Africa has made progress in expanding water supply and sanitation (WSS) services but this has not occurred at the pace required to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, and considerable further improvements are needed. A key driver to achieving safe and equitable WSS service provision is the implementation of effective regulation to formalize the sector and provide clear guidelines for those working within it. In Africa, water sector reforms resulted in a significant rethink of the policy, legal and institutional landscape in many countries, with a number of countries instituting regulation/monitoring oversight for WSS. There is no single ‘best-practice’, or one-size-fits-all approach/design or model for WSS regulation. Effective regulation demands alignment with country specific reforms, governance systems and political economy and development objectives. However, there has been limited reference material on the setup of these frameworks across Africa that can serve as replication points for countries intending to institute effective regulation. The Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation (ESAWAS) Regulators Association, as a regional body, initiated a study to establish the regulatory frameworks for WSS service provision in urban and rural areas in 54 countries to set a base for drawing lessons and interventions towards strengthening regulation.
Across Africa, the average coverage rate for at least ‘basic’ sanitation1 has increased from 32% in 2000 to 44% in 2020 (Joint Monitoring Programme, 2020). However, progress has not occurred at the rate required to meet the SDG 6 targets, with very few African countries on track to achieve universal basic sanitation services by 2030 (United Nations, 2018). Sewered sanitation serves just about 13% of Africa’s population, compared to the 47% of Africans that use On-Site Sanitation (OSS) facilities of varying levels of quality. Altogether, 779 million (58%) people in Africa remain without access to basic sanitation, including 208 million (16%) who still practice open defecation (UNICEF; WHO, 2022). Evidence suggests that a well-functioning regulatory system and the application of a robust set of regulatory mechanisms can play a crucial role in delivering and managing safe and reliable water supply and sanitation (WSS) services. The premise of regulation is to ensure that government policy is implemented, and service providers are accountable and supported in delivering efficient, affordable, reliable and quality services. However, there has been limited reference material on the setup of these frameworks across Africa that can serve as replication points for countries intending to institute effective regulation. This lack of information limits the understanding of common challenges and trends as well as the determination of good practices to serve as references in countries looking to improve WSS regulation or institute necessary reforms. This is especially crucial considering the importance of learning from what has (and has not) worked in comparable contexts rather than simply transporting frameworks and interventions from country settings that have evolved to address different sector requirements.
The ESAWAS, supported by a joint working group of key sector stakeholders, undertook a comprehensive study to map existing regulatory frameworks for WSS service provision in urban and rural areas in 54 countries. The study covered: the policy and legal backing for WSS regulation, different spheres of regulation (regulated service providers, regulated service delivery types), regulatory mechanisms and the regulatory environment. Three-tiered reports (country, regional and continental) present key findings and overviews from which to draw learnings and good practices across Africa to inform effective WSS regulation and accelerate improvements in service delivery.
Regulatory mandates and functions are often more clearly defined for water supply than for sanitation. The lack of clear regulatory mandates means there is often an insufficient legal backing to enable or promote effective regulation. Ministerial regulation is often a ‘default’ regulatory model utilized for WSS service providers when other regulatory models have not been developed (i.e. in the absence of a dedicated regulatory body or application of regulation by contract) and is applied in 89% of the countries for one service type or another. However, regulation by agency generally performs better than other regulatory models with notably more countries where this is the predominant regulatory model having strong legal backing for both water supply and sanitation regulation, good progress in regulating smaller, decentralized service providers and service delivery types, such as OSS, and a strong regulatory environment (autonomy, accountability and transparency). This indicates that several benefits exist to adopting regulatory arrangements based on regulation by agency. These include reduced opportunities for political interference, increased consistency in applying regulatory tools, heightened prioritization of regulation and the specialized capacity of regulatory actors. The growing momentum around regulating OSS in several countries is a promising and crucial development. Despite the fact that most African countries rely on OSS facilities, greater progress has been made in developing and applying regulations for sewered sanitation. However, Tanzania, Mauritius, Seychelles, Rwanda, Senegal, Zambia and Egypt have developed regulatory mechanisms for OSS across most aspects in the sanitation service chain and are applying these at scale. Rwanda provides a particularly interesting case-study as it is one of the few countries with a long-standing track record of prioritizing the regulation of on-site sanitation. 6 The ESAWAS Inclusive Sanitation Regulatory Framework and Strategy together with the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) Africa Sanitation Policy Guidelines will play a pivotal in advocating for the implementation and strengthening of sanitation regulation across Africa by clarifying responsibilities of actors at policy level and instituting strong sector accountability mechanisms (regulation) towards improving service delivery for all.
About the Author
Yvonne Magawa has over 18 years of experience in water supply and sanitation regulation. She is Project Manager at the Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation Regulators Association, overseeing the support to African water supply and sanitation regulators to improve urban sanitation services through integration of non-sewered sanitation in regulation.
About the institution / organisation
The Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation Regulators Association is a network of regional water supply and sanitation (WSS) regulators with the objectives of: fostering and enhancing regional cooperation and coordination on regulatory issues in order to improve the effectiveness of WSS regulation in the region and enhancing the capacity of members in WSS regulation by facilitating information sharing and skills training.