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Before yesterdayWSUP Blog

Water-smart, inclusive, and integrated: ways to climate-proof sanitation systems

November 19th 2020 at 09:45

What have toilets got to do with climate change? This World Toilet Day, WSUP is highlighting how climate change is placing a growing strain on urban sanitation systems, and looks at ways to improve the climate resiliency of services to the poorest.

Climate change is threatening sanitation systems in cities. Droughts in southern Africa have led to questions over the suitability of water intensive sewer systems, and a growing realisation that other forms of sanitation which use less water may be more effective.

In countries such as Kenya, Mozambique and Bangladesh, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of flooding which can damage toilets and spread harmful waste through communities.

What can cities do to ensure that everyone has access to safe sanitation in the face of an ever-changing climate?

WSUP has identified three ways to tackle the issue:

Water-smart sanitation systems

In urban areas, traditional sewered sanitation systems use a lot of water. As water availability reduces, so the importance of making best use of existing water resources increases. With a 50% increase in urban water demands forecast for the next 30 years, the systems that made sense 50 years ago may no longer be fit for the future.

In the informal settlement of Mukuru in Nairobi, one of the biggest slums in Kenya, simplified sewers that use much less water than conventional sewerage are being introduced by the Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company (NCWSC).

In some places hit by droughts, such as in southern Zambia, water providers are forced to rely more on groundwater – but in urban settings, groundwater is often polluted by unmanaged sanitation.

Peri-urban community Livingstone
A peri-urban community in Livingstone, Zambia

Southern Water & Sanitation Company Limited (SWSC), the utility responsible for serving customers across 13 districts containing several urban centres, has understood the need to focus more on providing onsite sanitation, particularly to those marginalised communities who live outside of the central urban areas where sewers are not available. As well as improving access to sanitation for people living in peri-urban communities, this work aims to improve water quality for everyone.

Read the full report here – Building resilience to climate change: experiences from southern Zambia

Citywide inclusive sanitation

Poorly designed sanitation systems result in harmful germs being spread through communities, a phenomenon exacerbated by heavy rains and flooding.

The Ngong river passes through the Mukuru settlement and every time it rains, there is regular flooding in the entire settlement. The floodwater mixes with faecal waste from the latrines which then finds its way into people’s homes.

New research commissioned by WSUP is revealing the extent of the problem of faecal waste in communities. A study in one low-income community in Dhaka, Bangladesh, shows the alarmingly high frequency of germs in low-income urban communities suffering from inadequate sanitation.

The research found that health outcomes can be significantly improved with well-managed, closed drains and, when safely managed, fully sealed containment systems are in place and frequently emptied. Though the research is specific to Dhaka, it has relevance for other cities that are facing similar issues.

Clara Mariano (pictured above) is a resident of Chipangrara in Beira, one of many areas in Mozambique affected by increased flooding due to climate change. Poor drainage means that when the area floods her yard fills with wastewater, exposing her family to dangerous diseases.

“The water flow is a mess, I protected my yard but nothing seems to have worked, the yard is usually flooded with water, it is extremely difficult to live under such conditions.”

Following the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai, WSUP has been working to deliver sustainable, long-term water and sanitation solutions to help mitigate the effects of climate change for thousands of low-income residents in Beira.

Read more in this blog – Climate recovery in Beira: sustainable water and sanitation access for a more resilient city

Integrated approach to urban development

Where urban communities flood, fragile toilet infrastructure can easily be damaged, causing residents to have to rebuild in the wake of floods. It is often the poorest residents, who can least afford it, who live in the areas most vulnerable to heavy rains and see their facilities damaged. This also has a major impact on people’s health, dignity and well-being.

Flooding in Rangpur

Cities like Rangpur in Bangladesh are experiencing rainfall at an unprecedented level over the last couple of years, leaving residents with little or no access to proper sanitation facilities. In September, 433mm of rain fell in 30 hours, submerging nearly a third of the city and leaving 500,000 city dwellers trapped in their homes.

Read this story here – How climate change is worsening sanitation in Rangpur, Bangladesh

Tackling the climate change impacts on sanitation in disadvantaged communities will require a coordinated effort with other urban service providers. Residents who are unable to afford safe emptying services have no choice but to dump sanitation waste in open drains and rivers, contaminating the entire water cycle.

An open sewer in Githima, Nakuru county, Kenya

Without rubbish collection services, solid waste blocks up drains, and stormwater builds up in these channels, spreading filthy water through communities. It is therefore vital for sanitation to be considered alongside drainage and solid waste management services.

Too much water or too little water – climate change is damaging people’s ability to have access to safe sanitation.

But with the right action, WSUP believes that cities can ensure that the poorest, most vulnerable people have access to sustainable sanitation that can withstand climate change.

Read more about WSUP’s work on climate change

Top image: Melita Zeca lives in the cyclone-hit area of Beira where there isn’t safe and affordable waste collection services thus affecting the health of the residents. 

How climate change is worsening sanitation in Rangpur, Bangladesh

November 17th 2020 at 13:52

For residents like Samsuddin Mia (pictured above), access to a safe and decent toilet is vital in the wake of extreme weather conditions.

Long and heavy rains from June to December are not an uncommon occurrence for residents living in northern parts of Bangladesh.

However, over the last couple of years, cities like Rangpur in the region have experienced rainfall at an unprecedented level during the monsoon season leaving residents with little or no access to proper sanitation facilities.

In September alone, the city witnessed 433mm of rain in a span of 30 hours, submerging nearly a third of the city and leaving 500,000 city dwellers trapped in their homes.

In some areas, there was water logging for nearly fifteen days. The poorest have suffered the most forcing them to move out of their homes and seek refuge with their relatives in nearby areas or in emergency shelters where more than 100 people have access to one toilet.

WSUP is currently working in 10 primary schools for improvements of school sanitation facilities and in their catchment communities in Rangpur. All these communities are situated in the low-lying areas of the city which were under water for three days.

Construction of sanitation facilities on hold as the primary school in Kamarpara is affected by the floods

The aftermath of the floods has left already poor sanitation structures extremely vulnerable, impacting people’s health, dignity and well-being.

Flood water in a resident’s home

Ms Marjina, a resident from Kamarpara – one of the worst affected low-income communities’ said: “the investment for a toilet is too high compared to our financial status. Yet we chose to invest as we know this will bring good health – but reinvesting every year might not be possible for us and many might choose to go back to unimproved options.”

With the unusual rain patterns over the last two years, many residents of this community agree, assuming that this will continue to happen over the coming years.

Another major problem affecting the city is the waste collection systems that are poorly designed, resulting in harmful germs spreading through communities, a phenomenon exacerbated by heavy rains and flooding.

Research recently conducted by ITN-BUET and WSUP found that 45% of toilets in Rangpur have faulty containment systems, many of which were connected to open drains which then mixed with the external environment.

Open drains like the one pictured above are common in Rangpur

The floods in Kamarpara saw sanitation waste from the septic tanks mixing with the floodwater leading to health problems like diarrhoea, dysentery and other skin diseases among the residents.

The picture is not very different in other cities in Bangladesh and it is the poorest who are the worst affected by climate change.

As we mark World Toilet Day this week, we need to act now to ensure that everyone has access to sustainable sanitation that can withstand climate change.

To tackle the impacts of flooding in disadvantaged communities, city authorities need to place more focus on developing climate resilient services for the poorest to ensure communities are healthy and functioning.

Improved toilet construction and ensuring drains are closed rather than open can help. Sanitation also needs to be considered alongside drainage and solid waste management programmes to help reduce the health impacts of poor sanitation in times of heavy rain or flooding.

Even without climate change, access to sanitation in vulnerable urban communities is extremely low in Bangladesh. But with climate change ramping up, and increasing the risk of flooding across the country, living conditions for the poorest may get even worse without concerted action.

Find out more about WSUP's work on climate change

Learn more about our work in Bangladesh

 

Improving sanitation services a top priority, according to study of under-served urban residents

October 29th 2020 at 17:30

As we mark World Cities Day 2020 on Saturday, new research from WSUP shines light on the complex needs of marginalised communities in cities.

The analysis rated 17 differing services in Accra, Ghana, and Nairobi, Kenya and found that, consistently, residents placed sanitation services close to the top.

Surprisingly, there have been few dedicated studies into needs from the perspectives of the residents themselves. But, as WSUP seeks to promote water and sanitation services that are more integrated within wider developments, increasing this understanding is vital.

In Accra, residents placed flood control as the most important, with sanitation coming fourth top out of 17 different services. In Nairobi, sanitation was ranked top, above other issues such as street paving and water supply. Water supply was seen as less important in Accra, potentially because residents were already relatively satisfied with their service compared to other needs.

Read more on the research project from Guy Norman:

What do slumdwellers want?

Service improvement priorities of slumdwellers in Ghana & Kenya

Guy Norman PhD

Guy Norman was previously WSUP’s Director of Research, and is currently MD and Lead Consultant of Urban Research Ltd.

WSUP is about water and sanitation. But slums have other big problems that need fixing, not just water and sanitation. Often, these problems inter-relate: for example, it may be difficult and costly to lay a water pipe network in a slum because streets are irregular and narrow, and because land ownership is not clearly documented. Similarly, safe sanitation may be made more difficult when domestic garbage collection services are poor: garbage gets thrown into latrines and toilets, and it blocks up street drains, making seasonal flooding worse.

