrent costs is beyond the resources of many governments in Africa resulting in a perpetual cycle of unsustainable development.

The need to identify alternatives sources of finance is pressing. Perhaps the most important alternative source of funds is through the collection of revenue for service provision from users but there are many obstacles to successful and adequate revenue collection from local, generally very poor, communities.

Displacement of public money by foreign resources

One of the reasons for low budget apportionment to the water supply and sanitation sector is that this is an attractive sector to many development oriented agencies and NGOs. With relatively large amounts of external finance being available for water supply and sanitation projects, many governments redirect the finances which would otherwise have gone to the sector, to other sectors. This is wholly understandable given the very limited resources of many governments, but not necessarily in the interests of the water sector. When foreign funds available for the water supply and sanitation sector begin to diminish, as has been the case over the past few years, the national water budget is generally not increased to compensate and the sector rapidly becomes very badly under-resourced. This syndrome also tends to have other consequences - with government funds being consistently low in the sector, sector professionals tend to seek employment outside of the government which has detrimental long-term institutional effects.

Lobbying for higher public sector budget apportionments

It is clear from the responses to the questionnaire and from the country interviews, that water does not enjoy a high priority in terms of budget allocation. In no case was the water budget within the top 4 of the national budget allocations. The proportion of the water budget to the total national budget was in no cases higher than 1%, as already noted above. The situation for sanitation is even worse with many countries having no sanitation programmes and no sanitation budget.

It appears that the critical role which safe water and sanitation services play in the health of communities and in raising the development potential of a nation is not fully appreciated by decision makers. It is therefore important that the political profile of the sector be raised through a programme of targeted advocacy. As decision makers begin to appreciate the possible impacts of safe services on the population, and the potential savings of numerous related costs in preventative and curative health, greater attention may be paid to the water and sanitation sector. This issue is raised again below under Recommendations, Section 6.

Operation and maintenance


One of the most obvious problems in the sector is that of operation and maintenance (O&M). This was evident in all countries. Many countries are undertaking major rehabilitation programmes supported by bi-lateral and multi-lateral development agencies. Breakdown of O&M is the prime indicator of unsustainable development. The problem arises out of many factors, the most important being:

  • lack of financial resources to cover O&M costs, either as a result of inadequate planning or as a result of the failure of revenue systems such as user payment schemes;
  • the failure of genuine community engagement and ownership;
  • lack of administrative and technical capacity;
  • the remoteness, lack of accountability and inefficiency of the authority responsible for O&M.
  • lack of availability of parts and spares.

The key factors which are required to achieve effective O&M include the financial viability of the scheme and the human resource capacity of the body responsible for O&M such as the local community or the local authority. The general rule is that the closer and more accountable the body responsible for O&M is to the user, the greater the potential for sustainability.

The capacity threshold

The question of the capacity threshold of the community referred to above under item 5.4.6 is especially relevant to sustainable O&M. If the requirements for sustainability of a particular service are above the achievable thresholds of the community and these thresholds cannot be raised through training and capacity building, then the scheme will not be sustainable, even if it is rehabilitated.

Payment for services


Financial viability

The question of the payment for services has been a long-standing debate which, it was observed during the study, is still going on in Africa. The debate has gone through different stages with changing political perspectives on the continent. In many countries the government took upon itself the responsibility for covering the costs of providing water and people grew to expect free services. This produced an unmanageable burden of recurring expense for most governments which led to the collapse of the services or to the entire budget available for water being absorbed by operating subsidies which resulted in the inequitable situation of some citizens having free services whilst most had none.

The general observation is that where there is no form of cost recovery for recurring costs, schemes are not sustainable. In some countries visited, flat rate tariffs for water are charged throughout the country or throughout regions. This is usually where water is supplied by government utility companies. Where local water schemes are developed, there are differing policies regarding the payment for services. Most countries have stated the intention to move towards cost recovery but few have applied this successfully on a large scale.

Where communities have been responsible for developing their own services either with assistance (from the government or from development agencies and NGOs) or without assistance, cost recovery procedures of various forms have been established. In some instances, for example in Cote d'Ivoire, mixed systems are being tried where the state utility company is selling water to about 40% of the residents of a particular rural town, and the remainder buy water from stand-pipes which are run by committees which in turn buy water from the company.


