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WSUP signs WASH4Work declaration for climate resilience at COP27

17 November 2022 at 13:42

The WASH4Work initiative, with the participation of Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), has released a declaration at the climate summit COP27 in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, supporting actions to increase climate resilience in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Having access to WASH builds people’s resilience to climate change. This can and must be achieved by enabling improved water security, limiting exposure to water-related risks, and building the capacity to manage the impacts of climate change.

The declaration, supported by 25+ global businesses and 15 WASH expert organisations, demonstrates the alignment, leadership and commitment of the corporate water stewardship community to create the pathways for systemic change, in partnership with water, sanitation and hygiene experts and stakeholders.

The purpose of the “COP27 Business Declaration on Climate Resilient Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH)” is to contribute to the advancement of sustainable development goals SDG6 (access to water and sanitation) and SDG13 (action against climate change and its impacts) by 2030, with the goal of enabling millions of people to become more water secure and climate resilient.

Read the declaration below.


Water is the primary medium through which climate change influences the Earth’s ecosystem and thus all economic, social and environmental functions that water supports.

Water-related climate risks arise from too much water, too little water and polluted water. Climate change directly affects the quality and quantity of water supplies, and impacts on the sustainability of sanitation and hygiene behaviors, especially for the most vulnerable.

Unsafe and unreliable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services at home or at work impacts people’s heath, well-being and livelihoods. Water security and climate resilience helps to enable healthy people and communities, business continuity and growth, across operations, supply chains and in the sourcing of raw materials.

Having access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) helps to build people’s resilience to climate change.

In order to be resilient to the challenges that climate change brings, people along corporate value chains and in the communities where they live, need to be water secure.

Water security includes reliable access to sufficient quantities of good quality water, limited exposure and reduced vulnerability to water-related risks, and the capacity to manage the impacts from climate change at home and at work.

Safely managed sanitation, hygiene and water supply reduce exposure to harmful diseases and underpin public health enabling people to better cope with climate change impacts.

Efficient and effective water supply services increase the amount of clean water people have access to in times of scarcity. For example, during extreme climate events. Increased water storage, in harmony with the environment, provides a critical buffer, delivering water when and where it is needed.

Sources: WASH4Work, UNICEF, WaterAid, Water.org and Pacific Institute


1. As global businesses, we are committed to taking action towards universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) across our operations, supply chains and in the communities where we operate – as part of our corporate water stewardship strategies.

2. In the face of the growing risks of climate change we recognize that water, sanitation and hygiene access is an important component of climate and water resilience actions:

  •  Climate change is already impacting on people”s access to water, sanitation and hygiene; through its significant impacts on the water cycle.
  • Climate change disproportionality affects the most vulnerable; often combined with other existing hazards and vulnerabilities that impact people”s level of resilience.
  • Having access to WASH helps to build people”s resilience to climate change; enabling improved water security, limiting exposure to water-related risks, and building the capacity to manage climate change impacts.

3. Going forward we join global and local stakeholders in developing and applying a climate-resilient WASH framework to our water, sanitation and hygiene access programs and investments.

The framework for action will include the following considerations:

  • Assessment of climate risk: Understanding the local context of climate change, water systems and water resources: Hazards, exposure, and vulnerability.
  • Impacts of climate risks on WASH: Understanding the impacts of climate change on water, sanitation and hygiene access, services continuity and reliability.
  • Preparedness and adaptation: Planning for the timely response to expected climate impacts and potential adaptation of water supply, sanitation and hygiene services.
  • Solutions and implementation: Identifying opportunities to improve water, sanitation and hygiene services with climate-smart low carbon infrastructure, technologies, and capacity building in communities.
  • Testing and monitoring: Identifying opportunities to continuously improve the continuity and reliability of services through benchmarking, evaluation, and validation.
  • Reporting & disclosure: Contributing to advancements in leading practice by sharing learnings, findings, and impacts in collaboration with our stakeholders.

4. As global businesses we will leverage our broad reach and influence to help advocate for climate resilient WASH actions in partnership with global and local stakeholders.

The purpose of this Declaration is to contribute to the advancement of SDG6 & SDG13 by 2030, with the goal of enabling millions of people to become more water secure and climate resilient.

It demonstrates the leadership and commitment of the corporate water stewardship community to create the pathways for systemic change, in partnership with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) experts and stakeholders.

We, as the WASH4Work initiative, invite more businesses to join us in this COP27 declaration, to mobilize the leadership and partnership needed to shape a more climate resilient water, sanitation and hygiene secure world.

WASH4Work members and supporters of the Declaration:


Top image: climate resilient toilet facility, higher than ground level to protect from flooding, in Chattogram, Bangladesh

Pilot demonstrates effectiveness of simplified sewers in Kenya

16 November 2022 at 22:27

A pilot project in the informal settlement of Mukuru has demonstrated a cost-effective way to bring decent sanitation to some communities in Kenya: simplified sewers.

Most residents in Kenya’s densely packed informal communities lack access to decent sanitation, and the practical and financial challenges of addressing this crisis are well documented. However, new evidence shows that simplified sewer networks, which are much shallower and more flexible than traditional sewer systems, can form part of the solution. This opens up new possibilities for better sanitation which could benefit millions of Kenyans.

What is a simplified sewer?

Simplified sewers are widely used in South America. They use smaller and more flexible pipes, laid at a shallower depth, making them quicker, easier, and cheaper to lay. They work best in cities which have an existing sewer network of trunk sewers, as is the case in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, allowing for the waste from the new network to travel into the main sewer system – and from there to treatment facilities.

In addition to trunk sewers, there are some other conditions required for simplified sewers to work, such as adequate water supply to support pour-flush toilets and strong community engagement to support operations and maintenance, including solid waste management and disposal.

Download the simplified sewers report

Connected to the main line, the simplified sewers network reaches homes within the Mukuru community

How it works: the simplified sewers network

These conditions were in place during the pilot project, which was a partnership between Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company (NCWSC), Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT), and the community in Mukuru.  With the financial support of The One Foundation, WSUP laid over 1000m of pipes, constructed 72 inspection chambers and connected 94 households to the sewer system, benefitting over 4,000 individual residents who now have pour-flush toilets. Prior to the intervention, most Mukuru residents relied either on shared pit latrines or pour-flush toilets which channelled waste through open drains to the nearby river.

Read the summary: the Nairobi simplified sewers pilot

Positive response from customers

Customer satisfaction with the improved facilities was found to be high, and many also benefit from reduced prices: residents of Mukuru pay between KES 5-10 for a single use of public latrines (amounting to KES 900 a month for a family of three), compared to KES 20 per month for simplified sewer services, assuming a plot of ten households.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the sanitation challenge in urban slums”, explains WSUP’s Country Manager in Kenya, Eng. Eden Mati. “However, we now have strong evidence that simplified sewers are one of the answers. The prevalence of trunk sewer networks around many of our informal settlements in Kenya provides abundant untapped potential for scale-up of this solution. Further challenges lie ahead, not least in securing the finance for extending the connections and developing appropriate infrastructure for sewage treatment, but I am hopeful these can be overcome.”

Top image: the informal settlement of Mukuru, in Nairobi, Kenya

Learn more about WSUP's work in Kenya

WADA comes to a close and leaves legacy of WASH services in Madagascar

23 September 2022 at 13:51

It is the end of a major effort and the beginning of a new era. With the conclusion of the five-year Water and Development Alliance (WADA) programme, in three of Madagascar’s biggest cities, the country is ready to build on its legacy to continue improving its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. WADA comes to an end, but the work of authorities and the national water utility, with the support of local communities, continues.

Having run between June 2017 and June 2022, WADA addressed many challenges in water distribution, sanitation services, and hygiene practices faced by low-income communities in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, and in the cities of Mahajanga, in the north, and Toliara, in the south. From the installation of WASH facilities near homes to increasing capacity of staff within JIRAMA, the national utility, WADA has dealt with urgent problems of the past, alleviated conditions of the present, and set the ground for further improvements in the future.

The five-year programme has been funded by The Coca Cola Foundation (TCCF), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and several other members of this unique public-private partnership. Together, they have invested USD 8.5 million. Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) has implemented the programme, in partnership with the Global Environment & Technology Foundation (GETF) and JIRAMA.

Water closer to home

One of the main missions of WADA was to create better conditions for the local population to access clean water. For many, the main obstacle for easier access has always been the distance, so hundreds of WASH facilities have been installed nearer the homes of residents.

Services provided by WADA, such as better water distribution, have benefited more than 500,000 people

“The kiosk is near us, we have clean water every day”, says Mbola Rasamimanana, resident of Soalandy, in Antananarivo, about the new facility installed as part of WADA. The fact that fetching water is no longer an activity taking too much of her time means she can now dedicate herself to other commitments, including paid work. “We have more time for income-generating activities, as we no longer go far to fetch water and wash our clothes.”

