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Successes and Failures of Water and Sanitation Governance Choices in Sub-Saharan Africa (1990–2017)

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Water Governance: Policy and Practice book series (PSWG)


The chapter argues that, under current management and reform strategies, Sub-Saharan Africa is still lagging in coverage and unlikely to reach the universal water access and adequate sanitation targets promised by the Sustainable Development Goals set in 2016. It needs new reforms leading to faster, more cost-effective, and better-coordinated investment financing strategies. For now, financing constraints continue to be quite binding, local and international stakeholders continue to be slow at internalizing the lessons from mistaken reform and technology choices and implementation, and the impact of urbanization and development on the demand for service is underestimated. Current strategies are too slow and too unfocused to help fast enough the poorest who continue to be excluded from the benefits of improvements in the sector.


  • Increasing Block Tariffs (IBTs)
  • Separate Regulatory Agencies
  • Public-private Partnerships (PPPs)
  • Estache
  • Danilenko

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Fig. 9.1
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Fig. 9.3
Fig. 9.4


  1. 1.

    Although policy discussion also includes a rebirth of old and recurring debates on the need to do better on irrigation to improve land productivity in the region, this chapter will not address the topic. See, for instance, Woodhouse et al. (2017).

  2. 2.

    Hutton and Varughese (2016).

  3. 3.

    Sambu (2016) and Ndikumana and Pickbourn (2017).

  4. 4.

    The latest comparable information dates from the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic (AICD)—summarized in Foster and Briceno-Garmendia (2009). It is based on 2005–2007 data for most dimensions and this is by now largely out of date.

  5. 5.

    World Health Organization (2015), INVESTING IN WATER AND SANITATION: INCREASING ACCESS, REDUCING INEQUALITIES GLAAS 2014 findings—Special report for Africa.

  6. 6.

    Burkina Faso, Ghana, Lesotho, and Madagascar.

  7. 7.

  8. 8.

    Tukic and Burgess (2016).

  9. 9.

    Godfrey and Ross (2016).

  10. 10.

  11. 11.

    Rimi Abubakar (2016) provides a powerful case study in Nigeria.

  12. 12.

    UNICEF (2015).

  13. 13.

    Many of these issues are often linked to poor implementation and poor coordination of otherwise-reasonable policy decisions. See World Bank (2017) for a series of detailed case studies, including some on SSA.

  14. 14.

    McKenzie et al. (2012).

  15. 15.

    UNEP (2010).

  16. 16.

    For a detailed discussion, see Wang et al. (2014).

  17. 17.

    Foster and Briceno-Garmendia (2009).

  18. 18.

    Based on data collected from the IBNET and GWI website, the two main sources of comparable information on tariffs for SSA.

  19. 19.

    In rural and/or non-networked water supply, users are often required to pay around 5–10% of capital costs. Often this can be paid in labor or local materials. For sanitation, users are mostly required to pay 100% of capital costs and O&M, and they usually cannot afford it.

  20. 20.

    See for multiple quantitative examples Angel-Urdinola and Wodon (2012), Banerjee et al. (2008), Bardasi and Wodon (2008), and Estache and Wodon (2014), and for powerful documentation of 17 cases studies, see Heymans et al. (2016).

  21. 21.

    Heymans et al. (2014).

  22. 22.

    Estache et al. (2006) and Auriol and Blanc (2009).

  23. 23.

    UNICEF (2015).

  24. 24.

    And it may be useful to remind the reader that water access and consumption are quite different matters. The average water consumption in Rwanda is 15 liters a day. In the USA, it is almost 40 times as much (575 liters per day) (see

  25. 25.

    Maziotis et al. (2013).

  26. 26.

    Guerriero (2011).

  27. 27.

    ESAWAS (2017).

  28. 28.

    Bertoméu-Sánchez et al. (2017).

  29. 29.

    Global Water Partnership/GWP (2015).

  30. 30.

    Oxfam (2016).

  31. 31.

    Jimenez-Redal et al. (2014).

  32. 32.

    Mansuri and Rao (2013).

  33. 33.

    Narayanan et al. (2017).

  34. 34.

    Herrera and Post (2014).

  35. 35.

    Jaglin et al. (2011).

  36. 36.

    Many of these contracts are actually quite small in terms of investment commitment, but they do represent a private sector presence at least in management of activities.

  37. 37.

    Note that the table does not report a number of deals which involved both water and electricity utilities. These include Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Rwanda, and São Tomé. Most were management contracts.

  38. 38.

    Banerjee et al. (2008) provide the most systematic review of the regulatory context in the region. It is however a bit dated now, and unfortunately there is no recent dataset reporting comparable information.

  39. 39.

    Banerjee et al. (2008) argue that most of the contracts were indeed price caps.

  40. 40.

    For example, Water Services Regulatory Board (2016).

  41. 41.

    See Woodhouse and Muller (2017) for a recent overview.

  42. 42.

    See Almer et al. (2017) for recent evidence on water riots in SSA.

  43. 43.

    It is notable that there is no technical assessment of the impact of reforms on the accountability of the service providers in a region in which one of the major issues has been the political instrumentalization of public enterprises and the capture of politicians by private agents.

  44. 44.

    Note that they also show that this is quite different to what is observed in other regions. When everything else is held constant, the odds are about 17 times higher for a European or Central Asian country with a regulator and up to 43 times higher for a country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  45. 45.

    It is remarkable that the narrative has made it to the NGOs’ message as well. See, for instance, Rusca and Schwartz (2012).


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Estache, A. (2019). Africa. In: Porcher, S., Saussier, S. (eds) Facing the Challenges of Water Governance. Palgrave Studies in Water Governance: Policy and Practice. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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