Things also inter-relate in more technical ways. The recent MapSan evaluation of the health impact of a WSUP sanitation intervention in Maputo (Mozambique) is the most rigorous study to date of the health impacts of urban sanitation. This study found that WSUP’s intervention had no direct impact on child health, though an encouraging effect was observed on the prevalence of some faecal pathogens in children born during the study period.

It’s certainly not that the intervention was bad: the researchers evaluated intervention delivery as excellent. But this study strongly suggests that sanitation improvements on their own are not going to be sufficient to break faecal-oral disease transmission pathways in slums: in other words, it seems likely that sanitation improvements in slums are necessary but not sufficient for achieving substantial health gains.

It seems very likely that impacting on faecal-oral disease burdens requires other parallel interventions: for example, better drinking water quality, better food hygiene, perhaps street and compound paving. Honestly, at this stage we don’t really know what! But water and sanitation interventions certainly need to tie more closely to wider slum improvements.

Against this backdrop, what do slumdwellers themselves want? What basic services do they consider most important? Surprisingly little is known about this: there have been few systematic studies in this area.

So under the 2016-2020 Urban Sanitation Research Initiative (USRI), WSUP delivered a study of slumdweller prioritisations of basic services in Nairobi (Kenya) and Accra (Ghana). It was an exciting project for us: it was the first significant piece of research delivered internally within WSUP (all other research projects under USRI were commissioned to external research teams).

Specifically, we aimed to assess what types of basic service improvement are prioritised by slumdwellers; to understand the extent to which prioritisations vary among cities and communities; and to explore whether prioritisations are associated with possible predictors (including current service level, gender and tenure status). We stress that we did NOT set out to “demonstrate” the importance of water and/or sanitation, and we took multiple measures to avoid bias.

Kaptagat Chairman who helped with community mobilization of landlords buy in the project

How did we design the study?

To start with, we developed a list of basic urban services, then refined this through focus group discussions in Nairobi and Accra, and interviews with expert informants (like municipal planners). We ended up with the following list of 17 services:

  • Administrative support with tenure rights
  • Air pollution control
  • Education (primary, secondary)
  • Electricity supply
  • Environment: clean rivers, public spaces
  • Fire-fighting services
  • Flood control & storm drains
  • Garbage removal, street cleaning, pest control
  • Healthcare (clinics, health visitors) Housing build quality
  • Street paving
  • Policing & crime prevention
  • Roads and transport outside community
  • Sanitation: toilets, pit-emptying, sewers
  • Social care (elderly, disabled…)
  • Street lighting within community
  • Water supply

Having developed this comprehensive list, we then designed large-scale household surveys in Nairobi and Accra, aiming to understand prioritisations. We interviewed about 3,000 respondents in each city: this very large sample size allowed us to generate whole-city data, but also statistically reliable data for 8 sub-areas within each city. The surveys covered pretty much all low-income settlements in each city, ranging from “extreme” slums to less extreme moderate-low-income areas. We used a sampling approach called systematic spatial sampling.

The questionnaire comprised various sections, but let’s here focus on the questions around basic services. We didn’t want to present respondents with a long and tedious list of 17 services, so instead we designed and printed cards, one representing each service (the photo shows only 10 cards, but respondents were given all 17).

Cards representing basic services

We asked respondents “Please put the cards into four groups, depending on whether you consider the current service level to be non-existent or poor or adequate or good”.

We then asked: “If the authorities were to invest money in this community, which 5 services do you think should be prioritised?”

So which services were most highly prioritised?

The 5 most frequently prioritised services in Accra were:

  1. Flood control (50% of respondents)
  2. Garbage removal (48%)
  3. Housing quality (48%)
  4. Sanitation (41%)
  5. Social care (39%)

The 5 most frequently prioritised services in Nairobi were:

  1. Sanitation (49% of respondents)
  2. Street paving (47%)
  3. Water supply (46%)
  4. Environment (44%)
  5. Garbage removal (43%)

So we can see that Sanitation and Garbage removal were considered top priorities in both Accra and Nairobi. But Water supply was considered a top priority only in Nairobi.

What about variation WITHIN cities? We don’t have space to go into that here but briefly: there was variation in prioritisations among sub-areas within each city, but in general the same broad patterns were seen across the whole city.

Analysis of association between prioritisation and other variables

The graph below shows a plot for Nairobi of average service prioritisation score (blue) against average respondent perception of current service level (orange):

Graph showing average service prioritisation in Nairobi

From the plot, we can see some indication of a negative association. In order to explore this in a more rigorous statistical way, we used logistic regression to assess whether there were statistical associations between service prioritisation and other respondent/household characteristics (including respondent’s perception of current service level, poverty level, and gender). No space here to explain the analysis in detail: full details in our forthcoming research article.

As expected, there was often an ordered pattern of association between prioritisation of a service and respondent’s perception of the current level of that service. Considering for example Street paving in Accra: by comparison with respondents who rated the current situation as “excellent”:

  • respondents rating Street paving as “adequate” were about 5 times more likely to prioritise this service
  • respondents rating Street paving as “poor” were about 46 times more likely to prioritise it
  • respondents rating Street paving as “non-existent” were about 51 times more likely to prioritise it

These are big effects, indicating very clear association.

But it wasn’t always so simple: for many services, counter-intuitively, people who rated current level of Service X as “poor” prioritised that service more highly than people who rated current level of that service as “non-existent”… perhaps because they didn’t expect that service?

The full association findings are too complex to describe here. But we briefly note an interesting finding, which is that respondent gender showed few strong associations: for example, no association between gender and prioritisation of healthcare.

Clothes hanging to dry_ Githima

Conclusions: simply stated

  • Sanitation and garbage removal were among the 5 most frequently prioritised services in both Accra and Nairobi
  • Water supply was among the 5 most frequently prioritised services in Nairobi, but not in Accra
  • Other highly prioritised services included flood control, housing quality and social care in Accra, and street paving and environment in Nairobi
  • But this certainly does NOT mean that lower-prioritised services are unimportant!

What does this mean?

  • Systematic studies of this type can be of value for informing urban planning at the city level: community prioritisation should probably not be the only factor in investment decision-making, but it’s an important factor.
  • If systematic studies of this type were extended across a wider sample of cities, it seems likely that more generalisable conclusions might emerge, of potential value to wider thinking about urban development.
  • And finally: a multi-services perspective of this type ties to the view that urban water and sanitation shouldn’t be expected to impact on health and wellbeing in isolation: they need to tie to wider improvements in basic services and quality of the urban environment.

Learn more about WSUP's approach to creating sustainable cities

Handwashing in 2020: working with utilities to protect the most vulnerable

October 15th 2020 at 08:25

This year, on Global Handwashing Day, the need for everyone to be able to wash their hands with soap has never been clearer.

The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have shown the importance of universal hand hygiene as the simplest and most effective way to prevent the spread of a virus. For low-income communities around the world, the simple act of washing your hands with soap could save countless lives from Covid-19.

Handwashing has saved millions of people from diseases like cholera, diarrhoea, and dysentery and yet, over 40% of the world’s population lacks access to basic handwashing facilities – including 900 million school-aged children.

WSUP has been working this year to reach those urban communities most at risk from Covid-19, where high population density and lack of access to handwashing facilities mean the virus has the potential to spread quickly.

Read more: responding to the Covid-19 crisis in Madagascar

We are using our long-standing relationships with water service providers to help them reach communities with messaging about handwashing and hygiene, soap and hand sanitiser and to adapt communications channels to meet the long-term challenges of the pandemic.

By working this way, we have already reached over 500,000 people in low-income urban areas across Ghana and Kenya since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Handover of Unilever donations to APDK
WSUP has reached over 500,000 people in low-income urban areas across Ghana and Kenya since the outbreak of Covid-19 with handwashing education and materials

Reaching vulnerable people through community radio

Where local lockdowns have been in effect in Ghana, WSUP has worked alongside the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) to reach low-income communities remotely through community radio stations, a key communications channel in Ghana.

Representatives from CWSA have taken part in radio and online interviews ahead of Global Handwashing Day to discuss handwashing and its importance in helping Ghanaians prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Radio programme on Handwashing during COVID
We reached out to low-income communities in Ghana with TV and radio shows promoting good hygiene

This will ensure crucial messaging around handwashing and good hygiene can reach communities where Covid-19 restrictions mean face-to-face communication is not currently possible.

WSUP has also been working with CWSA and local authorities in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale to identify locations for new handwashing stations. This will enable low-income residents to practice the positive hygiene behaviours promoted on Global Handwashing Day.

Handwashing basin set up by CWSA
Together with CWSA, we identified locations for new handwashing stations in vulnerable communities

Protecting vulnerable groups from stigmatisation

A top priority is ensuring that all segments of the population have the ability to access information and understand the specific risks around Covid-19. In Kenya, community groups have reported that inaccurate understanding of how the disease is transmitted has led to people being disabilities being unfairly stigmatised, because of the false beliefs that these groups of people are more likely to be infected than other groups.

“The other day I was leaving the house and someone – an adult – called me Corona,” says Belinda Adhiambo, a member of the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK). “I realised that there was an education gap around persons with disability and Covid-19.”

WSUP has worked with APDK and other community-based organisations to run train the trainer sessions on handwashing and good hygiene, helping increase understanding of how best to protect against Covid-19. “It is up to me now to pass on the message and make sure no-one gets left behind.”

Belinda Adhiambo representative from APDK
We are working with organisations like APDK to ensure that all segments of the population can access information and understand the specific risks around Covid-19

Strengthening online platforms to help utilities adapt to Covid-19 restrictions

As well as focusing on handwashing, WSUP has been seeking ways to minimise risk of transmission through improved hygiene more generally. In Kenya, WSUP has been working with water service providers to strengthen and extend the online services they offer to customers in low-income areas.