Easier access to clean water has improved an aspect of life even more important than economic activities: health. “Before the provision of potable water by the WADA project, we were often in poor health”, says Ms Rasamimanana. “Children were often sick.” That reality is, thankfully, now behind her and her family. “Now we are in good health.” According to Yves Arsène Rakotondranaivo, Deputy Mayor of the Soalandy Commune, the new structures installed by WADA benefit 65% of the residents in the commune of Soalandy Ankadivoribe.

In its five years, WADA built a total of 361 WASH facilities in Antananarivo, Mahajanga and Toliara. While the water kiosks have been the main highlight, with a total 248 brand new ones built, schools have also benefited significantly, receiving 22 either new or refurbished toilet blocks, which have improved the overall hygiene conditions of children.

Water kiosks, like this one in Mahajanga, have brought water closer to homes and led to overall neighbourhood improvements

Communities have also been enjoying the facilities and social interactions provided by the 16 new communal laundry blocks, where the task of washing clothes also works as an engaging gathering of neighbours. Another important intervention was the connection of six water tanks to the water supply network and 60 new connections shared by different households, benefiting over 600 families.

Capacity for the future

The five years of the WADA programme brought improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene to more than 500,000 people in Antananarivo, Mahajanga and Toliara. It was a much-needed support for Madagascar’s population, especially considering the size of the challenges in the country in the WASH sector. According to the World Bank, around 80% of Madagascar’s population live in poverty, which means that a significant share of the residents in big cities lack access to basic water services. In Antananarivo, around 12% of the 3.2 million people do not access clean water. In Mahajanga and Toliara, that share is estimated at 11% and 16%, respectively. In sanitation, those numbers are even more dramatic: 70% in the capital, 75% in Mahjanga, and 78% in Toliara.

Changing the country’s reality more significantly will require time and sustained efforts in the future, for which WADA has also provided foundations. “We have benefited from WASH facilities, such as laundry blocks and water kiosks, and also capacity building for the management of these infrastructures”, says Mr  Rakotondranaivo.

Programmes developed for schools have improved the overall hygiene conditions of children, with the direct involvement of teachers

The management of those facilities was handed to autonomous associations, under the supervision of the communes. This arrangement has guaranteed that local capacity was gradually built, and knowledge consistently transferred, ensuring the smooth operation of facilities and services after the formal ending of the WADA programme.

“We monitor the operation of the WASH facilities and the activities of the water kiosk agents”, explains Viviane Harilalao, President of Mirindra Association. “We also monitor the revenue and its transfer from the fund manager to the Water User Association Treasurer.”

The focus on the future is also clear in the investment WADA has made in children’s hygiene. The construction of new WASH facilities in schools and the hygiene education programmes mean that very young Malagasy people will incorporate healthier lifestyles and a better understanding of public health, things they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“We have sensitised and trained teachers and students”, says Ravaka Tefisoa Rakotobe, Director of the Belanitra Public School, in Antanannarivo. Amongst many other newly adopted tasks embraced by both school staff and pupils, was the establishment of a “School Garden”, which works as a learning place for the children and has generated cabbage and parsley that have been sold or consumed in the school’s canteen.

From the launch of Phase One to the conclusion of the programme, the five years of WADA had many milestones

What makes Ms Rakotobe particularly proud, however, is the overall recognition of the transformation that has taken place – and which included new toilets, showers, drinking water station and rubbish facility. Her school obtained the WASH Friendly School Certification Level 3, a status awarded by the Ministry of Education, after evaluation done in collaboration with the ministries of WASH and Public Health.

The certification requires the school to have access to potable water; use of hygienic WASH facilities, including hygienic latrine; hygiene promotion as part of the curricula, with practice by the students; a school WASH Committee to ensure operation and maintenance. Level 3 is the best score of them all – and that is why Ms Rakotobe, her team and their students are adamant to keep it for good. “As a strategy to maintain WASH-Friendly Level 3, we have set up an organisation, by class, for the use, cleaning, and maintenance of WASH facilities.” If a school manages to maintain the Level 3 for several years, it receives the label of “WASH Friendly School”.

Read also: The early days of WADA

An improved utility

WADA’s initiatives to improve the operations of Madagascar’s national utility, JIRAMA, have also focused on the years ahead. From new equipment for laboratories responsible for water quality testing to training and technology aiming at reducing non-water revenue (both physical and commercial losses), the programme has prepared JIRAMA for a much more ambitious future, characterised by growth in water distribution and higher quality of its services.

JIRAMA’s laboratories have received investment in equipment and their capacity to perform tests

“We have received several kits for the JIRAMA Laboratory from WADA, including molecular absorption and atomic absorption spectrophotometer, precision balance, PH meter, gamma ray measuring device, and the oven”, lists proudly Pascale Rakotomahanina, Manager at the Water Quality Management Department, in Antananarivo. Similar investment in JIRAMA’s testing facilities in Mahajanga gave the city even more valuable tools for its work: speed and autonomy.

“The acquisition of equipment from the WADA project now allows us to do many types of analysis on site in Mahajanga”, says Edward Randrianirina, Head of JIRAMA’s Water Quality Section. Amongst the tasks his team can now perform independently from the capital are bacteriological analysis and detection of toxic elements.

WADA has achieved all the above, and much more, while establishing strong ties with the communities involved, from the very beginning. This has particularly been the case with the female population, which has been directly involved in the changes and benefited from economic opportunities they have created.

The WADA programme has increased JIRAMA’s capacity to monitor its network, tackling the problem of non-revenue water

“The project ensured the involvement of all local stakeholders and took care of the most vulnerable people, notably women”, says Sylvie Ramanantsoa, WSUP’s Country Manager in Madagascar.

WADA comes to a close having transformed the water, sanitation, and hygiene reality of hundreds of thousands of residents in three major cities of Madagascar. After five years, based on the many accomplishments of the project, the seeds for a much better future in the country’s WASH system are now planted. Embraced by local authorities, utility, and communities, the journey towards continuous and constant improvement has only just begun.

Read also: The stepping stones for sustainable water

Top image: residents using laundry block built as part of the WADA programme, in the commune of Soalandy

The WADA Madagascar project was also funded by UK aid from the Government of the United Kingdom, Dubai Cares, Cartier Philanthropy, OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), The Halcrow Foundation, and JIRAMA.

WSUP mourns the death of Her Majesty the Queen

13 September 2022 at 12:22

Out of respect, following the death of Her Majesty the Queen, WSUP has suspended external communications.

Whilst WSUP’s vital work on the ground continues in Africa and South Asia, we have decided that in recognition of the national and international periods of mourning for HM Queen Elizabeth ll, we will pause our external website and social media communications.

The Queen was a constant and steadfast presence both in the UK and internationally during her remarkable reign, and her loss will be felt deeply by many.

WSUP will resume its external communications following the Queen’s funeral.

Photo by WikiImages from Pixabay

Test your water knowledge and work for 100% coverage with this WSUP game

25 August 2022 at 18:36

With climate change affecting water availability all over the world, it is imperative for any local, regional, or national utility to use resources wisely. More than ever, water must be distributed in a way that serves all citizens, preserves the environment, and guarantees the financial viability of the operation. Considering the size of the challenge, do you have what it takes to face it?

As part of World Water Week 2022, WSUP and Cranfield University have developed a new online game, The Water Balance Challenge, a provocative, engaging, and fun instrument to help people consider their choices and risks when in charge of water distribution in an urban environment.

Through a series of questions and multiple choices of paths to take, the player is asked to navigate not only through the wide range of situations faced by those in charge of a water system, but also random events that affect the overall operation, from politics to marketing.

The game will be jointly promoted at World Water Week, in Stockholm, by WSUP and Cranfield University.

Ready? Click here to play The Water Balance Challenge!

A service for all residents

The Water Balance Challenge takes the player to the fictional city of Kaladi, in Africa. Almost half of its residents (40%) lack access to safely managed drinking water, despite the city being close to a great river and having access to groundwater.

The player is the new Managing Director of Kaladi Water and Sanitation company, which must meet targets of the Sustainable Development Goal-6, related to water and sanitation, of 100% coverage by 2030. That includes the most vulnerable parts of the local population.

It is vital to reach that goal while preserving precious water resources, ensuring all customers receive a fair share of the service, and charging households equitably. Finding that balance, including the company’s relationship with different levels of government, is not easy.

Kaladi has well  defined two seasons, the rainy and the dry ones. When it rains, the local community suffers with disruptive flooding. Floods and droughts are becoming more frequent, which has been affecting the levels of both the river and the aquifer.

The game’s fictional city has a population of 150,000, with a 7% annual growth rate, a consequence of the impact of climate change over rural areas.

Play The Water Balance Challenge

One of the questions, with its choices, from The Water Balance Challenge

Just like real life

The situation presented by The Water Balance Challenge reproduces what is seen in real life in many urban environments, particularly in developing nations. The combined pressures of population growth and reduction of available water, both consequences of changes in the climate, force authorities and utilities to find different solutions to reach the goal of universal distribution of water.