Affordability, or the ability of a household or community to cover the costs of a particular water scheme is a very difficult issue. Whatever the affordability of household or community may be, the service costs money to run and this money must be found from somewhere. In discussions with one village water user group, the opinion was expressed that introducing the concept of affordability would create great confusion and cause the scheme to fail as many residents would plead poverty who were presently paying for water and then who would pay for the scheme? Although this may appear harsh, it was the conclusion which that particular community had reached and they had a sustainable water scheme. This essentially points to the need to separate questions of welfare from water supply economics albeit, in this case, on a small scale. Indigent or poor members of the community should seek customary family and community support to enable them to purchase water rather than expect to be subsidised by the water scheme which may lead to the scheme becoming unviable.

The other side of the affordability debate is the appropriateness of a given technology - the scheme itself may be too expensive for most residents and ultimately therefore non-viable. Decisions about how much residents are prepared to pay for a given level of service should be made by the community and they should be kept fully informed at all stages of projects so as to avoid cost recovery problems.

Responsibility, ownership and creating the will to pay

One of the most damaging occurrences in the struggle for sustainability is the actions of politicians who promise free services. An instance was related during the course of the project of a senior politician who, when approached with complaints about water costs by some community members whilst on a tour of a rural area, summarily ordered the meters to be removed. When the scheme reached near collapse the community advocated for the meters to be replaced causing political embarrassment.

The different situations in Northern and Southern Nigeria provide a good example of the effects of too much government intervention in local water supply matters. In Northern Nigeria government has been active in local water supply resulting in a general ethos of entitlement to free services and that the government would provide. Cost recovery is not effective. By contrast, in the Southern part of the country, there has been less government support and hence there is greater community involvement, ownership and willingness to pay. This is not to infer that government should not be concerned and engaged in the water supply and sanitation sector - government should be involved but involved in the correct form - the general consensus was that governments should be involved in providing guidance and support, policy development and monitoring of the sector. They should be the supporters of the sector, not the implementers

Willingness to pay, cost recovery and hence sustainability, are closely related to the efficiency, quality and value of the service provided. It is also related to the level of community responsibility and control.

Political profile of the sector and the politicisation of water


The importance of political support

Throughout the course of the study, in all the countries visited and reflected in most of the questionnaires, water supply has a high political profile and substantial apparent support from politicians. This has probably emerged as a response to the poor levels of service which the majority of the people in Africa endure. People are dissatisfied with this state of affairs and are making their concerns felt.

Although there is a great deal of activity on the part of NGOs and development agencies, the long-term viability of a country's water supply infrastructure depends on leadership and vision from senior political and government level. Without the recognition of the importance of the sector at this level, all of the attempts of the NGOs and development agencies to support development will never be at scale - it will at best provide pointers, pilots and examples of the way forward. Genuine political support and vision is required to provide the motivation for the legislative and institutional changes which are needed in most countries and to advocate for the sector gaining a larger proportion of the national budget.

Politicians need to be kept informed about developments in the water sector and about suggested policy and legislative changes which would be beneficial. Some of the issues raised in the course of this project need to be debated with Ministers and senior officials so that they are aware of the questions and discussions presently being addressed in the sector and so that they can make informed decisions.

Questionable political priority

There was some cynicism expressed by a number of people interviewed regarding the real priority given to the sector by politicians. This has been mentioned elsewhere in this report. It would appear that the emphasis given to water is often restricted to rhetoric as the sector clearly does not enjoy a high priority in the allocation of national budgets. A frequent remark was that water development was often promised during vote canvassing but that promises were seldom kept.

Political responsibility and discipline

Whilst the role of politicians is essential, and could be of enormous use to the sector, some of the actions and statements of some of the politicians are very unhelpful. One of the effects of emerging democracies across Africa, is that people now have to persuade other people to vote for them. There is an enormous temptation to make rash statements relating to water supply. As has already been said above, this often has very negative effects on the sector, particularly relating to the financial viability of infrastructure where free services are promised, and the development of a culture of entitlement and dependence.

It is also clear that water sometimes becomes a pawn in political rivalries. In one country with a federal structure, examples were quoted of state governments refusing to allow central federal government projects to be implemented in their states because the two parties were of opposing political persuasion and the federal water project was seen as an attempt to win political support. These situations arise in most political systems in some or other form and can negatively effect development.

