The Africa Water Vision 2025 adopted by African governments, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the African Union is Africa’s overarching policy framework. The majorities of African countries have established Water and Sanitation service provision targets (linked to Sustainable Development Goal 6) and have put in place supporting policies, and monitoring systems.
That said, the below map shows the use of improved drinking water sources in sub-Saharan Africa and that rural drinking water coverage lags far behind urban drinking water coverage (WHO/UNICEF, 2012).
Figure: Use of Improved Drinking Water Sources in 2010 (WHO/UNICEF, 2012)
With as many as one third of all water supply facilities in Africa non-functional, keeping water supply facilities operational is a challenge. Experience has shown that leaving rural water points to be managed by communities on their own is a major factor in low functionality. There is a need for post-construction support with complementary roles for communities, the private sector and all levels of government to improve the functionality of rural water supplies together. Behind headline figures for increased access to improved water supply technology in Africa lie a series of challenges to do with functionality and poor service. The gaps between figures on coverage, non-functionality of water systems and more detailed measures of service delivery are, therefore, large (Water Alternatives, 2013).
In many African countries there is an increased move towards decentralization and devolution of responsibilities to local levels of government. At the same time most counties experience a shortage of human and financial resources to fulfill their obligations in water services delivery (The 2015 Infrascope, Economist).
On the back of decentralisation of public services, new and much more substantive roles for local government are being established. However, in a number of cases the hopes for reforms, and clear separation of functions, exist largely on paper, with the reality being that not much has changed in practice. This can be due to a range of reasons, including of lack of capacity at the local level, or a certain degree of inertia and even resistance on the part of strong parastatal central government organisations to devolve authority and resources.
The service delivery approach is a conceptual approach taken at sector level to the provision of rural water supply services, which emphasizes the entire life-cycle of a service, consisting of both the hardware (engineering or construction elements) and software required to provide a certain level of access to water. There is a distinction between the physical system (the infrastructure) and the service which these systems deliver is a fundamental starting point. Service refers to the provision of a public benefit through a continuous and permanent flow of activities and resources.
A water service consists of access to a flow of water with certain characteristics (e.g. quantity, quality and continuity). Water service delivery can be characterized by a life-cycle, consisting of various stages or phases over time (see Figure 2).
Figure: Stages in the Service Delivery Cycle
In general, two forms of commercial models are being used, namely:
Models where private investment is required and revenue collection responsibility is given to the private sector partner (that can apply arrangements like lease, franchise, BOT and concessions);
Models in which the private sector partner receives regular payments from government, which may fund this from user fees, tax revenues or both, and payment to the private sector partner is based on performance targets set by the government.
The later form is proving especially important as they can be applied for a much wider range of infrastructure and (basic) services sectors, such as those where user fees are insufficient to recover costs, where user fees cannot be charged or collected, where taxation is an appropriate financing form, and where traditional full cost recovery for the services is culturally or politically difficult.
A number of different institutional levels within the conceptual framework for rural water service delivery exist. The definition of these levels is based on functions related to service delivery, depending on the degree of decentralization and specific administrative hierarchy of a country. Broadly speaking, three distinct groups of functions can be identified with corresponding institutional levels as presented below.
The definition of these levels is based on functions related to service delivery, depending on the degree of decentralization and specific administrative hierarchy of a country. Broadly speaking, three distinct groups of functions can be identified with corresponding institutional levels:
Policy and normative functions: national level. This refers to the overall enabling environment where sector policy, norms and regulatory frameworks are set, service levels defined, and macro-level financial planning and development partner coordination takes place. It can also be the level at which learning, piloting and innovation is funded and promoted. Overall sector guidance and capacity development is set by this level of authority. This nearly exclusively takes place at national level, although in federal countries, states may also execute some of these functions.
Service authority functions: intermediate level. This refers to the level where service authority functions such as planning, contracting, coordination, regulation and oversight, and post-construction support and other technical assistance, take place: the term the intermediate level (i.e. in between the national and community level) of local government, such as district, commune, governorate or municipality, or whatever the exact administrative name given in a particular country, as a generic term to describe this level. In some cases the ownership of the physical assets of rural water supply systems is held by local government entities, but this varies from country to country. These functions may be split between different administrative levels depending on the degree of decentralisation or mix between decentralisation and deconcentration of functions.
Service provider functions: local level. This refers to the level at which the service provider fulfils its functions of day-to-day management of a water service. This may also involve asset ownership and investment functions under certain arrangements. Typically, the service provider functions are found at the level of a community or grouping of communities, depending on the size and scale of the water supply system(s). The service provider function is fulfilled by a water committee under community management arrangements, or by an individual or business in other service provision options. This is the level at which day-to-day operation of the physical system takes place, and includes preventative and corrective maintenance, bookkeeping, tariff collection, etc. This may be done directly by a committee acting on behalf of the community, or in cases where there is professionalization of community-based management these tasks are increasingly delegated or sub-contracted to an individual (plumber or technician) or to a local company acting under a lease contract.
Figure: Service Delivery Models Management Options and Environment