Amongst the many sources of water under threat in that context is groundwater, which is vital if communities are to be regularly and reliably served with clean water. Despite being more resistant to changes in the climate than other sources above the ground, aquifers have been affected by pollution and excessive use.

Communities and authorities have become more aware of the need to use water more wisely, fighting wastage in any possible way. From improved infrastructure to the use of digital technology, utilities have been working towards systems and operations that strive for the correct use of every drop. In a world marked by climate change and constant increase in urban populations, that is the only way through which water security can be achieved.

Play The Bottom Line: a game about sanitation

Read more about water security

Letter from Ghana: heart of the country, Ashanti Region must adapt to stay strong

2 August 2022 at 13:03

This is the second in a new monthly series of articles, named “Letter from…”, written by WSUP’s teams in the main countries where we operate (Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, and Madagascar). In the first week of the month, one of those teams will have an article on the WSUP’s website about life in their communities. Our second Letter comes from Ghana and focuses on the importance of the Ashanti Region for the country.

By Frank Romeo Kettey, Country Manager, in Kumasi

The Ashanti Region is, in many ways, the heart of Ghana. Considered the cultural centre of the country and home to the famous Kente fabric, it is one of the sixteen Ghanaian administrative regions. The region, located in the middle belt of Ghana, is famed for its gold and cocoa production. The world-renowned Ashanti King has its origins from the Ashanti Kingdom, which originated in the 17th Century.

The Kingdom ruled for centuries until it joined an independent Ghana in 1957, as the Ashanti Region. The region thus retained the rich and culture of the Ashanti kingdom, which includes a 42-day month calendar that helps to mark special traditional days. The Ashantis have a unique way of bidding farewell to the dead, through celebrations that can last for days. Ashanti arts are mostly represented in the adinkra symbols which a many different symbols with distinct meanings.

With a population of about 5.4 million, or about 18% of Ghana’s 30 million people, the Ashanti Region is also urbanising rapidly: 61% of its residents now live in urban areas, against a national average of 56%. Whilst rural urban drift has characterised urbanisation in Ghana for decades, an evolving trend is rural communities metamorphosing into small towns, creating new small urban areas. Rural services are no longer adequate in these communities, and there is a requirement for larger, more formalized systems and services.

The pace of urbanisation has thus outstripped development planning and investment, creating enormous pressure on infrastructure, social support systems, and availability of urban services, including water sanitation and hygiene, especially for low-income communities and the vulnerable.

Much needed pipelines

Just like other regions of Ghana, access to basic water and sanitation is challenging in the Ashanti Region. Only 29% of the population has access to basic sanitation, with water coverage faring better at 95.6%, albeit mainly through public standpipes. Less than 27% of the people have access to safely managed water on their premises, with access available whenever needed and without any harmful contaminants.

In order to support efforts to address the challenge of poor WASH services in this rapidly urbanising part of the country, WSUP has been operating in the Ashanti Region since it started its work in Ghana, in 2010, delivering sustainable impacts in 25 out of its 43 municipalities. Since then, WSUP has worked in partnership with municipalities, utilities, the private sector, and local community actors to drive improvement in water, sanitation, and hygiene access, while strengthening capacities to sustain those WASH services.

Woman uses water pump in the cocoa growing town of Nerebehi, in the Ashanti region

Through these partnerships, WSUP has successfully supported extension of water pipelines by the local urban utility to low-income communities in the region’s capital, Kumasi. This meant supporting communities with 75 public standpipes, household connections, and 200 cubic metres of overhead water storage unit, building the capacity of local communities and water vendors to support sustainable services.

WSUP also works with the utility and small community service providers to adopt and operationalise delegated management model in some communities to support the utility to reach underserved and low-income customers.

Similarly, WSUP has worked across 10 cocoa growing small towns with water and sanitation infrastructure. This has included provision of mechanised boreholes, transmission and distribution lines, standpipes with multiple taps, household connections and 20 cubic metres of overhead water storage units for each of the communities. We have also worked with residents to trigger demand and construct household toilets in locations where open defecation was rife.

We have further worked to engage municipalities in the region to support sanitation enterprises and artisans, in order to improve access to household toilets. WSUP’s work also involves developing markets for onsite sanitation and building the capacity of enterprises in technical specification of toilet systems, basic business management, customer relations, marketing, while connecting them to effective supply chains.

More about WSUP's work in Ghana

Education and empowerment

Our work in the region has also included supporting schools and municipal education officers to improve WASH, with the provision of new facilities (including menstrual changing rooms for girls) and setting up hygiene clubs in 10 basic schools in the region.

At the outset of Covid-19, WSUP worked with 9 municipalities in the region to build the community resilience to Covid-19. In collaboration with the Ghana Health Service, National Commission for Civic Education, municipal authorities and community-based organisations, we effectively disseminated Covid-19 prevention messaging and provided much needed PPEs while further building institutional capacity within the municipalities to respond to health and WASH emergencies.

George Asomaning, assistant headteacher of Nkonya Basic School, in Asamang, and local assembly member

WSUP’s work has helped public and private service providers to respond to WASH challenges occasioned by rapid urbanisation. We work in the major city and urban communities in the region, but also support urbanising cocoa growing small towns in the region with improved WASH infrastructure, supporting municipalities and communities to evolve effective management models for sustainable services, building capacity and creating enabling environment for private sector participation in WASH service delivery in these locations whiles improving regulation.

All those efforts have one major thing in common: supporting the Ashanti Region in its major challenge of dealing with a rapid and broad transformation of its communities.

The Ashanti Region will continue to be an important region for WSUP in Ghana. Our 2025 strategic plan seeks to consolidate the impacts made in the region by expanding our efforts into new municipalities, focusing on empowering service providers and community actors. This aims at ensuring sustainable access to safely managed water, access to household toilets, and stronger systems across municipalities for effective regulation. Being the heart of Ghana, the Ashanti Region needs increasing strength, so the whole country can benefit from its growing health, resilience, and progress.

Top image: Community in Asokore Mampong, part of the city of Kumasi

Neil Jeffery: Departing reflections from WSUP’s Chief Executive

7 July 2022 at 14:14

By Neil Jeffery

Today is my last day at WSUP after eight years as Chief Executive. I let the Board know of my decision to step down at the end of last year. The substantial notice period allowed for a stable and ordered handover to the new CEO, Ed Mitchell, a very knowledgeable and experienced individual. I am delighted to have been able to organize the transition in such a way to maximize stability for the business. Ed and I have spent the last fortnight visiting most of WSUP’s main funders and supporters to ensure an ‘in person’ handover of each relationship. This period has provided an invaluable opportunity to discuss in detail the future opportunities for WSUP.

Over the weekend I was clearing out papers from my office and came across a presentation on achieving scale that I had prepared for the WSUP Board in 2014. This set me reflecting on the journey that WSUP has been on over the last eight years, and the scale we have managed to achieve over that period.

Achieving impact at scale is the “holy grail” of social enterprises. Many talk about seeking or planning to achieve scale, but far fewer manage to reach a level of scale in their operations. WSUP recently celebrated the milestone of improving the lives of 30 million low-income residents in Africa and Asia through improved water, sanitation, and hygiene services. These women, men, and children have benefited through access to sustainable and financially viable services provided by local utilities and private sector providers working under the mandate of the utility. In 2014 WSUP had successfully worked with 4 million individuals, so achieving the target of assisting 30 million required a transformation in the organization’s ability to operate at scale.

I am extremely proud of having been able to lead WSUP through this period of sustained growth in impact. This achievement is down to many factors, not least WSUP’s remarkable, talented and experienced global staff. 80% of WSUP team members work in, and are from, Africa and Asia. This impressive pool of talent and expertise has been fundamental in building and maintaining positive relationships with governments, partners, and communities. It has allowed us to be entrepreneurial, agile, and responsive in the face of external shocks such as COVID or severe climatic events.

However, to reach scale, we needed to help these teams achieve even more. Over the last few years, we have worked to increase the autonomy and agility of our international teams in a framework of strengthened assurance, to allow them to achieve greater and faster impact. As part of this initiative, we established a three-year training and mentoring programme to strengthen the capabilities of our Africa and Asia country managers to prepare them to lead much larger multidisciplinary teams as WSUP grew. In parallel to this, we created new Africa-based senior roles to lead our international influencing strategy.

To grow, funders and investors needed to have confidence that we were able to credibly deliver on time, at scale, and in complex scenarios. I recognised early on that this belief must be underpinned by a high level of confidence from external stakeholders in our internal systems. As a result, I set about transforming our systems to prepare the business to achieve impact in a fundamentally different and more efficient manner. Over a number of years, we completely transformed WSUP’s finance, talent, risk, and IT management systems, and established new learning & development procedures. Additionally, we introduced a “cradle to grave” contract management process for all WSUP’s operational contracts. These professionalised systems, combined together, allowed us to increase support to our global teams and strengthen assurance and accountability, whilst empowering staff to deliver impact at scale.