Focusing political support for the sector

Few countries appear to have Ministries dedicated to water affairs. Often the function forms part of a larger ministry such as Agriculture or Public Works. Sometimes water related functions are situated in different ministries. Water resources management is placed in one ministry such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment whilst water supply falls under Public Works. In countries where separate ministries dealing exclusively with water have been established, water generally has a higher profile and it enjoys greater status.

Involvement of international agencies and NGOs


Role of International agencies and NGOs

The presence of NGOs and international development agencies in the sector is felt throughout Africa. At the risk of over simplifying an enormously complex variety of organisations engaged in every type of activity in the sector, there are four basic types of NGOs:

  • Domestic NGOs which are managed and staffed by nationals from within the country. These are usually involved in various aspects of implementation and in general work closely with communities. Domestic NGOs depend almost entirely on donor funding. There appears to be very limited interaction between NGOs and government although this seems to be changing with the recent growing emphasis being placed on collaboration. Implementing NGOs do, however, tend to work closely with local government and authority structures. Many NGO personnel work with poor salaries and resources but are "driven" with enormous energy by a real concern for the poor.
  • "Expatriate" NGOs such as Save The Children Fund UK and AfriCare. These have their head offices outside of the country. They are not dis-similar to domestic NGOs - they are usually run, though, by an expatriate. They tend to fall into two categories - implementing agents and funding agents supporting the activities of local NGOs.
  • Bi-lateral and multi-lateral development agencies which are based in Europe and North America, such as SIDA and the British ODA.
  • International development agencies such as agencies of the United Nations (for example UNICEF and the UNDP) and the World Bank.

Many of the last two types of organisations work both with the governments of host countries and with NGOs. A tendency in recent years has been to work increasingly closely with ministries and government departments on issues such as policy development and institutional reform. The leverage of these organisations is primarily through the development finance which they bring to the sector, both in terms of grant aid and loan finance. A further avenue of support is provided through technical support agreements.

Support for policy development, institutional reform and capacity building

An important observation of activities of foreign and international development agents, is the emerging trend of support and collaboration of these organisations with central ministries and government departments. Rather than working in the field with general disregard for government, the present trend is to work closely with governments, mainly in an advocacy role, assisting in the development of policy, legislation and institutional reform. Projects are regarded both in terms of their direct benefit to the communities in which they are undertaken, and in terms of developing "best practice" experience in the form of pilot projects.

The issues which are being addressed and where these organisations are supporting governments are, amongst others, the following:

  • Public sector institutional reform,
  • Capacity building,
  • Water related legislative reform,
  • Investigating the economics of water supply including such issues as cost recovery, the engagement of the private sector and the problems related to sustainability,
  • Community management
  • Appropriate technology development and promotion

The general impression is that the international development community is providing an invaluable input into the development of the sector on the Continent. The emphasis of moving from concentrating on physical delivery projects in the field, to supporting and promoting government sectoral capacity is welcome.

NGO and government relationships

It seems that not all of the activities of NGOs and development agencies are entirely positive if viewed from a strategic national perspective. One of the main problems seems to be the large amount of uncoordinated activity and the application of widely varying policies. It was clear that there were differing levels of collaboration in different countries. In a number of instances there are networks of NGOs who meet regularly and collaborate together which do not include government representatives. Whilst there may be many different reasons for this and whilst it is necessary to maintain the identity of the NGO fraternity, including government personnel in such collaboration is a potentially useful advocacy mechanism.

There was clearly in some cases a degree of tension and distrust between NGOs and governments. In a number of instances it was clear that NGOs were unaware of government policies relating to water supply and sanitation, or that they were applying their own policy irrespective of government policy.

Government and NGOs function in different ways. NGOs generally have the following differences to government:

  • NGOs are more flexible and have less bureaucracy than government departments
  • NGOs are generally able to function closer to communities
  • NGOs are able to experiment and implement projects more flexibly
  • Domestic NGOs generally work on a micro level. This, however, is not the case with some of the larger agencies who, in some countries, are responsible for development programmes which are much larger than government programmes.