This has reduced the risk of Covid-19 transmission as customers do not need to visit utility offices to pay bills and utility staff do not need to visit households to conduct meter readings.

Read more: the battle to provide clean water in Kenya during the Covid-19 crisis

These improved online services will also enable new customers to sign up to services online and existing customers to quickly report leaks or burst pipes in the network. Once in place, these remote service systems will provide long-term support to utilities and their customers, ensuring essential water services can continue during the pandemic.

KIWASCO team look at ipad
With improved online platforms customers do not have to risk Covid-19 transmission to access to water services

WSUP’s handwashing and hygiene work in Ghana and Kenya has been supported by the Hygiene Behaviour Change Coalition, led by Unilever and the UK government.

Learn more about WSUP's Covid-19 response

“This crisis has helped us to strengthen the collaboration between departments within the city”

October 7th 2020 at 08:05

Razanakombana Rakotonavalona Allyre has been the Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for the Urban Commune of Antananarivo, Madagascar since January 2020.

In his role, he has been at the centre of the city’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. WSUP spoke to Dr Allyre to gain his impressions of dealing with the pandemic.

Overall, how has the city of Antananarivo coped since the crisis hit – both generally, and with respect to WASH?

The Urban Commune of Antananarivo (CUA) was at the heart of the action in response to the Covid-19 pandemic since the crisis hit. In particular, we were responsible for keeping the city clean and limiting the spread of infection.

Through our partnership with FITIA Association [The association led by the First Lady of Madagascar], we mobilised the hygiene inspectors to sensitise and disseminate messages about Covid-19.

Aerial footage, Antananarivo
The Covid-19 pandemic has helped the Government prioritise both hygiene and the role of the WASH department
Can you talk us through the different phases of the crisis – from the initial lockdown, through to cases starting to increase in the city and the more recent return to lockdown?

At the beginning of the crisis, in March, we disinfected the houses of cases that had come into the country, both within the CUA and beyond. During the lockdown, on daily basis and systematically, we disinfected three densely populated markets and public places. We had enough reserve of cleaning materials to be able to continue disinfection even during the second lockdown.

We are now continuing the disinfection following demands from different institutions (public and private) and we have three disinfection centres. From March to May 2020, the CUA was able to disinfect 1200 vehicles per day.

As soon as the Government declared the state of health emergency, the CUA set out to mobilise all its departments including the Fire Department, Municipal Police, Transport and Urban mobility and Social, Health and WASH.

As a leader, how have you found the crisis?

This pandemic represents an opportunity for the WASH Department, as hygiene has become more important both for the Government and for people. The Municipality has even managed to prioritise response actions based on hygiene: mainly awareness raising and disinfection.

The notoriety of the WASH Directorate has improved. If people used to know us as the department in charge of the corpses [note – the hygiene department of the CUA is also responsible for certifying death], now the population knows that we are also responsible of health and hygiene in its entirety.

The available human resources were very limited during the lockdown. However, we used an outcome-based approach and were able to collect information in a short time. That information fed into the Covid-19 response plan, allowing us to mobilise partners and donors. Despite the situation, we were able to continue working in communities.

This crisis has helped us to strengthen the collaboration between departments within CUA. I am so happy to see wider communication on hygiene, the Covid-19 crisis is providing great momentum around handwashing. I have worked to promote handwashing for many years now and realise how powerful communication is. Many people now know what a handwashing station is.

Despite this, we must recognise the challenges that we will have to face about how to sustain the momentum around handwashing during the COVID-19 response and beyond the crisis.

Dr Allyre has led the WASH department in Antananarivo to prioritise Covid-19 and hygiene messaging
In order to defeat Covid-19, universal access to continuous water is needed. Do you think this is possible?

From the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, the CUA was able to allocate treatment centres for Covid-19. Maintaining the effort on WASH sensitisation goes hand-in-hand with improved water access.

The Avotr’Aina project in partnership with CUA, UNICEF, [the national water utility] JIRAMA, and recently the Ministry of WASH is aiming to increase water access for the most vulnerable people through reduction of tariffs at water points for a limited time of three months.

The current water project funded by European Bank of Investment within JIRAMA is welcome. Alongside this, the CUA is exploring options to resolve the lack of water access in several social centres like in Anosizato where an independent borehole has been built.

The Avotr’Aina project in Antananarivo is one way the commune aims to improve short-term water access
How has support provided by WSUP to the Urban Commune, JIRAMA and other stakeholders, helped the situation?

WSUP is one of our long-term partners and continues to support our WASH programme. The municipal hygiene code was renewed in 2012-2013 in partnership with WSUP. Updates and improvements of this hygiene code are currently happening with support from Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and GIZ.

The CUA is recognising that partnering with WSUP strengthens their relationship with JIRAMA and their capacity to collect, use and manage water data. The equipment that was provided by WSUP five years ago, is still functioning and supporting us to perform our daily tasks.

Learn more about WSUP's work in Madagascar

Creating a safe and sustainable water supply for 50,000 low-income residents of Maputo

September 23rd 2020 at 13:35

Increasing urbanisation in Mozambique’s cities is placing ever-growing demand on water services, meaning many vulnerable urban residents have limited or no access to clean, piped water.

Together with Borealis, WSUP worked with the infrastructure asset owner FIPAG and small-scale operators in Maputo to extend the water network, repair water tanks and provide training on how to manage, operate and maintain the piped network. WSUP used high-quality HDPE PE100 pipes to increase the long-term impact of the project.

This has significantly improved the water supply for over 50,000 residents of Maputo as well as creating a more resilient water infrastructure that will mean fewer leaks and less maintenance needed in the long-term.

Watch our video below to learn more:

Learn more about WSUP's work in Mozambique

At the epicentre of the crisis: battling to provide clean water in Kenya

September 10th 2020 at 13:48

In Kenya, the coastal city of Mombasa has been one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Antony Njaramba, Managing Director of the Mombasa Water Supply and Sanitation Company, gives us a first-hand account of how the crisis has affected water supply in the city and how attitudes towards the importance of water are slowly changing.

“When the crisis hit Mombasa in March, we found ourselves in a no-go zone, in terms of accessing some of our customers, because of the lockdown which sealed off some parts of the city. Yet at the same time, our services were categorised as essential and we had to respond to the government directive to keep on supplying water. So we were in a Catch-22 situation of some sort.

Our offices, in central Mombasa, face the Old Town of the city, which was one of the epicentres of the pandemic in Kenya. From my office you could see the policemen guarding Old Town during the lockdown.

Our staff had to keep going into Old Town, to give them emergency water. There are some markets on the borderline, which were the only source of food for the people living in Old Town.

We had to keep supplying water to these markets, so that the people in Old Town could keep on living.

The government directives to continue to supply water to all residents regardless of whether bills were paid were understandable in the crisis, but it has affected our revenues. The first month – March – we lost 35% of our revenues. We have not broken even in the last few years, so this is a big issue.

During the first wave of Covid-19, government mandates to continue water supple severely affected the revenue of water utilities.

Mombasa has been hugely affected by the pandemic. The city’s economy is dependent on two key things – the port, and tourism. Both of these went down in a flash.

When I was in school I read a book by Chinua Achebe called Things Fall Apart. And there was a main character called Okonkwo. One of the seasons they had was one of the worst, where he borrowed 800 yam seeds and planted them and the rains never came, and when they came, they came very destructive. And it was so bad, one man just took a piece of cloth and hanged himself. And after that, Okonkwo used to say, if I survived then, I can survive any other thing.

And for us Covid-19 is the same thing, its been one of the biggest challenges in most managers’ careers, but for me, I was at the centre of it all.

I had to quickly reorganise my team to address the issues that we had to overcome. We divided ourselves into two teams, which would not be in contact with each other. We allowed people to work from home where they could, or to cover local areas to reduce movement as much as possible.

One of our biggest challenges was to provide water in the vulnerable areas. We mapped the city into zones and focused on the most vulnerable areas. We constructed concrete bases to enable us to install a 5,000 litre tank on top. The water was for free, so that people were not tempted to go to cartels. Water cartels always take advantage of a negative situation, to make people’s lives even more difficult.

There were also public service institutions which needed water. Within 24 hours of the government directive being given we went to Kenya Ferries and put 100 taps in. Then we did a hydrological survey and realised that there is fresh water there. So we drilled on the island side of the ferry and the mainland, and connected with a pump, so now there was a guaranteed supply of water for 24 hours.

We know that in another wave of Covid-19, we may not be able to move around freely to bill. So we bought 100 smart meters that can be read remotely, and we picked a few customers just to test. We were amazed at the response – not just in enabling us to social distance, but with the numbers that came through.

Through the efforts of staff, our revenue position is improving. We are now just 10% down and I believe we will be able to catch up in September.

Investing in smart meters will allow utilities like MOWASSCO to safely bill customers if there is a second wave of Covid-19.

When we had the first case of Covid-19 with our staff, 15 staff including myself had to self-isolate.

Personally, this was one of the most trying moments in my entire life. Those three weeks I was in the house, in the room, stuck there, it was scary – but at the same time, I had 300 staff who were looking up to me. I spent a lot of time coordinating with staff, to keep myself busy and sane.

I do think that now, there is greater appreciation from the general public, and the government, about the role of water utilities.

Water has never been on the high table for discussion. When you look at donors, all of them rush to health, but they don’t seem to realise that prevention is better than cure.