Equally important was a clear, realistic, and inspiring vision for staff and external stakeholders of WSUP’s trajectory for growth. It was essential to ensure that all believed in the mission and stayed connected to the journey. Articulating the values of the social enterprise and those who worked in it was a critical aspect of this process. For the first time we were able to establish a set of organisational values that truly reflected the aspirations of our staff. We accomplished this through an extensive consultation process with all global teams, collating their perspective of WSUP’s unique contribution and value. This ultimately allowed us to announce six new organisational values to coincide with the 2020-2025 Business Plan.

Finally, an engaged Board was essential for achieving success. The involvement of the Board in each business plan process has increased steadily over my eight years at WSUP. The Board participated actively in defining the strategic direction of the 2020-2025 Business Plan. Based on reflections and suggestions collected through 50 detailed stakeholder interviews conducted with staff and external partners, the Board elaborated five strategic objectives as the basis of the plan. In 2019 the Board travelled as a group, for the first time, to conduct a deep dive into one of WSUP’s most successful operations and finalise the strategic goals for the plan.

Others may point to additional critical factors, but if the experience of the last eight years has taught me anything, it is that you must get the basics right before you can “soar” as a social enterprise. Impact at scale is definitely achievable, but it requires strategic focus, analytical rigour, determination, and passion.

Working with Ed over the last couple of weeks has demonstrated that he has the passion, energy, and vision to lead the organization to even greater impact at scale. I know he is enthusiastically committed to assisting more low-income residents to access sustainable water and sanitation services. I wish Ed and all the WSUP team across the globe the very best for WSUP’s next stage of growth.

Top image: Neil Jeffery and WSUP managers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2018

Read also: WSUP welcomes new CEO

More about WSUP's governance

Letter from Bangladesh: Climate mitigation in Chattogram

5 July 2022 at 10:01

This is the first in a new monthly series of articles, named “Letter from…”, written by WSUP’s teams in the main countries where we operate (Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, and Madagascar). In the first week of the month, one of those teams will have an article on the WSUP’s website about life in their communities. The first comes from Bangladesh and focuses on the impact of floods in the country.

By Abdus Shaheen, in Dhaka

Bangladesh has survived a number of disastrous events by adapting to climate change and disaster risks. At the time of writing, however, the country faces another gruelling experience: north-eastern districts are suffering from heavy floods, even after intensive preparation to prevent such a tragedy.

A coastal country, Bangladesh witnesses 2,200 millimetres of rainfall each year, but the north-eastern districts can receive as much as 5,000 millimetres. In the most recent event, the districts surrounding the Sylhet area have been suffering from very heavy rains, and the Himalayan meltdown – which is not stopped by Indian barrages – leads to the overflow of local rivers. This flow is going southwards, causing widespread damage, including in the Chattogram area, in the south-east.

Due to these disasters, people mostly suffer from water and sanitation-related crises. WSUP Bangladesh has been playing a vital role in mitigating human-induced climate issues, especially in providing safe water supply and waste management services.

Infrastructure in risk zones

In Chattogram, WSUP has been implementing water supply infrastructure projects where regular authorities have not been able to supply safe and clean water to the poor households in risk zones or underprivileged areas. Those areas are also prone to landslide risks, and when incidents occur electricity and water, including all types of utility connections, tend to be cut off.

Areas of Bangladesh with Major Disasters Source: Bangladesh Climate and Disaster Risk Atlas

The Chattogram Water Supply And Sewerage Authority is responsible for supplying drinking water to the city, but in the most low-income communities (LICs) it has been a major challenge to offer the service, as residents usually live in hill tops or very low-lying lands. WSUP Bangladesh tries to fill these gaps.

Alongside water infrastructures, WSUP Bangladesh is also implementing safe sanitation infrastructure activities for LICs that have been struggling to implement disaster-coping sanitation systems on their own.

Sustainable and waste management

Chattogram is a heavy industrial area, and there are various garment factories in the industrial zones. WSUP Bangladesh has, therefore, also focused on ready-made garments (RMG) workers’ communities whose water and sanitation facilities are inadequate.

Under heavy rainfall, dwellers most commonly suffer from waterlogging, which is contributed by the waste dumping at the drainage and canal networks, blocking the path that is supposed to carry the water out of the city.

WSUP Bangladesh has been helping build awareness for sustainable and waste management services and concentrating on faecal sludge management, including treatment and safe disposal. While the raw sludge water carries harmful bacteria – and is a nightmare for any public health institution –, treated water from faecal sludge is safe for the environment.

Our teams have already constructed a large faecal sludge treatment plant in the area of Chattogram City Corporation, and some private enterprises are engaged with the local authorities to provide sludge emptying services. The same enterprises also carry the collected sludge from the containments and transport it by vacuum trucks – which are much less likely to expose it to the open environment.

The carried sludge is dumped in a treatment plant, where the treated water is released into the open environment, while the treated solid from the sludge is transformed into compost or soil conditioner to be used in the local agricultural sector.

More about WSUP's work in Bangladesh

A history of floods

Out of 18 minor and major floods in Bangladesh during the 20th century, the most catastrophic ones happened in 1951, 1987, 1988, and 1998. In 1987, more than 57,000 km2 of land were affected by the devastating flood. In 1988 the disaster was even more damaging, as 82,000 km2 – or about 60% of the whole territory of the country – ended up underwater. Yet, resources were not prepared adequately, and a decade later, in 1998, about 75% of the country submerged in floods once again.

Flooding in Chattogram in 2022. Credit: New Age BD

Significant floods this century took place in 2004 and 2010. Bangladesh’s southern districts (all  coastal areas) also suffered immensely from cyclones Sidr and Aila, in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Later several small and large cyclones hit the country, causing massive saline intrusion in the agricultural lands, therefore making the southern agricultural sector almost incapable of cultivating crops.

Bangladesh is a riverine country. River erosion, flash floods, the peak of river waters, heat waves, and various other disasters are yet to be addressed. The Chattogram region also suffers from earthquakes, on top of flooding and land-sliding in the hilly areas. In the northern areas of Bangladesh, the Himalayan meltdown causes massive water inflow in neighbouring lands, flooding farms for thousands of miles. Bangladesh’s preparation for disasters, however, has become stronger with the dramatic experience brought by these events. Several government departments have been working to provide tools to prepare citizens for any potential calamity, as the country learns to be more resilient.

Environmental disasters, caused by nature but increasingly exacerbated by human activities, still have severe potential to harm Bangladesh’s livelihoods and nature. WSUP Bangladesh is one of the change-making organisations aiming at overcoming issues surrounding the water and sanitation sector, a mission also embraced by other national and international agencies working with the country’s authorities. We hope and work for a cleaner urban environment, in Chattogram and the whole of Bangladesh, where people can enjoy healthier and safer lives.

Top image: Flooding in Chattogram. Credit: Chattogram City Corporation

Under pressure from climate change, capacity building pays off in Uganda

28 June 2022 at 11:00

Philip OthienoBy Philip Oyamo, in Kampala

On a chilly dawn in Kyenjojo, western Uganda, the electromechanical technician at Mid-West Umbrella for Water and Sanitation (MWUWS), the regional water service provider, assembles his small unit and equipment, ready to drive off to Kigorobya scheme, some 176 kilometres away. This follows a report received at 2am from the pump attendant at the production borehole, saying that the pump was not working, meaning the town would be soon waking up to dry taps.

As if nature had conspired to worsen an already bad situation, the Area Manager for Bundibugyo almost immediately calls the senior technical officer and informs him that the Bundibugyo main water intake at the river has been washed away by raging floods, due to excessive run-off from Rwenzori mountains. The increased discharge episodes in the river is attributed to climate change, deforestation, herding animals, and cultivation along the riparian zones. For the MWUWS team, it means that the previously made plan for the week has to be aborted and another team from the lean staffed technical division has to be mobilised to immediately travel 155 kilometres to Bundibugyo, assess the situation, and come up with a solution as quickly as possible, limited resources notwithstanding.

This is a typical day at MWUWS, which manages 62 water systems meant to serve circa 1 million people in small towns and rural growth centres, spread across 16 Districts in the mid-west region of Uganda. Additional schemes –  water production and distribution networks serving specific communities – are periodically gazetted for the Umbrella’s take-over.

The challenges experienced in ensuring continuous supply of potable water are not only on the technical side but also on other operational spheres. From holding volatile meetings with community members incited by politicians to demand for absolutely free services because the source of the water is “their” mountain, to lobbying District and town council stakeholders in fighting off competition from a larger utility interested in taking up water supply systems from MWUWS – and having to work extremely hard to collect revenues from customers in order to sustain operations.