Financial impact in the sector

The impact of financial resources from the donor /aid community in the sector is substantial. Accurate comparative figures of donor and government contributions to the sector are difficult to collect. In Burkina Faso, for example, foreign finance amounts to 79% of sector expenditure. Foreign financial support is of three types - donor finance, loan finance and technical assistance. It was observed that the control of the flow of foreign finance by governments varies from country to country. In some countries there is very little control whilst in others all foreign funds must be channelled through official channels.

The level of foreign support to the sector in Africa generally appears to have diminished over recent years. In some cases it is clear that donors prefer to channel funds for projects through NGOs rather than through government agents. This appears to be because of greater efficiency of application of funds through NGOs - there is less bureaucracy, lower overheads and more rapid implementation.

Limited rural support

Although it is clearly necessary for donors and development agencies to choose their areas of engagement, there appears to be a definite bias towards investment in development in urban and urban fringe areas. Rural development is generally, by comparison, neglected. The international development agencies with access to larger financial resources tend to concentrate in urban areas.

One of the reasons for this bias is that service delivery is more financially viable in settings where there is comparatively greater wealth which provides sufficient economic basis for cost recovery and the repayment of development loans. The dilemma which this producers, however, is that rural development tends to increasingly lag behind resulting in increasing poverty stress in rural areas which in turn results in greater urban migration. Because of lower expectations and therefore lower acceptable service levels in rural areas, development finance can, in many instances, have greater per capita impact in rural areas.

Private sector engagement


A limited option

Private sector engagement or commercialisation of water supply and sanitation services is present in a number of countries in Africa. There are two models used - the use of state owned utility companies which are operated on a commercial basis, and the use of private sector enterprises. The private sector is also engaged in the financing of water works on the Continent.

Utility companies are generally expected to operate on a commercial basis. They should ideally be financially independent and should cover the costs of all aspects of service provision from revenue gained from the sale of water to users. This is not achieved in many cases, resulting in the need for government subsidies. These utilities tend to serve only cities and larger towns in rural areas. Because of the costs of water sold by such companies, many residents, particularly in rural towns, do not purchase water from the company but use other "traditional" sources. (In one rural village visited in Cote d'Iviore, 40% of the population bought water from the Company.)

Private sector engagement in the sector in Africa is at present very limited but it is being advocated strongly in some quarters. Most of the present private sector involvement is restricted to activities such as system administration, billing and revenue collection. This is mostly on schemes which were built with loan finance to improve revenue and ensure efficient functioning and thereby to ensure loan repayment.

Monitoring and evaluation


Monitoring and evaluation activities in the sector at national and regional level are generally not strong. This is partially as a result of lack of resources and partially as a result of a lack of appreciation for the importance of monitoring. The effect of this is that the status of the sector is unknown at country level which has enormous implications for planning and development in the sector. There are a number of initiatives on the continent to establish and support monitoring and evaluation programmes.

Gender issues


On numerous occasions during the Review, the role of women in water supply and sanitation was raised. An interesting observation, however, is the manner in which the issue of gender was raised. There was deliberately no specific question in the questionnaire relating to the question of gender in order to avoid simplistic "politically correct" responses. Not a single reference was made to the gender question in the responses. In a few meetings the issue was raised but only ever by women.

This indicates that the issue of the engagement and empowering of women in the water sector, both at professional level and at village level, still requires a great deal of attention. When the issue is raised everyone will agree that it is important but if it is not raised little attention will be paid to it.

Capacity building in the sector


Capacity building has become a widely used term in development over the past few years. During the course of the study, capacity building was raised on numerous occasions. The term appears to be used very broadly for a variety of activities.

The two main areas where capacity building activities are relevant are in the strengthening of professionals within the sector and at project level to strengthen community structures to be able to deliver sustainable services.

A general observation was that the capacity of the sector is very low, particularly when considering public services. There are too few personnel, particularly at senior level, and the support and training facilities available in most countries is inadequate. A number of international development agencies, including the UNDP and the World Bank, are engaged in substantial capacity building support to the sector, aimed primarily at government personnel, and usually allied to institutional reform projects. Capacity building is closely associated with conditions of service. Whilst conditions of service are poor, institutions are cumbersome and people are frustrated by bureaucracy, it is difficult to establish the motivation which is a pre-requisite for capacity building.