The other day I heard that at least Ksh 300,000 [$2,700] had been spent to treat a single Covid-19 case. I don’t think you spend Ksh 300,000 to give someone water. If you were to spend the equivalent on water, I think people would be safer.

But for the first time in eight years, the County government of Mombasa has allocated Ksh250 million to support the water sector.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for additional investment in water services across Kenya as a way of preventing outbreaks. Credit: Brian Otieno

In Mombasa, we do face a water scarcity problem. We have only enough water to meet around 15% of demand, and around 74% of the population is low-income.

But despite this, I do believe universal water access in Mombasa is possible. Completion of the Mwache Dam, and repair of the Mzima pipeline and construction of a second pipeline, Mzima II, would give us enough water. In addition if we could get a cheaper electricity tariff which was just for water – like there is for streetlights, for example, it could make desalination possible.

But our infrastructure is aging. Some of our pipelines were built in the 1920s. Water is just not something that people have taken seriously. This country is full of water, just mismanaged water. The entire country has a NRW [non-revenue water – water that is lost or not billed for] rate of 43%, a very high number when the global rate is around 22%.

There is a stereotype that water is always available, and as a result we have never properly developed the water sector. This myth about water being just freely available, without the need for investment to manage it properly, needs to be debunked.

We in the water sector are a sum total of failures across the generations, and probably Covid-19, and the spotlight subsequently shone on the water sector, is making our work a bit easier.”


WSUP has worked closely with MOWASSCO for several years, helping the utility to better serve low-income communities with clean water. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic WSUP is currently implementing hygiene promotion campaigns in Mombasa and other Kenyan cities, supported by the UK government / Unilever backed Hygiene Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC).

Learn more about WSUP's work to increase the capacity of utilities like MOWASSCO

 

Climate recovery in Beira: sustainable water and sanitation access for a more resilient city

September 1st 2020 at 13:16

In the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, WSUP has been delivering sustainable, long-term water and sanitation solutions to help mitigate the effects of climate change for thousands of residents in Beira.

In March 2019 Cyclone Idai caused devastation across Mozambique, including in the city of Beira which suffered from widespread flooding and severe damage to its water network. A major relief operation saw many residents housed in resettlement camps with limited access to clean water and safe sanitation facilities.

With the support of Borealis and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, WSUP has been working to restore and improve water and sanitation services for low-income residents in the most affected districts of Beira.

Throughout this work WSUP has been focusing on creating more resilient services to ensure that, as climate change makes extreme weather like cyclones more common, vulnerable residents in Beira have sustainable access to clean water and safe sanitation.

WSUP’s work with water utility FIPAG has improved water access for residents of resettlement camps like Ancha Luis. Credit: Stand Up Media

Extending the water network to underserved areas

A key part of WSUP’s work in Beira has been supporting the local water utility FIPAG to extend their water network and provide an improved water supply for their low-income customers. Alongside the utility staff we worked to extend the network to the most underserved areas of the city, particularly areas unable to supply water to additional residents resettled after the cyclone.

This has helped residents like Ancha Luis, a Beira resident currently living in a resettlement camp, access a reliable source of water.

“Every day we faced many challenges to clean ourselves. There was a shortage of water for drinking, washing clothes including the dishes. Now the search for water has become a lot better compared to when we first arrived. We used to have to walk from Block C to Block A, as the resettlement camp is divided in blocks.”

Rehabilitation of the existing water network in Beira is helping ensure a more reliable water service for Joao Manuel. Credit: Stand Up Media

Ensuring the reliability of the existing water network

WSUP has supported FIPAG to rehabilitate 112km of the existing network, including repairing and replacing worn pipes. WSUP helped facilitate communication between FIPAG and the community to promote the benefits of the project and raise awareness of the necessary requirements for households to get a potable water connection. This has helped to provide a more reliable service for low-income customers, ensuring existing water connections can continue to serve residents in the future.

This work has proved crucial for water connections in resettlement camps where large increases in the number of residents after the cyclone meant water fountains could initially only run for a few hours a day. Joao Manuel, a community chief living in a resettlement camp, recalls the dire situation in the days after the cyclone.

“When we arrived here, there was no water. We spent about 15 to 20 days without water and when we did get access it wasn’t enough for everyone.”

In the longer term, WSUP is working with FIPAG to extend water connections in peri-urban communities which are unserved, using high quality PE100 pipes.

WSUP has been supporting members of community-based organisations like Domingos Mafunga to ensure their organisations are able to help affected residents. Credit: Stand Up Media

Supporting community-based organisations serving vulnerable communities

WSUP has also been supporting community-based organisations that are directly supporting the most vulnerable communities in Beira to access water and sanitation services. This has included rebuilding the offices of these organisations and providing training to increase their capacity to support residents struggling in the aftermath of the cyclone.

For Domingos Mafunga, Coordinator of the Vision for Community Development Association, a community-based organisation supporting residents in Beira, WSUP’s support has been vital in ensuring his team can promote good sanitation and hygiene practices to displaced residents.

“The biggest challenge we all face is sanitation. It is a critical activity, because the majority of the population come from rural areas, so they are not used to an urban lifestyle.”

Learn more about our work in Mozambique

Climate resilience in Southern Zambia – new report

August 26th 2020 at 11:31

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor has today published a new report on the need for water and sanitation service providers in Southern Zambia to become more resilient in the face of climate change.

Building resilience to climate change experiences from Southern ZambiaThe report, entitled, Building resilience to climate change: experiences from Southern Zambia, focuses on water shortage in the Zambezi river basin and the steps that the water utility Southern Water & Sanitation Company Limited (SWSC) is taking in response.

Read the report now.

As the effects of man-made climate change become more pronounced, water shortages are becoming more common throughout Africa, with Southern Africa a particular climate change hotspot.

The challenges brought about by climate change are too fundamental to be solved simply by drilling new boreholes to access new water. Instead, utilities need to assess all parts of their operations, from financial management, to governance, customer engagement and staff capacity.

WSUP Utility Strengthening FrameworkThe report also presents the different stages of WSUP’s Utility Strengthening Framework, which uses eight steps to move towards a stronger utility. Click on the image to see the full size graphic.

SWSC has seen its water source shrink significantly in recent years, most notably in 2018-2019, where many regions in Southern Zambia only received 20-30% of the normal annual rainfall.

As a result, WSUP has been working closely with SWSC, with the support of Wasser fuer Wasser, to develop and implement a utility strengthening programme to help it build resilience in the face of growing climate change.

Read Building resilience to climate change: experiences from Southern Zambia now

 

Join us for World Water Week 2020

August 17th 2020 at 09:23

This year World Water Week will be held virtually, with WSUP co-convening five sessions through the week of 24 August 2020.

With Covid-19 and climate change both demonstrating the need to invest in improved water, sanitation, and hygiene for the poorest people around the world, meeting to discuss these issues is more important than ever.

Learn more about the sessions we are involved in below:

Climate change and water scarcity: how can urban utilities respond?

As the demand for water increases, and climate change places stress on water availability, finding ways to effectively manage urban water systems has never been more urgent. In many parts of the world, climate change and rapid urbanisation are placing enormous pressure on urban water utilities.

Drawing on recent research, in this session we are exploring how utilities can transform their operations to improve water resource management and mitigate the impacts of water scarcity.

Learn more

 

It doesn’t help people if we don’t deploy it!

The world needs more success stories of water innovations and business models operating successfully in underserved markets. WSUP is partnering with Imagine H2O for their Urban Water Challenge to facilitate the implementation of urban water innovations that can help transform lives and communities.

Together with Imagine H2O we are reimagining the parameters of a truly productive partnership to support water innovations that can scale their impact across the region, the continent, and the world.

Learn more

 

Sewers for Resilient Sanitation in the 21st Century

Sewers are vital elements of most urban sanitation systems. What can we learn from past successes and failures to ensure sewers contribute to resilient sanitation for the 21st Century?

We’re exploring historic and emerging approaches to sewer design from condominial to source-separation sewers, to find the best ways to sustainably protect both the environment and public health.

Learn more

 

The invisible link: dignity, safety and health for sanitation workers

Sanitation workers are critical to achieving safely managed sanitation, but their work can be easily overlooked. Millions of sanitation workers around the globe provide essential public services, often at the cost of their dignity, safety, health and living conditions.

Join us as we discuss experiences from around the world of the best ways to protect sanitation workers dignity, health and safety.

Learn more

 

Seen and unseen stress on water resources in climate-vulnerable countries

Bangladesh is on the frontlines of climate change. Sea-level rise and groundwater saline intrusion are forcing more and more people to move to urban areas that are already struggling to provide water to their growing populations.

In this session we are highlighting the multi-faceted effects of climate change in Bangladesh and the need for more integrated approaches to developing sustainable solutions to water resource management.

Learn more

What can the water sector learn about customer service from UK energy providers?

August 12th 2020 at 15:30

By Annie Hall, Marketing Specialist

Learning from other sectors is a fundamental part of WSUP’s approach. We bring together experiences from civil society, academia, and the private sector.

In fact, it was WSUP’s interest in the role of the private sector, and the drive to understand low-income consumer needs, that convinced me to make the leap from a career in corporate marketing and creative advertising agencies.

In previous roles, I’ve worked on projects to improve the customer service experience in sectors from energy and pharmaceuticals, to luxury jewellery and technology. However, trying to apply this in a developing market context hasn’t been easy.

I have had to adapt familiar theories, models, and best practice assumptions to account for technology limitations, business maturity, and unique pressures faced by the utilities we work with. Nonetheless, I still look to international industry leaders for inspiration from time-to-time.

