Africa Review Report | The Water Page

Contents 1. Contents 2. Preface 2.1 Africa – from an African perspective 3. Introduction 4. Africa Sector Review 5. Summary of observations 6. Recommendations 7. Conclusion 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. 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 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. 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. 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 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: 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. 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 country visits were divided into three trips. The schedules for the trips were as follows: Summarised reports of the visits were made as part of the project. 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. 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: 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. A few of the countries which responded do have developed policy statements on water supply and sanitation. These are as follows: Namibia Nigeria (Draft) Uganda (Proposed) South Africa Burkina Faso Malawi 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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