Defining an institutional framework for CWIS- doing things differently

Many countries have committed to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 to achieve universal access to safe water supply and sanitation by the year 2030. While this can be very easily stated in policy documents and country visions, the core question is- how are they going to do it?  To answer this, Governments must take into consideration several questions: What are the resources?  who will deliver? with what types of human resources? where is the human capacity?  What type of technology? In most cases there is limited consensus. Different stakeholders want to do different things, resulting in lack of oversight, reporting and supervision with cookie-cutter approaches.

Among the challenges identified for the WASH sector, it has been estimated that to meet SDG 6 by 2030, the world will have to increase current investment levels by at least six times.  Even if countries could increase their public funding for this sector, and multi-laterals could increase their envelope, it would not be enough.  This is the rationale for the work that various stakeholders have undertaken in terms of looking at the institutional setup for the sector, to see how things can be done differently.

The 20th African Water Association (AfWA) Congress offered a podium for the deliberation of a myriad of issues in the WASH Sector. Included in the tracks, was a focus on ‘Governance and Regulation for Inclusive Urban Sanitation’. A session hosted under this track on ‘Innovative Trends and Emerging Good Practices’ featured speakers from the World Bank (Gustavo Saltiel-Global Lead Water Supply and Sanitation), the ESAWAS Regulators Association (Yvonne Magawa-Project Manager), the International Water Association (Kala Vairavamoorthy-CEO) and two WSS regulators from Tanzania (Exaudi Fatael-Director of Water and Sanitation,EWURA) and Rwanda (Jacques Nzitonda-Director of Water and Sanitation,RURA). The session tackled issues around the institutional setup for citywide inclusive sanitation (CWIS) with particular emphasis on the role of regulators in achieving universal access and SDG6.

Currently, water supply and sanitation (WSS) is predominantly a publicly owned and managed service. The WASH sector has been traditionally beset by many challenges that include weak financial and institutional capacities; overlapping roles and unclear responsibilities, poor co-ordination among the different institutions; and unrealistic policies, reforms and financing strategies. These challenges resulted in a significant rethink of the policy, legal and institutional landscape in many countries. Water services sector reform were a response to addressing the declining performance of the institutions charged with the responsibility for service provision and took into account what could be called ‘best practice’, which is ‘this worked in a certain context, let’s make it work in a different context.’  However, this was not always a successful approach as the second context may not have the same capacity and institutions for replication, as the first.  This brought the realisation that exporting models often does not work.

WSS service delivery is comprised of network infrastructures which create natural monopolies that need to be regulated.  Regulation, in particular by regulatory agencies, was conceived in the early nineties when many countries wanted to bring in the private sector by way of privatizations or concessions.  In that case it made a lot of sense to create a regulatory agency that could try to mitigate the potential abuse of monopolistic power by a private company. For many countries, the model for regulation was the OFWAT in the UK and was copied, cookie cutter.  That worked very well in the UK, but it didn’t always work in different contexts.  The copying of services models that worked in a country with the private sector, was not going to work in different countries where the service providers are public providers.

The other model adopted is regulation by contract, which is widely applied in West Africa and other countries.  This is an authority (often ministerial department) that can keep accountability and monitor performance- a quasi-regulatory system. This has also worked well in certain contexts.

Irrespective of the regulation model selected, recognizing that it will be the government that will set the rules and the law, countries should strive to have a body of professionals (regulatory framework) that can model the service and understand well what means ‘citywide inclusive sanitation’.

To address the institutional setup for the sector, the World Bank has introduced a holistic approach to Policies, Institutions and Regulations (PIR).

Policy means the vision for the sector- the policy direction, the financing, what the government has said for the sector: ‘This is what we want to achieve.

Institutional arrangements – this is not just the organisational arrangements, but also the legal framework, whether centralized or decentralized, PPPs, markets, accountability, governance, etc. 

Regulation in this context is not how you regulate – i.e. price-cap or rate of return or the models that you use - it’s about the types of regulation.  Is it economic, technical, environmental, etc. 


The focus of the work has been about the interlinkages among the three dimensions.  Some of the findings are that countries that have been more successful have been those that have tackled the three dimensions in a co-ordinated manner. 

When it comes to citywide inclusive sanitation, in terms of deciding on governance and regulation options, the first question is:  do you really need regulation, how would regulation help?  If the answer is no, and this is a government decision, then the question is:  who is accountable for achieving universal sanitation? 

The Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation (ESAWAS) Regulators Association has recommended a regulatory framework for inclusive sanitation service provision developed from a regional perspective.  This was in recognition of the fact that over 80% of the urban population are not on the sewered network. The coverage figures raised the questions of - what are they using?  If they are not under regulation, then how is accountability being managed?  How is the service being provided?  who is looking after their interests? 

A regulatory gap analysis conducted in eight countries of the region revealed that most WSS policies, talk of water and sanitation.  They do not talk about sewerage per se.  Equally, the legislation for the sector places the mandate on sanitation.  This provided the basis for the formulation of a regulatory framework to integrate CWIS that addresses the PIR.

