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Strengthening Urban Sanitation Regulation to Expand and Sustain Services


By Bill Twyman, Water and sanitation specialist at Aguaconsult and Ison Simbeye, Consultant

checking construction of sanitation facilities
Lusaka, Zambia (photo by Georges Mikhael - Aguaconsult - 2014, with permission)

A new research report examines urban sanitation in Lusaka, Zambia, with a focus on integrity, corruption risks and the capacity, strengths and weakness of the regulatory framework to deal with these risks. It bridges a critical gap in research on integrity in sanitation governance, highlighting new ways to strengthen the regulatory framework and ensure effectiveness of WASH systems.

Download the research paper: Regulating Lusaka's Urban Sanitation Sector (pdf, EN):

Download PDF • 525KB


Infrastructure construction alone will not solve the challenges of extending and sustaining water and sanitation services in cities with growing populations facing the threat of climate change. Strong WASH systems are critical to ensure the effective and sustained delivery of urban sanitation services. That is, the effective delivery of urban sanitation services depends on the proper functioning of various actors (i.e. ministries, city authorities, regulators, public and private service providers) and factors (i.e. monitoring, institutional arrangements, regulatory enforcement, public and private finance).

Strong regulators are a critical component of these WASH systems. They can help to expand safe sanitation services by creating and arbitrating the ‘rules of the game’ to balance the interests of the government, users and private sector while also limiting harmful behaviours.

Effective regulation has wide-ranging benefits. These include ensuring compliance with public health guidelines and other statutory requirements, promoting efficiency gains and good performance by service providers, and limiting the opportunities for – and heightening the disincentives for – integrity failures.

Conversely, where a robust regulatory system is not in place, we see that corruption and integrity failures are often prevalent. These acts occur at all levels, from skewed policy formulation to mismanagement of organisational resources, down to bribes for essential services. This severely undermines services, delaying interventions, causing the inefficient use of resources, and contributing to challenges such as high non-revenue water rates and service disruptions.

However, globally, insufficient attention has been given to formulating and implementing the practical measures required to strengthen regulatory actors for urban sanitation and the broader regulatory environment to combat these acts.


Lusaka – a city making considerable progress but one that remains emblematic of integrity challenges

Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, is illustrative of many of the broader challenges affecting urban sanitation service delivery and the need to strengthen regulation. Like many cities in low- and lower-middle-income countries, Lusaka is experiencing rapid population growth (5% per annum). Expanding access to safe sanitation is a challenge, especially in the densely populated peri-urban areas that house 70% of the city’s inhabitants and most new arrivals. Climate change is also already affecting sanitation service delivery.

Zambia has well-established institutional arrangements for regulating the urban sanitation sub-sector. Responsibilities are split between the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO), the Zambia Environmental Management Agency, and the Zambia Public Procurement Agency. However, all these institutions suffer capacity constraints.

Zambia also has an altogether impressive regulatory environment for urban sewered sanitation. Regulators have autonomy, there are systems in place for effective participation and incentives for transparency and accountability. NWASCO reports on performance and has oversight over the Lusaka Water Supply and Sanitation Company (LWSC).

Moreover, a 2018 strategic framework sets out how the non-sewered sanitation services used by 85% of Lusaka’s population are to be regulated moving forwards.

Eighteen percent of Zambians who had contact with a public service in 2018 paid a bribe – this is lower than the same figures for across Africa and globally, which are both 25%. Despite this somewhat positive picture and the progress made regulating Zambia’s urban sanitation sub-sector, new evidence shows that integrity failures and corruption remain pressing challenges.

Our report highlights several instances of corruption and poor integrity at different levels and involving a range of sector stakeholders. We focus on corruption in public financial management, corruption at the interface between institutions and individuals and other integrity failures. For example, there are cases where LWSC did not follow procurement protocols. Abuse of per diems is common and there are reported cases of bribery of public officials by the private sector, and bribery of public officials to obtain a service, reduce regular fees or speed-up administrative fees.

These acts have delayed sanitation interventions, reduced the scope of large WASH programmes, caused scarce resources to be wasted on assets that were ultimately unused, and resulted in the inefficient delivery of services.


Moving forwards – further strengthening urban sanitation regulation

Corruption and integrity failures are undoubtedly common in the urban sanitation sub-sectors of many other countries, highlighting the global need to improve urban sanitation regulation.

However, debates on these issues often centre on the broad need to strengthen governance. Insufficient attention is paid to developing and implementing the practical measures required to strengthen urban sanitation regulation and address these issues specifically.

The regulatory environment in Zambia is strong. Nevertheless, a comprehensive set of further improvements are required to address the entrenched factors causing corruption and integrity failures and to reap the wider benefits of effective regulation in sanitation in particular.

One important means to this is to ensure the effective implementation of Zambia’s e-procurement system in the water supply and sanitation sector. The capacity of regulatory actors also needs to be enhanced – for example, by further expanding NWASCO’s pool of part-time inspectors to cover all of Zambia’s districts.

NWASCO could also expand the collection and reporting of data on petty corruption or corruption at the interface between institutions and individuals, including on indicators such as the percentage of the population that have paid a bribe and the rate of illegal connections and meter manipulations. Expediting the implementation of the 2018 strategic framework on regulating non-sewered sanitation is a further critical action point.

More broadly, the sanitation sector must develop a better understanding of underlying integrity risks and entrenched dynamics holding the sector back. We must move away from talking broadly about the need for good governance and start pushing national governments and development partners to increase funding for the substantive and long-term interventions required to strengthen urban sanitation regulation and improve integrity in the sector. It is only then that progress will be made in moving towards meeting universal coverage of safely managed sanitation services.

Download the full research paper: Regulating Lusaka's Urban Sanitation Sector (pdf, EN):
Download PDF • 525KB


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