Focus on consumer voice

An important part of improving water services to poor urban areas is strengthening low-income consumers’ ability to demand better services. This is required to overcome vested interests that actively discourage improvements, such as unregulated water vendors who charge a high price or public officials who want to protect their alternative sources of revenue. It is often the case that policies lack incentives or obligations to serve the poor, so structures are needed to help the poor take action on their own.

See below for some examples of how the ACF program is helping poor urban consumers to be heard.

In Madagascar…

WSUP has been helping to organise communities by supporting the establishment of Water User Associations (WUA) who sign a contract to operate water kiosks in poor districts, or Fokontany. These WUAs join together to form a WASH Committee, called RF2 (Rafitra Fikojana ny Rano sy ny Fahadiovana), that uses revenues from water kiosks to finance fokontany-wide WASH improvements. These have included clearing drainage canals to prevent flooding, street cleaning to prevent blocked drains, and promoting the benefits of household latrines. The RF2 model is being used by the Municipal Hygiene Office (BMH) in 13 other fokontany in addition to the 8 supported by WSUP with no external support. The connection between pro-poor service expansion and urban health has also been recognised by water utility JIRAMA who has now prioritised connection works for poor community water supplies. This shows that demonstrating pro-poor approaches leads to real institutional change.

In Mozambique…

Committees have been formed to manage communal sanitation blocks  in poor neighbourhoods, or quartiers. These are overseen by Water and Sanitation Commissions setup at the district level, or bairrro, by local leaders to monitor these committees and coordinate other water and sanitation development needs of the community. Whilst this bairro-level committee is in its infancy, it represents a first step in poor consumers organising themselves to demand better services. As of only a month ago, this W&S Commission has initiated a survey to understand their community’s water and sanitation needs so a more meaningful discussion can be had with city authorities.

In Kenya

Water User Associations were formed in urban poor settlements around Lake Naivasha to coordinate project implementation activities. After commissioning of the water supply system, the WUAs registered as legally-recognised Community Based Organisations to oversee proper functioning of the system. The WUA is formally identified in contractual documents, including an asset transfer agreement that empowers it to report customer complaints to the utility Naivawass and gives it a seat on the utility’s board. A positive outcome is that the WUA now convene’s its own meetings, share’s reports with other stakeholders, manages issues with private water operators and identifies solutions in partnership with the formal utility. The WUA is now investigating whether it could take on other community functions as well, around sanitation, solid waste and other issues.

In Nairobi…

Neighbourhood committees have been formed in Soweto West, Gatwekera and Kisumu Ndogo where the ACF project is focussed. These committees monitor water kiosk operators, report leakages, ensure water storage tanks are cleaned by the vendors and generally promote this formalised method of water service delivery amongst community members. A macro-level platform for the poor is through the NGO Forum which was established to improve coordination between NGOs, the asset owner AWSB and the utility NCWSC, in particular the Informal Settlement Department which was created by the utility to focus directly on service provision to informal areas. This forum has been useful for the utility to understand the tricky aspects of water service delivery to informal areas, and dispel myths amongst the community, for example, who initially felt that they should own new assets. The NGO Forum helped to convey the benefits of central ownership and management of facilities. See an example of a promising World Bank consumer pressure group pilot in Kenya which helped to resolve a huge number of customer complaints with the utility

In Ghana

A Community Management Committee has been formed to take on a service contract with the utility, GWCL, for the operation of a decentralised water supply system on the outskirts of Kumasi city. Representation on the CMC is by nomination from traditional rulers, opinion leaders, women’s groups, the youth club, the sub-metropolitan council, GWCL and local politicians. The CMC is now the community focal point for communications with the utility, and obligations of both parties are being formalised in clear forms of contract. Interestingly, mistrust by the community initially created wide apathy for demanding better services from the utility. By requiring the community and the utility to work together in project planning activities, a proactive working culture has built mutual trust between both parties.

In Mali

Management committees have been established at each new tapstand with locally elected members from the surrounding community. The management committee is given the responsibility by the local government, or Commune, for managing the tapstand and are required to meet periodically to overcome any issues. The ACF program is providing management and financial training to the committee through the Commune, with the intention that the Commune will provide this for new management committees as services expand to other areas. On a recent visit to the Commune’s office, the 3rd Deputy Mayor responsible for tapstands showed us the committee leader’s telephone number in his phone, as a means of demonstrating that he hears from them often, perhaps suggesting that the community’s are indeed holding their service providers to account…. even more so perhaps, from the increase of mobile phones in Africa.

About Andy Narracott

Urban water and sanitation professional. Programme Coordinator for the USAID African Cities for the Future Programme.
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