Further compounded by a huge outstanding debt portfolio that the utility has been working extremely hard to recover from customers, these are just a few challenges that the commercial and finance divisions of MWUWS have to deal with on an ongoing basis.

Water in Uganda: the challenge of offering services to small towns

Non-revenue water training in Western Uganda. Credit: Stephen Mwesigwa.

Reorganisation and professionalism

Managing water supply in fragmented schemes spread geographically wide, with lean staff most of who are unskilled or semi-skilled, is not an easy task.

The good news is that, over the past four years, WSUP Advisory has been supporting MWUWS to become a well performing utility through funding received from the Conrad N Hilton Foundation. The funding provided to date totals USD 4 million, which have been invested in institutional reorganisation and capacity support, setting up governance structures and appointment of board members, marketing new connections, and expanding customer base by implementing pipeline extensions, revenue collection campaigns, adoption of billing and finance systems, scheme improvements, staff trainings on various identified gaps, among others.

The successes  recorded in institutional reorganisation came through the area performance management framework (APMF), which organised the MWUWS into core technical staff based at the secretariat, Kyenjojo. This team have been supporting and guiding semi-autonomous area teams made up of between 2 and 9 water systems, led by a single area manager. All 16 areas are further grouped into 3 clusters of between 3 and 5 areas overseen by 3 members of staff from the secretariat. This has made it possible for MWUWS to oversee operations seamlessly at all the schemes with key decisions being made at the lowest possible level. It is worth noting that some of the schemes the utility inherited from the previous managers in 2017 were rather quite old, with some dating back to the 1970s.

The schemes outlived their design capacities. This situation was exacerbated by the ever-increasing population, due to migration to the previously tiny villages and small towns. This has led to the support programme focusing on scheme improvements that enhanced the hydraulic performance and conditions of the water systems. It entailed rehabilitation and expansion of pipeline sections, installation of critical operation and maintenance valves, and fittings and installation of bulk and consumer meters. The improvements have allowed customers to receive more water in a reliable manner, with sufficient pressure.

Investments in water quality testing equipment and recruitment of additional staff have led to increased testing and consistent reporting. Water systems where testing was previously done only once in a quarter are now seeing tests done and reported four times in a month, with a few having tests done at least three times a day.

Download the Uganda report

Newly constructed water pumping station. Credit: Stephen Mwesigwa

The few significant milestones enumerated above, among many others, could not have been possible without the leadership and close guidance offered by the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE). This has been coupled with the support the Umbrella received through MWE’s 100% service coverage acceleration project (SCAP 100), which availed pipes, fittings, meters and finances for systems expansion and connection of customers.

The Water and Sanitation Development Facilities (WSDF) at Central and Southwestern have also been a key infrastructure developer and local support provider for MWUWS . Other partners, e.g. IRC and Water for People, have offered significant support to the utility as well in the recent past. The MWUWS management team and staff in general have also been a key pillar to their own success, through commitment and being receptive to new initiatives and improvements.

This has not, however, been an easy journey, especially for the secretariat staff who have been spread out so thin on a number of occasions when they played host to consultants that outnumbered them in a single day. They have to sit through the deliberations and brainstorming sessions with the consultants, while still guiding the teams handling crises at the Kigorobya and Bundibugyo systems. Various support initiatives to the Umbrella are being driven from MWE side and other partners, in addition to the WSUP Advisory programme, all aimed at performance enhancement.

The work WSUP Advisory has managed to achieve at MWUWS clearly demonstrates how bringing on board extensive experience in utility management, leveraging on existing resources and capacities while closely collaborating with the government and other partners, can lead to positive and sustainable change. The utilities monthly billing, for instance, has increased from UGX 80 million in 2018 to UGX 278 million in January 2022. In the face of so many challenges, made even more difficult by the biggest of them all, climate change, this result is quite commendable.

Click on the link to download the report: The challenge of small towns: Professionalising piped water services in Western Uganda

Top image: Construction of water filtration facility at Bundibugiyo. Credit: Stephen Mwesigwa

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor welcomes new global CEO

27 June 2022 at 11:13

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) is pleased to announce Ed Mitchell as the new Chief Executive Officer of the non-profit company, following Neil Jeffery’s decision to step down after eight successful years leading WSUP.

Rt Hon Lord Boateng, Chair of the Board at WSUP, welcomed the new appointment. “Ed has an impressive background in leadership, policy and sustainability in the private and public sectors, having worked in senior roles for several UK water utilities and government departments”, said Lord Boateng. “I am confident he is the right person to lead WSUP into the next chapter of its development, building on the great foundations laid by Neil during his tenure.”

Ed Mitchell has significant relevant experience in the environmental and water sectors, as well as with public policy and administration.  Most recently he was a Director at Pennon Group, the owners of South West Water, Bournemouth Water, Bristol Water, and Viridor.

Prior to this, he held the role of Executive Director of Environment and Business at the Environment Agency for nearly a decade, and was also the Director of Environment and Corporate Responsibility at Thames Water. He has also worked for GlaxoSmithKline and the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as acting as special advisor to Dame Margaret Beckett, the UK’s first female Foreign Secretary, from 2005 to 2007.

Ed holds a Master of Science (MSc) in Water and Wastewater Engineering from Cranfield University, and through his role with Thames Water was previously involved with WSUP as a non-executive director following its foundation in 2005. He is currently Chair of the Environmental Advisory Group at the Canal and River Trust, a member of the boards of South West Sensor Ltd and the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, and a trustee of the South West Lakes Trust.

“I am thrilled to be joining WSUP, having been for a long time a passionate supporter of the organisation and firm believer in the value of WSUP’s unique business model and theory of change,” says Ed. “The combination of climate change, population growth, urbanisation, and poverty is making it more urgent than ever to develop sustainable and resilient solutions for the poorest communities in the developing world. WSUP is uniquely placed to deliver these – at scale – and make a really significant contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Ed took up his position as CEO on 22nd June.

More about WSUP's governance

Water in Uganda: the challenge of offering services to small towns

23 June 2022 at 12:15

By Bridget Teirney

Life in small towns is rapidly changing for communities across Africa. In the next twenty years the urban population is expected to double, and urban land cover to triple. But urbanisation isn’t just impacting the continents’ large and mega cities.

Small towns are also undergoing significant transformation. Straddling both urban and rural life, they are at the forefront of this change, and systems and structures need to be adapted to keep up. Provision of water supply is one example of an essential service that needs to adapt to this evolution.

In Uganda, many of the country’s water supply systems serve dispersed populations in rural areas or small towns, but these communities are rapidly outgrowing the systems that have been deteriorating due to operations inefficiencies and minimal maintenance. In response, the government is tackling this challenge by bringing typically urban structures of utility management to small towns and rural growth centres. The new WSUP Advisory report The challenge of small towns: Professionalising piped water services in Western Uganda provides an overall view of the progress achieved with that initiative.

Professionally managed networks

The sector change began in 2006, when the Government of Uganda restructured the national framework for water supply to establish six regional support organisations (Umbrellas) to provide technical support to private suppliers and communities in these small towns. Then in 2017, the Ministry of Water & Environment took the next step to transform these umbrellas into utilities, water supply and sanitation authorities known as Umbrella Authorities.

Establishing these Umbrella Authorities is just the beginning of the transformation story. Their mandate is to extend water services to 100% of urban areas and 85% of rural areas by 2025. And the challenge to achieve this is significant: to navigate the journey from dispersed, quasi-independent, micro-scale water supply systems to professionally managed networks of piped water supply systems in rural growth areas and small towns in eight years.

Kyenjojo town, in Western Uganda. Credit: Bridget Teirney

WSUP Advisory, with funding from the Conrad N Hilton Foundation, have been supporting the Mid Western Umbrella (MWU) to navigate this transition since 2018. The overarching goal of this support is to help the MWU to become a ‘performing utility’ that can provide safe, sustainable water services for all its customers. The strategy for the utility wide support programme has been for each business improvement initiative to be developed with and led by MWU staff. In the early days of the programme, within a busy and changing operating environment, the support activities were planned to contribute directly to operational priorities.

This created scope later on for more strategic development activities, such as government improvements, strategic planning, and talent management.  From the offset, it was clear that the MWU would need to operate to some extent as a ‘virtual’ utility, keeping overhead costs to a minimum while operating remote systems that generate limited revenues.

Organisational change

The MWU initiated a decentralised approach of area management with a secretariat, driven forward by the core programme management team using the Area Performance Management Framework (APMF). In addition to creating a lean, decentralised structure, the support programme enables and facilitates organisational change by engaging, motivating and helping improve the working practices of staff at all levels of the MWU.