In this blog, I share a snapshot of a recent customer experience of my own. This year, I switched to Octopus Energy, a relatively new UK based company that has attracted press attention for their numerous industry awards, and impressive customer service commitments.

From my first interaction, to the regular billing and metering communications I receive now, I have been impressed by their clarity, consistency, and creativity in keeping me engaged. It led me to reflect on what WASH institutions can learn from other utility brands and which, if any, of their customer engagement techniques can be replicated by water service providers in sub-Saharan Africa.

The onboarding process

The onboarding process refers to every interaction a customer has getting set up with a company. For a utility provider this may include the initial customer application and confirmation of when the connection will take place, through to being issued an account number, the first meter reading and delivery of the first bill.

This critical process is where first impressions are formed and it has the potential to disappoint, confuse, frustrate, and leave customers worried that they’ve made the wrong choice.

My onboarding process with Octopus commenced with an immediate email, thanking me for choosing them. I was given a clear and detailed summary of the key information and could see when my supply would start. I was even able to change this with a single click. The email confirmed my payment amount and indicated when to expect the first bill and all subsequent payments.

It’s important to acknowledge the ability to provide such an efficient switching service was heavily enabled by action taken by the UK regulator Ofgem back in 2014 when they radically modernised the switching process to benefit customers.

Regulator engagement forms a core part of WSUP’s work in the WASH sector. Active, informed, and empowered regulation authorities help to drive competitive innovation within industries, which is why it’s so important that a customer-centric mindset is championed by the regulators. WSUP must often encourage the utilities to go above and beyond the minimum standards set by the regulator, whilst supporting the regulator to raise the stakes in parallel.

My welcome email also included a personalised note, with a useful tip regarding how to identify emails that require action from me, versus emails I can read at my leisure.

This email was shortly followed by another, from the company CEO, telling me more about the company’s mission and values and invited me to learn more about how my purchase decision contributes to their greener energy initiative.

Throughout the process I did not have to seek out any information. I was sent regular updates, billing reminders and felt informed, valued, and convinced that I’d made a good choice, not just for me – but for the planet too it seemed!

By contrast, customers seeking a household water connection in a peri-urban area of sub-Saharan Africa can wait several weeks after paying an initial deposit before they see any activity from the service provider. Lengthy processes involving approvals with local councils and sourcing of infrastructure materials mean the customer is left chasing for updates, often queuing at the utility office.

This period spent out of pocket and out of the loop makes customers distrust water utilities.  Many of the utilities we work with miss opportunities to proactively keep customers informed. They could engage customers in their wider vision for healthier communities and add a personal touch to communications simply and cheaply.

Meter readings and bills

Like most utilities, my energy provider requires me to submit regular and timely meter readings – a task no one enjoys! It interrupts your day, and often involves accessing a meter hidden somewhere outside the home. So, Octopus incentivises this in two ways.

Firstly, I can access an online platform to submit my readings on a laptop or mobile in less than three clicks. There are step-by-step instructions to remind me how, and my previous submission is displayed to help me notice any anomalies.

Secondly, every time I submit a meter reading, I have the option to play a virtual wheel of fortune. An animation simulates a game-of-chance, where I can win money off my next bill. I’ve not won anything yet, but I keep playing (and keep submitting my readings) regardless!

It almost doesn’t matter what Octopus has created to pique my interest. The point is, they’ve recognised the effort required of customers to facilitate the billing process and have attempted to make it easier and more enjoyable. WSUP conducts customer journey mapping exercises with utilities to help them identify where their business operations inconvenience customers and try to encourage them to think of their own ways to ease the burden.

It’s all in the mindset

Is it reasonable to expect a small regional water utility in sub-Saharan Africa to deliver a customer experience like mine? No, not yet. But there are there lessons we can learn from other sectors about how to prioritise customer experience within organisational structures and processes.

When talking to Utility Week, Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, marketing and product director at Octopus Energy said, “It’s everyone’s job to do customer engagement.” Rebecca explained how staff training, performance measurement and even where they sit in the office, is built around delivering the best customer experience.

She also talked about how their systems are set up to facilitate individual customers being repeatedly routed to the same six to eight staff members, leading to greater personalisation and accountability. Staff aren’t measured on call handling times because they want staff to give customers the time they need.

Some observers are sceptical about whether Octopus can maintain this high-quality service experience as the customer base grows. However, an attitude of continual learning and improvement seems to be the status quo. “As we keep growing, we need to continue to get better. That’s the biggest challenge, continuing to put pressure on yourself to keep making things better as you scale,” said Rebecca.

It’s not as simple as “build it and they will come”

This is important because building the necessary infrastructure is only part of what is required to bring sustainable water and sanitation services to poorest and most vulnerable urban communities.

Utilities need to continuously work at creating and sustaining demand for their services. When designing business models for low-come consumers, it’s important to remember that ability to pay and willingness to pay are not the same thing. Willingness to pay is driven by a perception of value and like any other customer, low-income customers expect and deserve service experiences deemed worthy of their hard-earned .

Investments in customer experience don’t have to be radical, expensive or underpinned by major technological advancement (although that helps). Often the utilities we work with just need to spend more time putting themselves in the customers’ shoes.

They need to think strategically about the customer communications plan, map key customer journeys and identify where an extra SMS update, a personalised bill communication, a targeted public announcement or a more friendly customer service interaction, might help to transform how customers perceive their service as well as how valued they feel.

If you’re interested in learning more about Octopus energy and how they’re disrupting the UK market with their unique approach to managing customer relationships, check out some of the links below:

https://octopus.energy/

https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-7261379/Octopus-boss-reveals-focus-green-energy-customer-service-helped-grow.html

https://utilityweek.co.uk/octopus-tech-firm-energy/

https://www.power-technology.com/features/qa-lighting-up-customer-service-with-octopus-energy/

https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/energy-companies/article/energy-company-reviews/octopus-energy

The virtuous circle of good customer service: experience from Mozambique

August 6th 2020 at 08:24

By Antonio Madeira, Head of Water, Mozambique

Creating stronger service providers, a core strategic goal for WSUP’s 2020-2025 business plan, requires development of scalable business models that allow services to be provided to low-income customers at a profit.

There are two fundamental ways to make a business model more profitable: increasing revenue or reducing costs (and preferably both). Good customer service is critical for both.

Good customer service leads to greater customer satisfaction, timely payment of bills and customer advocacy, which in turn drives new customer growth via referrals. Poor customer service leads to customer complaints, which are resource-intensive to manage, defaults on bills, negative word of mouth, higher rates of customer churn, and even vandalism.

It can be tempting for public service organisations like utilities to assume customer service is less critical because they are the only provider in the market. However, an absence of direct competition does not mean, customers have no choice. Customers can choose an illegal water connection, they can choose to purchase bottled water, they can seek an alternative source.

Águas da Região de Maputo (AdeM), the primary water utility in Maputo, recognises the importance of good customer service and has been working with WSUP for several years to develop a model that allows them to be more present and available for their hardest-to-reach customers.

AdeM, a water utility in Maputo, has been working with WSUP to develop a model that allows for better customer service in low-income areas of the city.

Consequences of undervaluing low-income customers

Like many of the utilities WSUP works with, maintaining a consistent, reliable, and financially sustainable engagement with low income communities had proved challenging for AdeM. A lack of trust had emerged between low income communities and the utility.

Firstly, there was a broadly held perception that water services in low income communities were not prioritised due to less water supply network coverage, fewer household connections and comparatively less water consumption making the market less attractive to the utility. This was exacerbated internally at AdeM, by weak bill collection efficiency in poorer areas of the city.

Secondly, there was a belief among customers that their service was substandard, particularly in relation to wealthier neighbourhoods assumed to receive a better supply experience. For example, in times of water shortage, low income communities believed their supply would be cut first.

The extent to which these perceptions were accurate was arguably less important than the need to change them. What AdeM needed was to shift their relationship with customers into a position of greater trust and cooperation.

Customers needed to feel valued by AdeM and equally deserving of quality service and attention awarded to higher income areas. In return, AdeM needed low-income communities to view their service as good value for money and worthy of timely and consistent bill payments.

The power of community-based organisations

AdeM currently contracts several community-based organisations (CBOs) across the city. The model operates on a performance-based contract whereby responsibility for local monitoring of bill payment, meter reading, delivery of invoices and reporting leakages are delegated to a community-based organisation. CBOs conduct their tasks by visiting low income customers at home, whilst maintaining daily communication with AdeM, through the zone manager.

The decision to hire CBOs was driven by the fact that the CBO staff would be working in their own neighbourhoods. They would therefore have better knowledge and appreciation of the problems and be likely to adopt a more authentic, understanding, and effective approach to engaging low income communities.

Once recruited, CBO staff undergo training delivered by WSUP and AdeM, covering technical aspects such as understanding the billing systems, through to softer skills such as community interaction techniques.

The difference between this model and use of traditional meter readers is that the local staff have more time to dedicate to building relationships with customers, making themselves available for any queries or feedback during their regular visits. This change has been positively received by residents.

“We now have someone to report to at the utility Águas da Região de Maputo as well as local young people who can read water meters in the neighbourhood,” says Carlota Zefanias, resident Aeroporto B, Maputo.