With the growing consensus within the sector that community management is critical to the sustainability of services, the next logical step is how to establish community management. The generic description of a wide variety of activities aimed at strengthening the abilities of communities to sustain services is capacity building and training. Capacity building is mainly done on a piecemeal basis from project to project. Refer to the discussion under Community Management in Section 5.4



Although this report refers throughout to water supply and sanitation, it is necessary to make some specific remarks related to sanitation. Sanitation development is generally weak throughout the continent. It is certainly not a political priority, largely because there is little popular demand for sanitation and because it is not a very glamorous cause with many taboos. The relationship between sanitation, water and health is, however, well established and in some countries the issue is beginning to gain some attention. The awareness of the importance of sanitation is largely coming from the health sector.

The understanding of how to achieve real impact in community health through sanitation has developed a great deal over the past few years. The notion that latrine construction constitutes a sanitation programme has changed in many areas, often through the experience of the failure of such projects. Sanitation programmes are being redefined in terms of an incremental process involving awareness creation, hygiene education and technology. A greater understanding is growing of the importance of behavioural change at individual and family level. The use of social marketing is being considered in some countries as well as developing an holistic approach to hygiene and health education through schools, clinics and adult education.

A number of development agencies, particularly UNICEF, are active in both project work and assisting countries to develop policy and good practice in integrated water and environment sanitation projects.

There remains a great deal to be done - in many respects real progress in the provision of sanitation services (in the fullest sense of the term) is yet to begin. Many engineers and senior officials in the water sector still view sanitation from a very technical perspective as the construction of latrines.

Sector Collaboration


Sector collaboration is generally weak on the continent. Collaboration has three main forms, collaboration between different government departments and sectors, collaboration within the sector between all actors and collaboration between NGOs and development agencies. There is also scope for collaboration between professionals in the sector working in different countries.

Collaboration between different departments engaged with development at country level such as water, health, education and public works was observed to be very little. This results in overlapping development programs and the possible waste of very limited resources. In some instances developments in the health ministries with regard to public health, hygiene and sanitation is more progressive than the somewhat technical perspective taken by most ministries responsible for water supply. Greater collaboration could assist in creating a more integrated approach to development.

It was observed in a number of countries that there is often a fairly well developed system of collaboration amongst NGOs with the establishment of networks and directories. This is a distinct advantage as it provides a basis for mutual support and for the sharing of information and resources.

Collaboration between government departments and NGOs has different degrees. In recent years the international development agencies of the UN and the World Bank have concentrated on the support of governments and collaboration is at a high level in many instances. The type of support has shifted from an emphasis on project financing to capacity building, institutional reform and legislative reform. Collaboration between government departments and delivery oriented NGOs, however, was observed in most instances to be very weak if it exists at all. In many of the meetings which were held during the course of the country visits, government and NGO personnel were meeting each other for the first time. There is a great deal of scope for strengthening collaboration and building relationships within the sector between people who otherwise tend to have a somewhat antagonistic view of each other.

For practical reasons there seems to be a good measure of collaboration between implementing NGOs and local authorities in the field who have to depend on cooperation from each other if the projects are to be implemented.

The role of the Collaborative Council


The Collaborative Council has had an impact in the sector in Africa through the series of country level collaboration exercises which have been held over the past few years together with the UNDP and the World Bank.

There is undoubtedly a need for continued and improved collaboration within the sector in Africa. The sense of isolation in some countries which is felt by sector professionals is an indication of the need for greater collaboration. Collaboration should both be related to the technical and developmental sharing of information and resources, but should also include an opportunity to talk about other issues which are facing sector professionals such as conditions of service. Collaboration should therefore incorporate both objectives of information sharing and capacity building.

A disturbing observation, however, is that the number of initiatives which are presently under way on the continent is the cause of considerable confusion amongst many people in the sector. It appears to many that the initiatives overlap and even conflict with each other. Meetings are held in different parts of the continent to which the same people are invited and where similar issues are discussed under the auspices of different UN agencies.