WSUP Advisory have been supporting Uganda’s Mid Western Umbrella (MWU) since 2018. Credit: Bridget Teirney

For the MWU to succeed in becoming a performing utility, the support programme recognises that its staff must manage and operate the utility as a business, not just a water service provider. The APMF energises the utility’s staff and helps management to institutionalise a professional approach. The publication The challenge of small towns: Professionalising piped water services in Western Uganda explains in much more detail the role of the Area Performance Management Framework as the driver for change in the MWU.  The APMF has contributed to significant performance improvement:

  • Billing and collection rates increased
  • The Umbrella is regularly recovering its operational and maintenance costs
  • Water quality tests are performed more regularly
  • Incentivised area teams have the confidence to set and meet increasingly challenging performance expectations

There are five key recommendations the WSUP Advisory report makes to help other utilities serving small towns:

  1. Adopt a decentralised management structure to remain lean, cost-effective and responsive
  2. Develop talent and empower middle management
  3. Start with short-term performance improvement and track simple metrics
  4. Meet operational costs to create breathing room
  5. Align support programmes with operational priorities

The WSUP Advisory Uganda report provides further insight into each of these recommendations and provides specific experience and insights for all those concerned with sustainably managing water supply in small towns across Africa.

Top image: Construction of water quality filter at Bundibugiyo. Credit: Stephen Mwesigwa

WSUP shows its stripes to highlight climate change in urban environments

21 June 2022 at 09:01

The 21st of June is international #ShowYourStripes Day, and to mark it we’ve adapted WSUP’s city skyline logo to incorporate the dramatic visualisation of our changing climate created by professor Ed Hawkins, from the University of Reading.

Climate change is already a reality and is only going to get worse in the years ahead. WSUP’s work helps conserve precious water supplies to meet the needs of growing urban populations in rising temperatures, and also strengthens sanitation infrastructure to reduce the risks of sewage overflow during flooding and heavy storms.

Visit the #ShowYourStripes website

At WSUP we’re determined to develop water and sanitation services for low-income, urban communities which can withstand the effects of our changing climate.

Some of the impact of high temperatures and changes in rain patterns already faced by vulnerable communities in parts of the world was the centre of our climate report. This new reality exposes, more than ever before, the urgent need to create more resilient systems in water and sanitation, capable of coping with the increasingly damaging effects of an increasingly warm planet.

Read the WSUP climate change report


Smart water: the experience of utilities in adopting digital solutions

11 May 2022 at 12:26

Across 2021 and 2022 the GSMA’s Digital Utilities programme and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) collaborated on research exploring four Kenyan water utilities experience of adopting digital solutions and their digitalisation journey more broadly. This blog, co-written by Eden Mati (WSUP) and Zach White (GSMA), summarises the report’s key findings and messages. You can read the full report here

Digital solutions for water utilities

Digital solutions are equipping utility managers with new tools to meet the coming challenges of rapid urbanisation and climate change while also tackling long-standing sector challenges related to water losses and financial stability. These challenges, and an indication of their extent, are summarised in the table below.

Digital solutions in water are transforming how utilities and customers interact. Mobile money is a game-changer for revenue collection while IoT (internet of things) devices have created new ways to monitor water services and automate processes. Combined with mobile payments, IoT devices enable pay-as-you-go (PAYG) service models, and smart metering has become a clear use case. Finally, digital platforms and enterprise resource planning (ERP) apps are supporting more effective utility management and providing a foundation for digitalisation across utility operations.

Mobile services are critical to many of these services thus making mobile operators a natural partner for utility services. Utilities verticals have emerged as a key use case for IoT devices, and many mobile operators are looking beyond integrations to become more active players as part of their revenue diversification strategies.

Key digital solutions in urban water in Kenya

Our research

In the water sector, to date, most research on digitalisation has focused on high-income country contexts and solutions. This bias in focus overlooks important differences in the complexity of water systems, digital payments architecture, availability of finance inherent in serving dense low-income neighbourhoods. In addition, it draws attention away from where digital solutions could have the greatest impact.

One of the aims for the research we conducted was to address part of the evidence gap. We took this on through examining the digitalisation journeys of four Kenyan water utilities and engaging the regulator (WASREB) for a sector-wide perspective. The four utilities in this research serve three of Kenya’s four largest cities. Combined, they are responsible for the water services of more than six million people, employ over 4,000 people and have an annual turnover of 11 billion Kenyan Shillings (about USD 104 million). In short, they are some of the larger and better-performing water utilities in Kenya, which is important context for the findings. Through detailed case studies and interviews with key players in the water sector, we identify important lessons and opportunities.

Street in Nairobi. Credit: Brian Otieno

Key findings on digitisation journeys

We looked at the use of digital technology across a set of ‘domains’ that related to different digital/utility functions. Within these domains, we focused on mapping the use of some of the prominent technologies and solutions used in the sector. The figure below outlines a high-level mapping of where the different utilities were using key technologies.Key findings on digitisation journeys


The other aspect we looked at was the sequencing of the digitalisation efforts for the last ten or so years. Though the pattern broadly changed between utilities, we found there was a common progression at different points in time:

  • Pre-2015 – The initial stages of digitalisation generally focused on payments, meter reading and billing.
  • 2015–2019 – There was a focus on overhauling customer relationships and engagement, including web and social media presence. Many utilities also started piloting different smart meters or smart-ready meters and GIS mapping their customers.
  • 2019–present – Some of the utilities shifted their focus to digital systems and overhauling their ERP systems. There was also an increased focus on deploying smart meters for household connections and kiosks.

Some key lessons from the experience of the four utilities

Four key lessons emerged from our analysis and are applicable to utilities at early stages of digitalisation.

  • Investing progressively in digitalisation is vital. Making progress digitalising multiple areas of utility operations is critical to reaping the full benefits in any one area. For example, efficiencies in meter reading will only be realised when they are linked to more efficient billing and mobile payment processes.
  • Digitalising core functions first can deliver quick wins. For utilities, this is most evident in metering and billing and in customer relationships. These are also the areas most likely to improve cash flow and support better customer experiences and relationships.
  • When a new technology impacts on existing jobs and roles, there needs to be a plan in place for staff retraining or redeployment. This is critical to shaping a vision of digitalisation and reassuring staff that they have trust in their job security. Effective redeployment is also critical to reaping the benefits of more efficient processes. These transitions need to be supported by senior leadership so that digitalisation can be incorporated in broader change processes and staff feel that reassurances are credible.
  • Investment in digital systems must occur alongside the digitalisation of operations or functions. Utilities that had recently made investments in their ERP systems stressed that this was vital to realising the benefits of their various digitalisation initiatives.

Download the full report: Water Utility Digitalisation in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Key opportunities

The research team identified five key opportunities for utilities based on their stated objectives and actions that are likely to overcome some of their main constraints.

  • Peer learning between utilities. In many cases, the experience of one utility holds lessons for others. This extends to sharing information on market offerings and price and quality benchmarks. This is a clear opportunity in the Kenyan water sector, but also applies in other LMIC contexts.
  • Documenting the pros and cons and the costs of digitalisation initiatives. This documentation should also be codified in regulatory guidance for the sector. Robust data on the benefits of digitalisation is still relatively limited. Documenting and sharing this data between utilities would help to inform investment decisions.
  • Advanced metering (including PAYG solutions) and network monitoring and control. These are the technologies most likely to address non-revenue water (NRW) losses, which are still primarily managed manually.
  • Digitally enabled financing solutions for financiers, innovators, and utilities. Innovative and flexible financing is already underway as new players emerge and new funds are developed by existing players.
  • Stronger partnerships with mobile operators. Many of the digital solutions discussed in this report have mobile services at their core, including mobile payments, smart metering and network monitoring. This makes mobile operators an important partner for utilities. In Kenya, this opportunity is exemplified by Safaricom’s move into the smart metering space.

This report seeks to fill the evidence gap in utility digitalisation in LMICs. The case studies detail the extent of digitalisation in the utility sector and the scope for opportunity. Kenya is home to some of the larger and better-performing utilities and the experience of the water sector can provide guidance to utilities in other LMICs seeking to digitalise their operations.

Top image: Woman taking water from a pre-paid dispenser in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otieno

As Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, hygiene practices remain essential

19 April 2022 at 16:52

Covid-19 infections have significantly declined in many parts of the world, after the spread of the Omicron variant, and that is also true in Africa.

With the end of restrictions and with vaccinations levels still low in much of the continent, however, the adoption of good hygiene practices is as important as it has ever been, since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, in early 2020.

According to the World Health Organisation, actions taken by national governments in early 2022 have increased the number of vaccine doses distributed, from 54 million in January to 62 million in February. Much more is needed, though, to significantly increase the continent’s overall fully vaccination rate, which was around 15% of the adult population. “Fifteen countries are yet to reach 10% of their population fully vaccinated,” said the WHO.

During the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 and 2021, WSUP promoted hygiene practices in Kenya and Ghana, with campaigns supported by the Hygiene and Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC), an initiative led by the UK government and Unilever.