The ESAWAS regulatory framework defines the institutions, roles and responsibilities at the Policy, Regulation and Service Provision levels. The framework outlines what the institutions are responsible for in each segment of the whole sanitation service chain from capture to disposal/reuse. For example, at policy level, the framework identifies four key ministries and recommends that the ministry responsible for sanitation should develop policy that covers the whole sanitation service chain. 

Regulators are critical to ensuring that Government policy is implemented.  When the policy is developed, the regulator would be able to take it and execute it for institutional arrangements, service delivery etc. Regulators ensure that service providers (utilities or municipalities) are accountable and supported to perform effectively, provide services equitably, that the tariffs and other financing tools help achieve sustainability while meeting the needs of the urban poor, and that key performance indicators are available for purposes of service provider benchmarking and sector performance reporting.

The ESAWAS framework envisages that the mandate for CWIS service delivery will be performed by the same Utility for water supply under direct regulation. The Utility can sub-contract the function for service delivery to the private sector or community-based organisations.  They can give permits or can have delegated management contracts, to ensure that the private sector can continue to play the role that they have been playing, only this time there is accountability for service provision through the utility by regulation oversight.

To implement this model, ESAWAS has developed three key guidelines and is also developing other tools by using a harmonised regional approach that allows the countries to very quickly adopt/adapt the instruments for regulation.  Among the guidelines developed, includes one for sanitation tariff setting which has unbundled the business of sanitation from water supply. A separate sanitation tariff could help to improve viability of the sector, incentivise private sector participation and improve the quality of service.

In the light of limited financing earlier mentioned and to improve data-driven investment planning, a CWIS Service Assessment and Planning (SAP) tool is under development that would assist decision-makers to analyse the outcomes of different sanitation interventions or investments along the dimensions of equity, financial sustainability and safety. Thus assisting in evaluating a variety of options and prioritizing those that cost-effectively expand access to safely managed sanitation.

When all is considered, the cornerstone of effective regulation is data.  For the regulator to be able to carry out appropriate economic and technical regulation, you need data.  In sanitation, there is little data collected unlike for water- a situation present in most countries. The WSS regulator, EWURA, of Tanzania introduced a system of collecting data through their water utility information system in 2005. The Utilities get data for reporting from the local government in their area of operations in the urban centres. Now, through consultation with key stakeholders, they want to improve the system of collecting data for sanitation. EWURA have been able to establish for the first time what they are going to be reporting and monitoring in CWIS on an annual basis. Based on the ESAWAS framework, EWURA have been in a process of preparing data on faecal sludge and adapting the sanitation guidelines.  This will assist the regulator to address in detail what is happening, what they should be doing and to set service delivery targets for the water utilities which are mandated for sanitation activities as well. 

Improved sector coordination is another key aspect highlighted for sector reforms. Rwanda has a dedicated policy for sanitation. The country which does not have sewered systems, has a private sector that is entirely dominating service provision for sanitation despite the water Utility having this mandate. The regulator-RURA has been regulating onsite sanitation through licensing and formulation of regulations for emptying and transportation service provision. To achieve this, RURA spearheaded stakeholder coordination at implementation level by bringing together the key sector players which included the local government, water Utility, private sector and Ministry of Health.

The main emphasis in Rwanda has been systematic emptying.  The regulator is now mapping infrastructure – pits and septic tanks and putting measures in place to ensure the utility can meet its mandate by helping operators who are collecting and emptying.  In addition, based on guidelines developed by ESAWAS, RURA intends to begin tariff setting for collection and emptying that was previously left to the open market and disadvantaged consumers.

The International Water Association (IWA) developed the Lisbon Charter in 2015 which spells out the guiding principles for sound policies and regulations in both water supply and sanitation. It talks to the audience at government level, the regulators, the utilities and users. To avoid cookie-cutter approaches, IWA has instituted an international regulator forum where regulators come together and share some of their experiences and best practices. The regulators forum has been primarily looking at the drinking water side of the operation.  Now there is a shift to create a regulators’ forum that looks at the entire water cycle, brings in the sanitation professionals and to start looking at the challenges associated with non-sewered sanitation and regulation.  The forum will address how regulators can be the seed or the inspiration for innovation in trying to facilitate or accelerate science to practice.

It is becoming evident that there is a greater interest now in non-sewered approaches, and it is getting recognised that it is probably the more appropriate solution in many areas around the world.  There is a lot of research where they are developing much more elegant solutions for non-sewered sanitation approaches. 

It is therefore ultimately clear that sanitation needs to be professionally managed. Whether it happens through the public sector or through strong regulations that allow private sector involvement, each part of this chain has to run very smoothly.  If you have a break in one part, the whole system collapses.  It is about viewing the sanitation chain in its entirety and recognising that it is being elevated now from the informal approach that is very clunky and messy, into a more elegant and professionally run sector in the way that it is operating.  Regulators can begin to put certain systems, guidelines and tools in place to professionalize the sector and bring it under some level of accountability through regulation, that will allow the monitoring and delivery of safe, adequate, affordable and equitable services. Finally, decision-makers really do need to feel that it is a serious option, and not a temporary waiting-for-sewers-to-come-in-the-future type option. We must do things differently to achieve SDG6.