Since the early 1990s, many countries in Sub Saharan Africa have implemented water sector reforms geared towards improving access to safe and affordable water and sanitation for their people. Statistics however show that this region still lags behind others in terms of access to improved water services and is unlikely to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target on water and sanitation. Only 60% of the population uses improved sources of drinking water, while as low as 31% use improved sanitation facilities.
Meanwhile, the region has experienced rapid population growth and rampant urbanization, exceeding the capacity of water supply and sanitation service provision. Most of this population growth has occurred in peri-urban areas, slums and informal settlements where piped water coverage remains low or is nonexistent. On the other hand, the quality of policy and institutional reforms undertaken is reflected by the poor performance of utilities, old and inadequate infrastructure, lack of connection networks and intermittent water delivery.
To improve access to safe, affordable and reliable water and sanitation services, USAID is supporting innovative reforms in the sector through a regional initiative, Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa (SUWASA). The approach, through SUWASA, is to identify and implement reform initiatives that will stimulate a financially viable and sustainable environment for improved quality of services to all and infrastructure expansion in urban and peri-urban areas.
By employing a multi-sectoral approach, the program is implementing reform projects that demonstrate success in alleviating a wide range of problems in the delivery of water and sanitation services to a rapidly growing population. These reform projects will introduce improved institutional frameworks that lead to increased autonomy, accountability, and customer orientation; support performance and operating contracts between utilities and public agencies; facilitate service providers' access to capital markets and debt financing; and assist in designing micro-finance approaches as a strategy for increasing household connections to the urban poor.
In its first year of operation, the SUWASA program has selected an initial set of reform projects in six countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan and Uganda. Ultimately, the program will implement at least 15 projects that have the greatest potential to demonstrate best practices in water and sanitation service delivery in urban areas. Response to the program from stakeholders has been positive, to the level that the second round of project selection comprises a list of 27 projects proposed by key players in the sector.
Each reform project selected is unique in the context of the opportunities and challenges they present. The projects in Uganda will focus on creating a framework for innovative financing for private water operators that provide water services to small and medium size towns, while the Kenya project seeks to create an opportunity for urban poor customers to access microfinance loans to help pay for connections in one installment. For both projects, the program will work with a broad range of partners including stakeholders in the Design-Build-Operate - Output-Based Aid framework, government ministries, water service providers, micro finance institutions and local banks. For a majority of the local banks, lending money to the water sector is a fairly new phenomenon, but both projects have the potential to demonstrate how up-scaling of services can be achieved through innovative financing.
For the Ethiopian and Nigerian projects, broad sweeping institutional and policy reforms will be implemented. In Ethiopia, the selected utility in Hawassa Town is a perfect candidate for modernization and may well be the catalyst for institutional transformation of the Ethiopian water and sanitation sub-sector toward effective delivery of water and sanitation. In Nigeria's Bauchi State, the program will implement reforms to address constraints in the operating environment as well as internal operating problems of the state water board. The Mozambique and Sudan projects will benefit from technical assistance in enhancing and standardizing service provision especially for the small-scale providers.
To ensure future success, the program is working with technical experts and promoting the sharing of knowledge in the sector, building on already existing partnerships and actively seeking various forms of cooperation.
Success of the SUWASA program, will not only contribute to improved access to water and sanitation services for many more people, especially the poor and disadvantaged, but will also transform the delivery of services in Africa.
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Last updated: October 01, 2013