Both countries have recently put an end to the restriction measures implemented to fight the spread of the coronavirus, including the compulsory use of face masks in crowded, enclosed spaces. Considering that about 84% of the Kenyan population have not yet been fully vaccinated, hygiene practices remain as important as in the early stages of the pandemic.

The most recent Covid wave in Kenya took the daily number of cases to a record average total of 2,774 in late December 2021. The wave quickly lost strength, though, as was the case with many other countries affected by the Omicron variant. In March 2022, the average daily number of new cases was already below 10. This trend has convinced the local authorities that rules of social distancing and face masks wearing were no longer needed.

Hygiene messaging in a school, Kenya
Handwashing messages in a school in Nakuru County, Kenya.

“Last month the government announced the end of the restrictions. Life is now normal, bars are open, and it is not compulsory anymore to wear a face mask anywhere,” says Beatrice Masaba, WSUP’s People and Support Officer in Kenya. The situation in the country may prove challenging, as large crowds have been gathering in public spaces as part of political rallies in the run-up to the August general elections.

In this context, it is important that hygiene practices, such as washing hands with soap regularly and covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing, are understood by the population as permanent features, not only a temporary measure related to the peak of the Covid pandemic.

“It is now a duty of the Kenyan citizen to make sure that they are safe and everyone around them is also safe,” says Masaba. “People need to understand that the measures were put in place for Covid, but they go beyond. It is about all diseases that are related to hygiene, such as cholera.” According to the WHO, a two-week vaccination drive in Kenya in early February increased the average of people vaccinated daily from 70,000 to 200,000.

Video: building resilience to Covid-19 in Ghana and Kenya

Hygiene is essential

In Ghana, the peak of the latest wave of Covid-19 happened in early January 2022, when the daily average of total of cases reached 1,231. Almost as quickly as it went up, however, the number came down, reaching two digits in February. After another rise in February, when the daily average peaked at 144, Ghana has recorded low daily average figures in March and April, of between 10 and 20.

A billboard in Accra, Ghana, promoting hygiene messaging

“Due to the low number of cases in the country, the President announced the elimination of all restrictions, and now there is no mandatory use of masks,” says Frank Kettey, WSUP’s Country Manager in Ghana. Without measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the protection is now in the hands of the people – literally, as handwashing is one of the most powerful tools in preventing infection. “Hygiene proved to be very important, essential,” says Kettey. “Without masks, it is now even more important.”

Ghana has benefited a lot from the Covax programme, established by the WHO to guarantee distribution of Covid vaccines in developing countries and the most vulnerable communities. “As it stands now, there isn’t shortage of vaccines, but there is still some hesitancy,” says Kettey. The vast majority of the population in Ghana remain unvaccinated.

Hygiene practices that were promoted during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic have given people additional protection. But as restrictions are lifted in many countries with low vaccination rates, these hygiene practices will need to be maintained to keep the virus at bay.

Read more about WSUP's Covid-19 response

Top image: Child washing hands at school in Ghana, as part of the HBCC programme.

A template for action: how new guidelines pave the path to better sanitation in Africa

23 March 2022 at 11:03

Joint article by AMCOW, Speak Up Africa, UNICEF and WSUP.

This week’s World Water Forum, taking place in Dakar, Senegal, is a timely reminder of how the world is slipping behind its commitment to achieve universal access to safe sanitation by 2030.

Access to basic sanitation and hygiene services is a primary concern globally, with 3.6 billion people lacking safely managed sanitation and 2.3 billion without basic hygiene in 2020.

We at AMCOW, Speak Up Africa, UNICEF and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) believe that there is hope to turn this situation around: in the form of the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPG), an initiative launched last year to help improve national and subnational sanitation and hygiene policy across the continent.

The guidelines provide the continent with essential standards for sanitation and hygiene policies improvements, giving national governments a structure that will help them turn the page on the current state of inadequate sanitation and hygiene services for its populations.

But can, and will, the policy guidelines be implemented? We have looked closely into the implications of the six areas of the guidelines and are convinced that it will help countries to prioritise the key interventions that are needed.

Read the full analysis

The reason we know that is that across the continent, guidelines – which outline six key areas of intervention –  have already been or are being implemented. The following examples demonstrate how African nations can put in place the systems to ensure universal access to safe sanitation.

Sanitation systems and services, South Africa. Since the 2000s, the local authorities have been addressing the challenges of sanitation in the Durban area with a decentralised approach, in which non-sewered, onsite systems have been improved and embraced as viable, efficient ,and cost-effective solutions. The installation of thousands of ablution blocks and urine-diverting toilets has also provided sanitation options for informal settlements, with an approach that sought to maximise both financial capacities with the characteristics of both the terrain and the local communities.

Hygiene and behaviour change, Rwanda. Frequently, behaviour change – an important part of vital hygiene improvements – is absent from national WASH policies, which are more focused on delivery of services. But in Rwanda, a national handwashing strategy is having positive results, even despite challenges thrown by Covid-19. In February 2021, a report from USAID stated that, “self-reporting handwashing levels are high in Rwanda during the pandemic period.”

Institutional arrangements, Senegal. Lack of clarity in institutional mandates and in accountability bedevils efforts to provide sanitation and hygiene services in Africa and many developing countries worldwide. Senegal has kickstarted a program designed to update sanitation policy and strategy documents and give clarity on stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities. The program is helping to drive increased efficiency and coordination amongst national bodies and authorities across the sector.

Regulation, Zambia. Effective regulations are a vital part of ensuring a strong sanitation system which can provide adequate services to all. In Zambia, the creation in 2018 of a regulatory framework for the management of sanitation waste in urban communities has been a key step forward. This framework, combined with improved standards for sanitation technologies, and a new wastewater quality monitoring programme, is driving action not just from the country’s publicly owned water and sanitation utilities, but from the private sector, too.

Capacity development, South Africa. In South Africa, the national government has made progress in building skills in the sanitation workforce. Following completion of a skills gap analysis in 2015, a range of training schemes have been introduced across a range of public sector institutions, including the Department of Water and Sanitation, municipalities, catchment management agencies and water boards. The country’s National Water and Sanitation Master Plan includes a chapter dedicated to capacity-building, recognising that its ambitions will not be achieved “without addressing the issue of capacity – the skilled people required to undertake the work”.

Funding and financing, Chad. Traditionally, public sector investment into sanitation in Africa has focused on sewers, but this is now changing as the recognition grows that non-sewered services are far more cost effective and can reach a wider area of the population. Chad, a country which in the early 2000s had almost no sanitation infrastructure, has made significant progress in the way it invests in sanitation and as a result the proportion of the population with access to improved toilets had reached 16.1% in 2019. External funders, including the African Development Bank and the European Union, have played an important role.

Each one of these examples is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to dealing with the sanitation crisis. But it is a start, and shows that it is possible to make significant progress across the six elements outlined in the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines. We now need countries to replicate, and combine these successes rapidly to bring about sustainable change.

With political will to design the right policies towards a common goal, the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines should generate a high level of confidence and certainty amongst the continent’s authorities.

The template for action is here: it can be done.

Read more about the Africa Sanitation Policy Guidelines

World Water Day: videos show groundwater’s challenges and value

22 March 2022 at 15:36

While we use World Water Day 2022 to celebrate groundwater and make it visible, two things become clear: the water from aquifers faces a number of different threats, and those who benefit from this source understand well its importance.

In Chattogram, Bangladesh, pollution from a badly managed sanitation system has affected the quality of aquifers. Residents who used to rely on it now have to pay for other sources of drinking water.

Climate change also threatens groundwater in countries like Madagascar, where boreholes cease to be viable due to the reduced amount of rain – a direct consequence of higher temperatures. Watch the video below to know more:

Those who consume groundwater daily understand well its value – and ask everybody to give it more respect. In Ghana and Mozambique, residents celebrate the quality of the water they use and which comes from under their feet. Watch our second video for World Water Week 2022 to hear from them why groundwater must be preserved.

Top image: child fetches water in the Ashanti region, Ghana. Credit: Paul Obeng

Time to give groundwater a little respect

17 March 2022 at 12:29

Groundwater: a key resource for towns and cities around the world struggling to provide enough water for their thirsty residents.

It has many advantages over surface water, as it is often more reliable, nearer to households, less vulnerable to pollution, and more resilient to climate variability.

With urban populations in Africa and south Asia continuing to grow, we will need well managed aquifers if we are to have any chance of providing urban communities with access to safe water. Climate change is reducing water availability, particularly in surface water reserves but in many parts of the world, including Africa, groundwater reserves are estimated to be 20 times larger than the water stored in lakes and reservoirs above ground.

So groundwater can be a vital part of many countries’ climate adaptation strategies. And yet, are we valuing groundwater properly, and protecting it to ensure it can meet our needs?

The answer seems to be a clear, ‘no’.