In response to the questionnaire, the following suggestions were made by respondents for possible activities to be undertaken by the Collaborative Council:

  • Advocacy to increase the political profile of the sector at country level,
  • promote accessible information especially in relation to appropriate technology,
  • assist in the establishment of permanent collaboration mechanisms between government and all key stakeholders,
  • technical assistance by bringing in experts to establish collaboration mechanisms,
  • assistance in the creation of a database on water resources and water supply activities,
  • promote community mobilization and management in the sector,
  • promote rural and semi-urban development,
  • promote increased sector budgets at country level,
  • promote capacity building in the sector,
  • promote improved communication between countries,
  • improve the political profile of water supply and sanitation at country and international levels,
  • assist with empowerment and hygiene education methods,
  • assist to streamline the activities of ESAs -too many agencies and initiatives,
  • promote support for nationally developed action plans,
  • advocate for capacity building for management in the sector.

The role of the Africa Working Group


The Africa Working Group concept was well received during the course of the study. The idea of a collaborating group of African professionals was supported.

There were several suggestions regarding the activities of the Africa Working Group given through the questionnaire which are summarized below:

  • general advocacy for the sector to increase the profile of water supply and sanitation,
  • to develop a genuine African voice in the sector,
  • to increase the international profile of the sector,
  • to assist in information exchange,
  • assist in soliciting funds,
  • establish a permanent secretariat,
  • to provide a monitoring and evaluation service,
  • to develop an information sharing network with centers in various sub-regions,
  • to assist with the development of realistic plans for increasing sanitation coverage,
  • to assist with the sharing of information on the experience of other continents,
  • assistance with capacity building,
  • assistance to build country level policy,
  • the promotion of friendships and relationships in the sector in Africa,
  • to run a newsletter,
  • look for African solutions to questions of cost recovery and sustainability,
  • to develop collaboration with other African development institutions,
  • to assist countries to "plunge into their roots" to find solutions,
  • to arrange workshops and seminars for the exchange of information and experience.



It is clear from the extent of the study and the observations that there is a great deal to be done. The difficulty arises of prioritising the most critical areas where, with limited resources, the greatest effect can be achieved. A strategy needs to be worked out based on the observations made above, bearing in mind the limited nature of the Africa Sector Review project.

Areas of concern

It is suggested that the most important issues which need to be addressed are the following:

  • policy development in the sector,
  • the political profile of the sector,
  • the proportion of national budgets which is allocated to the sector at the country level,
  • capacity building of management and strategic expertise at country level,
  • institutional reform and attendant legislative reform,
  • continued promotion of community based development and the proper role of government in the sector,
  • the conditions of service of professionals in the sector, particularly in public service,
  • the development of collaboration mechanisms at all levels,
  • cost recovery and sustainability.

Further studies

It is recommended that the Africa Working Group set up a mechanism, either through sub-committees or through the commissioning of specific studies, to look at the following topics in depth:

Water policy development in Africa - how to promote policy development, what is good policy, effective policy implementation, to set up a data base of African water policy, lessons from other developing countries.

Institutional and legislative reform - what is the status, what agencies are active in reform promotion and support, existing guidelines for reform, successes and failure, lessons from other developing countries.

Conditions of service - detailed assessment of conditions of service in the sector especially for public servants, review the impact of poor conditions of service on the sector, highlight and publish the issue.

Cost recovery and sustainability at local level. - gather information and case studies, seek to identify what works and what does not, seek to identify cultural and social indicators for successful cost recovery, what are the African solutions?

Much of this work may already have been done but if it has, very few professionals in the sector know of it.

Africa Working Group activities

Apart from the above mentioned specific studies, it is recommended that the Africa Working Group develop strategies amongst its members to continue to advocate for the following :

  • raising the political profile of the sector,
  • greater resource allocation to the sector,
  • capacity building and support for professionals in the sector,
  • continued promotion of community based development,
  • improved sectoral and inter-sectoral collaboration and the building of relationships within the sector on the continent.



This study was undertaken under substantial constraints of time and resources. The indications of the major problems in the water supply and sanitation sector on the African continent are however not difficult to identify. The observations are necessarily generalised but it is hoped that they will provide some insight into a very complex environment.

It is clear that very little impact will be made unless substantial political backing is given to the initiative of the UN Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and its Africa Working Group. This support needs to come both from the international development community through bodies such as the United Nations, and through African institutions such as the Organisation of African Unity.

There are a number of bodies including UNICEF, the UNDP and the World Bank who are already active in many of the spheres of concern mentioned above. Integrated activities are required in order not to create even greater confusion on the continent.

It is the conviction of the author that real progress and success in the sector is possible given the initiative and commitment which is evident amongst professionals in the sector throughout Africa.