Carlota Zefanis, a resident of Maputo, has benefited from the improved customer service of AdeM in her district. The work was funded through WSUP’s partnership with the Coca-Cola Company. Credit: Ernanio Mandlate

Benefits for AdeM

In areas managed by CBOs, AdeM has seen an increase in debt recovery values, billing rates, and reading rates of meters, which enable the utility to calculate bills more accurately. AdeM have also seen the CBOs deliver added value in managing dissatisfaction in times of crisis.

An increase in water tariff in 2018 unfortunately coincided with a review of AdeM’s billing cycle, which led to multiple bills in quick succession and unexpected invoices, understandably impacting the poorest communities most significantly.

Whilst better planning would have been preferable in mitigating customer dissatisfaction, the availability of CBO staff to assist with customer queries, explain the changes, be sympathetic to their frustrations and support customers in managing a debt repayment plan, meant that bill collection efficiency recovered quickly.

Deployment of the CBO model has also led to significant improvements in the tracking of error cases and account anomalies. While collecting readings, CBOs will sometimes encounter obstacles such as faulty meters, water damage obscuring visibility, or the customer simply being unreachable.

Thanks to the CBO staff capturing the most frequent and impactful error cases, AdeM has an up-to-date customer database and a better system for prioritising action to improve quality of service supply.

The successful CBO model used by AdeM will be scaled-up to a further five areas by September 2020. Credit: Mario Macilau

The future

Approximately five years from the launch of the CBO approach, the model is delivering impressively and is a fantastic example of how customer-centric investment in simple human touchpoints can transform the service experience and have a meaningful impact on the bottom line. Bill collection efficiency increased from 50% in 2009 to 80% in 2016 in the newly served low-income areas. Additionally a customer survey found that 59% of households considered the water bill a ‘reasonable price’.

The model is currently being scaled up and implemented in 10 areas of the city, with the costs shared between AdeM and WSUP funders. A further five areas are planned to be included by September 2020. However, this is only the beginning. The CBO model was always planned to be developed in stages, culminating in fully delegated management of service areas whereby the CBOs will have complete responsibility for service delivery including billings, revenue collection, leakage management and customer liaison.

The delegated management contracts will be performance based with the CBO’s being paid an agreed percentage of the revenue collection. The principles of moving to this stage have been discussed and agreed with AdeM and the first pilot is expected this financial year with replication to several areas in 2021/2022.

Arsénio Mate, project manager at AdeM, describes the approach as part of the organisation’s plan to provide better quality service to customers, especially for those living on the periphery. “We welcome the initiative and we hope they will continue working with us to serve those in need with good quality service”, he says.

This work is part of WSUP’s strategy to support AdeM in improving operations and service delivery, through a wider utility improvement programme over the next three years. This strategic approach addresses AdeM’s water service delivery in a holistic framework to improve KPI’s for service delivery, commercial returns and to meet future demand including reducing NRW losses.

Find out more about WSUP's work in Mozambique here

Marketing the un-marketable? Selling sanitation in Bangladesh

July 30th 2020 at 10:51

In an environment where many are unwilling to pay for sanitation, how can we promote safe services?

In Bangladesh, WSUP is trialling different marketing models to encourage greater uptake of services.

We tested door-to-door brand promoters with promotions running in trusted shops (retail agents), to find out which were more effective at targeting different stages of the customer journey.

We also looked at how these marketing approaches could best link with a sanitation service’s existing processes, so that sales leads could be retained and converted when the customer was ready.

Watch our video to find out what we learnt:

The work was supported by TRANSFORM, a programme led by Unilever and the UK’s Department for International Development. TRANSFORM is a collaboration between business, government and civil society, leveraging their respective strengths to address the world’s most pressing development challenges.

Learn more about WSUP's work to build a stronger customer experience.

Customer experience: everyone’s business and no one’s responsibility

July 24th 2020 at 08:34

By Lorine Arodi, Business Development Lead, Kenya

Opinions formed at the point of purchase are not fixed. Customers continually re-evaluate the value of the products and services they buy against the experience they receive, which is why companies must invest time and resources in continuing to satisfy customer experience expectations.

Customer experience is the subjective response customers have to any direct or indirect contact with a company. Customer experience is defined by every interaction a customer has with both the product and people associated with a company. It is best thought of as the impression made on a customer, which impacts how they think and behave towards the brand.

All customers, including low-income customers, look for high-quality products and services at an optimal price and therefore may pay more for the same products and services if they feel the companies are providing additional value through their service-based interactions.

Credit: Tsilavo Rapiera

WSUP has been working closely with five utilities across Kenya to improve their supply service and encourage greater customer focus, for the following reasons:

1) Pressure from the regulator – Regulator WASREB has created guidelines on consumer engagements to incentivise service providers to improve customer relationships. Guidelines include recommendations for regular customer satisfaction surveys that often expose customer expectations that the utility doesn’t know how to fulfil.

2) Customer complaints – A rising number of complaints, especially on social media, have begun to negatively impact on the brand image of utilities. Pressure to respond is also a drain on staff resource and morale.

 3) Customer expectations being set outside the sector – Customers believe that service provision should be on par across businesses in different industries. For instance, if a customer experiences a swift response to a billing query from their mobile phone provider, they will expect the same experience from their water utility.

 4) The cost of poor retention – Customers that regularly default on bills, return to illegal connections, or are disconnected are extremely costly to the utility. Customers who churn require further marketing resource to reconnect them and represent months of potential lost billing in the meantime. This negatively impacts return from the initial investment in demand creation, and on wider network extension investments too.

5) More effective marketing – A positive customer experience leads to customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy. A satisfied customer is more likely to refer new customers.

As a Business Development Lead, I have participated in many strategy meetings with utilities and witnessed them discuss customer experience issues. Often representatives across the organisation have opinions but no one seems clear on who should take responsibility for this area.

In WSUP’s experience, insufficient focus on customer experience, goes hand-in-hand with a lack of a dedicated marketing function, a department responsible for communicating with prospects, customers, and other stakeholders, while creating an overarching image that represents the company in a positive light. Without a dedicated marketing function, customer communications become largely driven by commercial teams who are measured on billing revenue and growth of the customer base alone.

Promotion stimulates demand, which brings customers on board, but without communications strategies focused on retention and maximising the customer experience, these customers become dissatisfied and may look for other options.

WSUP is supporting water service providers to strengthen their service delivery to low income areas through provision of primary and tertiary networks and demand creation for last mile connections. In Kisumu county we supported Kisumu Water & Sanitation Company (KIWASCO) to carry out one-to-one engagements with customers through door to door sensitisations, consumer education, landlord and tenant forums and the use of communication and visibility materials.

This resulted in additional demand creation, with 720 households enrolling for water connections. This significantly increased customer base and revenue collection demonstrates high demand in low income areas.

Report: Supporting KIWASCO to improve service in low-income areas

KIWASCO were keen to ensure that this success was not short-lived. They recognised that servicing low-income areas often requires a different approach and, without a dedicated function to keep abreast of customer needs and expectations, consistent billing revenue from the newly connected customer base would be under threat. As financial sustainability became compromised by late or withheld payments, theft and vandalism, it was clear that the utility needed a dedicated marketing function. Eldah Odongo, the Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications at KIWASCO outlined their approach:

“Customer service should be the norm rather than the exception…KIWASCO has fully embraced this concept and embedded it in our strategic plan and, through the recently concluded job evaluation, we have created a new Department of Corporate Affairs and Communication whose sole mandate is to ensure customer satisfaction”.

Eldah Odongo, the Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications at KIWASCO

Setting up a dedicated marketing function within a utility

A dedicated marketing function requires a clear mandate and responsibility for a range of activities such as: gathering customer insights, producing a communications plan, developing product and service offerings, and strategically overseeing advertising, promotion, distribution, customer service and public relations. It should form part of the wider business strategy and not be executed as a fire fighting measure.

For a marketing function to be sustainable and ensure positive customer experience the following should be considered:

  • Embedding the marketing function into the utility structure – The function must be strategically positioned within the existing utility structure to enable effective collaboration with departments such as commercial, operations and any other dedicated customer-facing teams.
  • Assigning staff to spearhead the function – To ensure responsibility of the function is well managed , it’s necessary to have buy-in from the senior leadership team and a dedicated senior manager tasked with setting the vision and monitoring performance of the function.
  • Reviewing job descriptions to align with the purpose of the department – Whether hiring new staff or repurposing existing teams, all job descriptions (and supporting performance appraisal metrics) should be written to align with customer-centric goals and tasks that improve communication with, and the service experience of, both prospective and existing customers.
  • Allocating budget – Budget allocation as part of quarterly or annual financial planning will ensure adequate resources for customer marketing strategies, and communications efforts designed to improve to the customer service experience.
  • Developing strategies to support the function – Documenting a clear strategy for the department is a great way to bring the team together under their new responsibilities and key performance measures. Commercial and customer satisfaction data, can be used to set priorities and develop a roadmap of activity for enhancing the customer experience at critical touchpoints.

A well-structured marketing function and supporting customer experience strategy will result in greater customer centricity across the organisation. This will improve the quality of service to customers leading to a positive customer experience and satisfaction. A satisfied customer is likely to pay their bills on time, and recommend the service to another person. Therefore, improvements to customer retention are crucial to support business continuity and growth.

Learn how WSUP is helping service providers to create positive customer experiences

‘Leaky bucket marketing’: the importance of balancing acquisition with retention

July 15th 2020 at 10:28

By Annie Hall, Marketing Specialist

Over the past year, I have been working alongside WSUP’s country teams to support utilities in extending their reach to more people, in the most deprived areas of a city.