WSUP’s experience across the countries where we operate is that we are not giving enough respect to groundwater.

Groundwater is being mis-used and mis-managed in urban areas through multiple ways, such as raw sewage seeping into the water, agricultural and industrial pollution, uncontrolled abstraction, and a lack of monitoring of water quality.

For example in Lusaka, where around 60% of the water supply comes from groundwater, around 83% of the sanitation waste is not properly managed, leading to significant contamination of the aquifer which runs underneath the city.

Pit latrines like this one in one of Lusaka’s peri-urban communities often result in human waste seeping into the ground below, and then into the groundwater.

Just as in most cities on the continent, many people are reliant on pit latrines, often little more than a hole in the ground, where the waste seeps into the ground, and eventually, in the water supply.

In coastal areas, the growing threat of rising sea levels threatens groundwater supplies. Saline intrusion is where sea water gets into the underground aquifers, making the water undrinkable. In the coastal city of Chattogram, Bangladesh, we have seen evidence that boreholes are becoming unusable because of the saline intrusion.

In many countries, groundwater is being over-used, meaning that more water is taken from the aquifer than can be put back from rain or snow. Over time, the aquifer becomes depleted.

Across south Asia, groundwater levels have declined, causing issues for urban water supply. The cost of drilling and pumping is increased, with a disproportionate impact on the poor.

The absence, in many cities, of a single institution effectively managing water abstraction makes it very difficult this situation to be managed. In Africa, it is estimated that around one-third of the urban population uses so-called self-supply groundwater, usually in communities which have not been able to receive adequate service from the public water utility. In Lagos, Nigeria, for example, 51% of households own their own borehole.

Clara Mariano, resident in Beira, Mozambique, uses a well in her compound when she cannot get water from elsewhere. But the water is not safe for drinking.

In the short-term, self-supply groundwater enables under-served residents to get access to water; but this water is often untreated. In addition, over the longer-term, the uncontrolled abstraction of water can risk the health of the aquifer.

In Mozambique’s coastal capital Maputo, and the surrounding Matola city, where private water providers build boreholes which are dotted around the landscape, saline intrusion is a real risk as the aquifer becomes over-exploited.

Sometimes, the issue is not man-made – it’s a natural phenomenon. In Kenya’s Rift Valley, for example, the aquifer is contaminated with fluoride, excessive consumption of which can causes problems for bones and teeth. WSUP worked with private operators and the city utility in Naivasha ten years ago to ensure that water was treated to reduce fluoride levels down to recommended World Health Organisation levels.

Another commonly occurring chemical is arsenic, which is present in countries such as Bangladesh – requiring careful management to ensure arsenic-safe water supplies.

Residents in Mahajanga, Madagascar, collect water from the water kiosk which is supplied by the local borehole.

Groundwater is, by its very nature, invisible to the communities and the decision-makers that depend on it.

And yet, it is crucial. Healthy people depend on groundwater; depleted or contaminated aquifers will not help rapidly growing cities to become more prosperous and equitable places to live.

Improved management of sanitation waste; better monitoring; more oversight over water abstraction: all these will help protect groundwater for the benefit of people living in cities.

So let’s respect groundwater, so that we can meet one of humanity’s most basic needs – the need for safe, clean, water.

Women spread the message: story of a communications leader in Kenya

8 March 2022 at 12:03

By Emily Kirigha, Project Manager, and Beatrice Masaba, People & Support Officer, Kenya

Every single project and activity WSUP has been involved with in Africa and Asia relies on the direct participation and deep involvement of women. From the hard work done by female residents in their communities to their role as mothers and sisters looking after little children, women are central to all our work promoting clean water and safely managed sanitation in vulnerable communities.

Perhaps even more important than more traditional female roles, however, is communication. Women have been playing a vital role in leading families, neighbourhoods, and entire communities, organising initiatives and spreading the message of health and hygiene.

That essential communication has also been provided by female leaders within utilities, governmental departments, and local associations. In Nakuru, Kenya, Grace Kabubu is such a person, being the Public Relations Officer of  NAWASSCO, the city’s water and sanitation utility.

Grace Kabubu, Public Relations Officer of NAWASSCO

“My greatest inspiration is from seeing change in the community,” says Grace. “Tracking that community’s story or problem, as when we begin a journey with community A, when they probably had no hope for water or sanitation services, and at the end of the journey [seeing] the joy and satisfaction on their faces is priceless.”

As with many other women doing similar work in countries where WSUP operates, communicating the needs and the achievements of resilient and engaged residents, the more involved with that reality Grace becomes, the more she wants to share. “Capturing that journey inspires me to do more and share the story to enhance growth and knowledge.”

It is about telling stories, which is one of her passions from a very early age. “I loved telling and reading about stories, I believe at that early age I started to shape my career knowing that I would one day be a ‘storyteller’.”

Knowledge is key

Grace has over 10 years of experience in communication, knowledge management, and public relations. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication – Public Relations and Development Communication and is currently finalizing her Masters in Development Communication. Her experience in media monitoring, brand strategy and implementation is vast.

At NAWASSCO, she is in charge of internal and external communications, the development of knowledge sharing and learning processes, systems and tools, especially social media platforms that enable collaboration and continuous improvement and data-based decision making. She also actively supports NAWASSCOAL (NAWASSCO’s subsidiary company) in communication and knowledge management.

Being a woman has posed some difficulties along the way, according to Grace. “One of the greatest challenges is cultural perception and beliefs,” she says. “I have previously worked with communities that find it challenging when women address them. This may seem like a walk in the park, but it can cost a community development and growth.”

Her main tools when faced with that kind of obstacle is knowledge and information. “I have learnt to overcome this challenge by ensuring that I have done proper research about the community, thus enabling me to establish strategies.”

More female leaders

Since becoming a leader in her field, Grace has also worked hard to overcome any difficulty stemming from the fact that she occupies a managerial position. “In the early years, there could have been a general perception of women not having the capacity to lead in many sectors. Over the years, this notion has changed with the experience of various women shattering the leadership ceiling,” Grace says.

“The instances of women being considered ‘tea servers’ in board rooms have drastically reduced and are almost non-existent. It is against this backdrop that we see CEOs, board chairs, and female presidents who have become great leadership manuals to other women.”

Some might still point to a lingering reluctance in some areas to accept women in more highly skilled roles, but Grace believes that her area, of communications and public relations, particularly in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector, has been a positive example.

“I believe the WASH and the communication spaces have embraced more women. It’s interesting and exciting to see more women in technical/manual jobs that were previously considered male dominated. Those are great stories of inspiration that build and enhance the women’s leadership manual.”

Read more about women's leadership in WASH

Women for the climate

Grace Kabubu clearly understands what the main existential threat to the communities she works with, now and in the future, is: climate change. She is also convinced that women play a vital role in the fight against the damage being done to the planet and, particularly, the climate adaption required for vulnerable communities to survive and prosper.

“We no longer see rain when we are supposed to. Seasons have changed, sometimes the weather patterns change suddenly, which affects communities especially farmers,” she says. “I believe women in the WASH sector can play a pivotal role in enhancing provision of sustainable water and sanitation solutions.”

But how, exactly? According to Grace, women have a unique position within communities that allow them to understand problems better and find appropriate solutions. “As a woman in the sector, I believe we are at a vantage point, as we are available to educate and create awareness to the community, about how they can work towards climate change mitigation.”

Just like her own skills as a professional communicator, Grace says that female residents have a powerful tool in their voice and the strength of their message. “In all community meetings, women should use their voice to encourage members of the community to grow more trees. And to mobilise community groups to be climate change mitigation champions through activities, such as tree planting and the use of clean green energy.”

That power of communication is not only a tool that improves our present. It impacts the future as well, Grace says. “Women are also great transferors of knowledge, within their nurturing role. They can also carry the climate change mitigation strategies to generations – a snowball effect from one generation to the other.”

Learn more about our work in Kenya

Top image: A woman carrying a bucket of water in a community in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otieno

A round-up of SWEEP: WSUP’s solution to tackle Bangladesh’s sanitation challenge

16 February 2022 at 15:12

The SWEEP service has transformed the collection of human waste in three of the largest cities in Bangladesh, with the potential to go much further.

This ground-breaking public-private sector led service was launched in Dhaka, in 2015, to address the lack of safe collection and treatment of sanitation waste services in the city.

To date, it has served more than 2.6 million residents in the country’s capital and in the cities of Chattogram and Rangpur, as well as 5 other municipalities across Bangladesh.

It is the only model of its kind which provides affordable services to the poorest residents, being financially viable for the private sector whilst ensuring the responsibilities of the public sector are met.

Read more about the SWEEP journey here:

Safe, affordable, and profitable

Learn more about our work in Bangladesh

WSUP’s Sanitation Lead in Bangladesh, Habibur Rahman, shares his reflections in this Skoll Foundation blog – Making sanitation everyone’s business