Projects usually feature an infrastructure-led programme to extend the network, supported by some form of community sensitisation campaign to drive demand for household connections. In most cases these interventions are successful in raising awareness about what customers can expect from their utility and stimulating customer interest in products and services.

But, there’s a problem. I’ve seen that activities that create demand can actually damage customer demand over the long-term. This is because utilities neglect a vital second phase: sustaining demand, through great customer service.

In this article I argue in favour of placing less emphasis on demand-creation activities, and more emphasis on retaining customers. This matters a great deal. The quicker that utilities can achieve reliable, recurring revenue from customer bases in under-served communities, the quicker progress can be made towards the goal of universal coverage.

Why prioritising demand creation can be problematic

  1. Demand outstrips supply – WSUP has seen examples where, due to successful customer acquisition campaigns, order-fulfilment and connection processes are unable to keep up with applications from customers. This creates backlogs, connection delays and negative customer experience. Peaks in customer demand, due to demand creation campaigns, also increase pressure on weak internal communications and information management systems. This results in stressed, overworked and ultimately disengaged utility staff and often cashflow visibility issues, as customer deposits get lost or misallocated over time.
  2. Customer communication breaks down – Pressured by new connection targets, community engagement strategies rarely extend beyond initial sensitisation and sales conversion. Once a deposit is paid, customers go through an onboarding process, which refers to every interaction from the initial application and confirming when the connection will take place, through to being issued an account number, the first meter reading and receiving the first bill.This process is where first impressions are formed, but it has the potential to disappoint, confuse and frustrate. A smooth customer experience requires well planned communication, between both the customer and service provider, and between different departments within the utility. Often this communication breaks down. Over time confusion over billing and unanswered complaints regarding water quality or supply outages leads to dissatisfaction and brand reputation issues.
  3. Churn rate rises – Negative customer experience, caused by unmanageable demand, and poor communication means customers start defaulting on bills, return to illegal connections, or become stuck in a cycle of disconnection and reconnection processes. This results in an inaccurate perception of growth and a skewed view of the return on investment delivered by network extension projects. A high rate of customer churn delays the breakeven point at which utilities start to generate return from increased coverage. Without a strong customer retention strategy, utilities continuously seek revenue growth through signing up new customers, as opposed to reducing revenue lost through unpaid bills and lapsed household accounts.
Credit: Ernanio Mandlate

‘Leaky bucket’ marketing

Solely focusing on demand creation activity is like trying to fill a leaky bucket by pouring in more water. The bucket can only be filled once the hole is located and repaired. In fact, pouring more water in, might make the issue worse as new cracks emerge under the pressure. It would be more efficient to keep the incoming water steady while the source of the leak is addressed.

So, what can be done to reduce loss of customers?

It would be an oversimplification to suggest that this scenario can be solved by one or two actions. Utilities are complex organisations, operating within a complex wider system. However, adoption of a more customer-centric mindset, and a few important rules of thumb can go a long way.

  1. Listen to customers – Understanding the reasons for dissatisfaction and churn is crucial. Customer satisfaction surveys are useful but should be crafted around a clear and pre-agreed set of objectives, stating exactly what information is being sought about how customers think, feel and behave. Executing effective customer satisfaction surveys requires dedicated staff, who will analyse the results and make clear recommendations for improvement. Using complaints data and seeking richer information via formal and informal customer consultation is also worthwhile. Front-line staff like meter readers for example, can offer valuable insight and perspective.
  2. Map key journeys – Understanding the customer experience is the first step towards improving it. The goal of customer journey mapping is being able to identify opportunities to add value and maximise customer satisfaction, whilst also identifying where to mitigate risk of confusion, frustration, or unnecessary effort on behalf of the customer. I recommend prioritising the experiences most likely to shape the customer’s opinion of the organisation, such as onboarding and issue resolution.First impressions count, so the onboarding experience is critical in ensuring customers don’t experience post-purchase regret. This is especially important if connection delays are likely. Issue resolution such as bill queries or discoloured water complaints are a prime opportunity to build positive customer experiences, or at least mitigate against the negative experiences that may have led the customer to complain in the first place.
  3. Make data-driven decisions – It can be difficult for any organisation to justify resource for activity that is not intended to grow the customer base. Measuring the cost of churn and unpaid bills means that utilities can put a value on the cost of a poor customer retention strategy and show why focusing too much on customer acquisition will ultimately hurt the utility financially. This helps to provide a business case for investing in activity, such as customer loyalty campaigns and process improvements that enhance customer experience.
Credit: Brian Otieno

WSUP’s approach

In an attempt to maximise beneficiary numbers, the international development sector risks exacerbating the problem, by focusing too much on coverage growth, extending networks and reaching new customers. At WSUP, we’re working hard to protect a balance. Our utility strengthening framework encourages a more customer-centric approach to all aspects of utility operations, focusing on optimising service delivery whilst maximising customer lifetime value.

Learn more about WSUP's approach

Citywide access to water and sanitation services in Kenya

June 16th 2020 at 10:56

Clean, piped water brings dignity to people, reduces living costs, frees up time – and crucially, given the situation right now, is a critical defence against infectious diseases.

With the support of The Coca-Cola Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) has been working with Kenyan city authorities to enable more than 600,000 urban residents across five cities to improve access to clean water, safe sanitation and improved hygiene.

Improving water supply

Through new pipeline extensions, residents in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu can now connect to the water supply. Nancy Adhiambo, a fishmonger in Nairobi, says, “To be able to sell the fish I must first prepare them. I use water from the prepaid water dispensers to clean them. It is very helpful for business.”

WSUP also worked with private water operators to improve the quality of service for residents in marginalised communities. “I was trained on business development, human resources, financial and customer management,” says Vincent Omondi, a water entrepreneur in Kisumu.

Fishmonger Nancy Adhiambo has benefited from WSUP and RAIN’s extensions to the water network in Nairobi. Credit: Brian Otieno

Upgrading sanitation services

In Nairobi’s under-served community of Kaptagat, WSUP worked with the city utility Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company to extend the sewer network, upgrade pit latrines to pour flush toilets, and build demand for the new service.

Alice Nduta was one of the first to get a sewer connection in the community. Before, she had to use a room as a septic tank, and had to pay twice a month to have the room cleaned out. “The whole community is now cleaner and there is no bad odour in the area mainly because other plot owners have also connected their toilets to the sewer line.”

RAIN and WSUP provided residents like Alice Nduta with sewer connections that reduce the monthly cost of sanitation

Empowering women and girls

Ensuring that facilities meet the needs of women and girls is a vital part of building inclusive services. In Naivasha, WSUP worked with Life Bloom Services International to develop a sanitary pads sales and distribution business. Many of the sales agents are former sex workers, giving these women an opportunity to improve their lives through the Life Bloom social business.

Stronger utilities

As a result of the programme, utilities in four cities now have an improved ability to serve the poorest communities. For WSUP, this achievement represents significant progress towards our overall goal of supporting water and sanitation providers in Kenya to provide universal access across cities in the country.

Learn more about WSUP's work with The Coca-Cola Foundation

Stronger regulators crucial to improving sanitation services for the poorest, report finds

June 2nd 2020 at 13:30

A new report published by Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) and the Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation (ESAWAS) Regulators Association identifies how stronger regulators can play an important role in improving sanitation for under-served urban residents.

The report, entitled Referee! Responsibilities, regulations and regulating for urban sanitation, has four key findings:

  1. Regulatory effectiveness is a core driver of improved sanitation services. Every football match needs a referee.
    An independent regulator can act as a referee between the government, and sanitation service providers, to ensure the best deal possible for customers.
  2. Regulations are not enough: clear responsibilities and active regulating is essential.
    A plethora of national laws and municipal by-laws already governs much around sanitation services. Yet on their own, rules rarely translate into improved outcomes.
  3. Problems cannot be solved in one bold step. Active regulating involves incremental change, extensive consultation and testing.
    Even countries which are showing good progress have a long way to go. Sandwiched between utility, government and consumer, regulators have to introduce change gradually and manage stakeholders wisely.
  4. A Regulating Ladder could support countries in their journey to active regulating.
    A ladder which mirrors the industry-wide UNICEF / WHO JMP sanitation ladder could inform assessments of where countries stand in their journey from passive regulations compliance to active regulating.

Download the full report here

As part of this research we spoke to staff from regulators in Kenya, Zambia and Mozambique about the importance of active regulating in promoting access to quality, affordable sanitation.

Safe sanitation is not just about toilets – it’s about the effective systems that underpin strong services. Regulators are a crucial, but often undervalued part of that.

WSUP and ESAWAS have analysed the role of regulators in four countries to assess their importance in the broader system of sanitation services, and understand how their roles are being made more impactful. The report identifies a range of different regulatory instruments and demonstrates how their introduction is leading to improved sanitation services in traditionally under-served urban communities.

The national case studies are as follows:

Bangladesh: national institutional and regulatory framework for un-sewered sanitation

Kenya: standard operating procedures in the city of Kisumu

Kenya: introducing cross-subsidies to finance sanitation

Mozambique: adopting new regulatory responsibilities

Zambia: a new national framework for regulating un-sewered sanitation

Kenya: incentives to encourage utilities to serve the poorest communities

The report also assesses the contribution being made by ESAWAS to drive change through at pan-African level.

Read the full report here

How can the global WASH sector respond better in future crises?

May 28th 2020 at 11:08

By Kariuki Mugo, Director of WASH Sector Support

The global WASH sector has laudably responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the actions have been in supporting the public health domain in handwashing with soap by way of ensuring adequate water is available in most households.

There has also been a great deal of investment in ensuring that water is available to all, especially the most vulnerable in cities, where lockdowns have been enforced. The poor have a different level of vulnerability in the sense that majority, if not all of them, depend on daily wages. The moment human movement is restricted, it immediately curtails their cash flow and as a result, denies them the opportunity to afford basic needs such as water supplied by vendors and pay-per-use public sanitation.

Despite these praiseworthy responses by WASH service institutions, this epidemic has made us realise that we do not have the right mechanisms for any form of emergencies in the sector. Traditionally, our systems are designed for normal conditions and not to respond to emergencies such as flooding, hunger, and war. These situations are usually localised and responded to by independent state and global bodies and not service providers.

However, there has been no known humanity crisis like Covid-19 in our generation, one that permeates nearly every facet of our existence. It is therefore not a surprise that the WASH sector, just like many others, was caught flat-footed by this pandemic. The situation has been of helplessness, the same case like everywhere else in terms of response.

Now that we seem to have somehow figured out the immediate actions to save lives and sustain a basic level of access to services, we need to envision what could have been done to better prepare for such circumstances. This becomes the immediate area of attention for the WASH sector to focus on, and the following are some suggestions.

WASH institutions have responded well to Covid-19 by providing emergency handwashing stations and water access. We must now focus on how to better prepare for future pandemics.

Structure Mandates and Coordination Mechanisms for Institutions

Institutional overlaps in the hygiene and sanitation sectors is a common occurrence in developing nations. Lack of clarity in mandates lead to either duplication or lapse of service provision. There is usually a level of unseen competition, especially in areas deemed to be well resourced by governments and donors, and abandonment of others that are difficult and less lucrative. The latter is usually the case for provision of services to the poor, and more so, onsite sanitation and basic hygiene services.

One of the evident and significant struggles in our programme countries is how various governmental bodies have struggled to respond on their own, as well as to rally support from stakeholders. This situation has clearly shown that it is the high time governments figured out how WASH institutions can effectively and efficiently work together not only to respond to humanitarian crises, but also in the day-to-day provision of services.

There is need for policymakers to rethink how institutions are structured and coordinated to enable clarity of responsibilities and allocation of resources, and as a result, reducing overlap and competition, and enhancing efficiency and collaboration in service provision at all times.

Develop Responsive Policy and Legal Frameworks

There is no doubt that the WASH sector lacks the relevant policies, laws, and regulations to govern response to crisis. The fact that the sector is designed to provide services to the population under normal economic conditions, any change in circumstances exerts undue stress to the systems, structures, and available resources. Besides, new, improved ways of working can only work if the existing policies and laws are repealed and this can often be challenging to implement.

Proper policies, laws and regulations will, for sure, enable WASH institutions to be in a better place to respond to emergencies and sustain services to a reasonable level. It is therefore imperative that governments draft statutes to better harmonize sanitation and hygiene institutions. This structured coordination is critical in such emergencies and is lacking in most countries.

Besides, hygiene has been a silent component in WASH service provision. Historically, most hygiene interventions have been mainly short-term campaigns without any meaningful infrastructure investment and sustainability mechanisms. This failure to position hygiene as a critical public health driver emanates from the fact that WASH sector policies do not consider the need for its investment and as a crucial responsibility of service providers. Now that  Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of hygiene in saving lives, policies and regulations must be reviewed to reposition its place in the sector.

The Covid-19 crisis has shown that we need to position hygiene as a critical public health driver. Credit: Yellow Rose

Structure Mechanisms for Full Utility Cost-Recovery During Emergencies

Utilities’ response to the crisis, in countries such as Ghana and Kenya, has mainly been the provision of free water in the short-term. This act of benevolence is commendable. But without any doubt, non-reimbursement by governments will usher in a more severe crisis of operational sustainability in the medium and long terms.

To begin with, low-income people living in unserved areas cannot afford to pay for services when directly provided by utilities during emergencies. Since they lack daily income and primarily depend on informal vendors and on-demand payments. The utilities, on the other hand, lack mechanisms for deferring non-customer payments and subsequent collection of revenues for services provided during the lockdowns. This situation, in addition to undue political pressure, has forced them to extensively provide free water during this pandemic.

The low levels of financial cost recovery mean that the service providers will soon experience a struggle to meet their fundamental recurrent obligations, thus further leading to a deterioration of services.

There is, therefore, a need to develop frameworks for enabling full cost-recovery support mechanisms for WASH service provision institutions while undertaking acts of emergency response for vulnerable populations. This is what is done for other sectors that typically intervene during humanitarian crises.

Utilities will need full cost-recovery support mechanisms to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Credit: Tsilavo Rapiera

Ensure Equitable Access to Basic Urban Services (Leave No One Behind)

The curtailment of movement during lockdowns means that people are confined in spaces that generate a high level of service provision demand that is never experienced in regular periods. The need for water in low incomes areas is never high through days and nights, and as a result, utilities are finding it difficult to respond to this unusual condition.

Most importantly, this crisis has brought out the need for having arrangements to provide basic services to all those living in urban areas. The fact that the poor cannot access basic goods and services has made it impossible for most developing world governments to enforce lockdowns in low income urban and peri-urban areas.

This not only demonstrates how inequality inhibits the response to a public health emergency but also clearly tells that governments cannot respond to any other form of disasters in cities by way of broadly restricting human movement in low-income areas. It is a clear indication that inequality in access to basic urban goods and services leads to administrative incapability. Needless to say, inability to enforce a total lockdown in a segment of the population during Covid-19 outbreak indicates powerlessness to fully govern citizens in crisis situations.

This security red flag should serve as a serious wake-up call all governments to focus on providing services and ensuring economic empowerment of all their city populations, particularly the poor. If they do, it will improve the likelihood that in times of emergencies, people’s basic needs are met. In turn, this will make it easier to implement the necessary disaster responses across all of their people, speeding up recovery and a return to normality.

Find out more about WSUP's Covid-19 response

Fighting Covid-19 sustainably: four steps to creating water solutions that will last

May 18th 2020 at 13:48

In the wake of coronavirus, governments in developing economies are waking up to the urgency of providing water as an act of defence against infectious diseases.

Some short-term measures are important, but equally important is a renewed focus on long-term availability of water supplies, particularly for the poorest in cities.

Universal water coverage is not a luxury: it is an essential part of keeping people safe. Many governments in the Global South have responded impressively to the threats caused by Covid-19. They now need to use this momentum to look to the long term and create water access in informal settlements that will be sustainable for years to come, protecting against future pandemics or a second wave of Covid-19.

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) has identified four steps to creating long-term water solutions that will last:

  1. Invest in stronger utilities
  2. Embrace the power of great customer service
  3. Improve regulatory oversight
  4. Strengthen cooperation between communities and utilities

1. Invest in stronger utilities

Utilities are the solution to comprehensive, safe water access in cities, with a remit to manage water supply from source right through to settlement. To have any chance of achieving access, cities need bring piped, treated water to households, and increase the number of people connecting to this water supply.

Investing in utilities and helping them improve services for the people who need them most is one of the most important steps that we can take to tackle the water crisis.

A key element to this is investing in continuous water supply. Intermittent water supply – where water supply is switched on and off – weakens infrastructure, can allow contamination into the water network, and crucially, means that water is not available when residents need it. Utilities have to be able to provide water 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all their customers.

WSUP is working with the utility JIRAMA in Madagascar to build their capacity and help them deliver higher-quality services. Image credit: Tsilavo Rapiera

2. Embrace the power of great customer service

Great customer service means customers are happy, bills are paid promptly and leads to more customers, which leads to more revenue – which in turn results in better, and expanded, services. It is a crucial, and often neglected, part of tackling the water crisis.

The current guidance from many governments that customers cannot be disconnected has meant some water providers fearing that poor customers will stop paying their bills. Utilities are concerned that their long-term financial viability may be threatened if this happens.

But our experience is that customers will keep paying if they receive a quality service. To create more water access, therefore, utilities need to visibly improve services for existing residents, building a more loyal customer base which will provide the launchpad for growth.

Utilities in Zambia are improving their customer service at a local level to help expand water access in informal settlements. Image credit: Gareth Bentley

3. Improve regulatory oversight

Regulation is often over-looked but a crucial part of incentivising utilities to provide water to the poorest segments of society. If servicing the poorest becomes a matter of regulatory compliance, rather than an optional add-on, then it changes the focus for senior management of those water utilities.

In Kenya, for example, this is starting to happen, with the introduction of a metric that utilities must report to the regulator showing how well it is serving low-income areas. The better a utility does serve these communities, the better it does on the annual league tables.

READ: Achieving national impact through regulatory improvements in Kenya

Utilities in Kenya must now report on their service to low-income areas in order to place highly in the league tables Image credit: Brian Otieno

4. Strengthen co-operation between communities and utilities

Poor relations between urban communities and publicly owned utilities are a significant reason for slow uptake of water services. When communities take matters into their own hands to source and distribute water to residents, this actually hampers the availability and quality of water across a city.

Community-led water services can result in poorly treated water, a lack of fairness in pricing, a proliferation of informal water vendors and often, different communities in effect competing to draw water from underground sources. Uncoordinated water abstraction is a major threat to water availability in urban areas.

To solve these challenges, water providers have to be much more proactive about showing how they can meet the needs of residents and winning communities over, so that residents can benefit from safely treated, piped water from the central water network.

In Ghana, water providers have been working to engage communities in their work to expand their services to low-income areas. Image credit: Ernanio Mandlate

Learn more about WSUP's Covid-19 response

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