Water supply and sanitation in Zambia

Water supply and sanitation in Zambia

Water supply and sanitation in Zambia is characterized by wide discrepancies in access to an improved water source between urban (90%) and rural areas (40%), as well as limited service quality in urban areas. A reform process undertaken since 1989 in urban areas has been slow to implement and has only partially achieved its targets. On the positive side, major institutional reforms have been completed: Ten regional commercial utilities owned by local government were established, as well as a regulatory agency that has substantially improved the availability of information. On the negative side, investment levels remain at only a fraction of what would be needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Also, the level of cost recovery of urban utilities has not increased despite substantial real increases in tariffs, which is most likely to be attributed to a decrease in efficiency.


In 2004 only 58% of the population of Zambia had access to an improved source of water supply and 55% had access to adequate sanitation. Concerning water supply, there is a stark contrast between urban areas (90% access) and rural areas (40% access). For sanitation, access rates are similar for urban (59%) and rural (52%) areas. In urban areas, only 41% have access to water connections in their house or yeard and 49% rely on water kiosks and standpipes. [http://www.wssinfo.org/en/watquery.html WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water and Sanitation] ]

Water kiosks are operated by private individuals who have concluded an agreement with water utilities and municipalities. At the kiosk, people can purchase about 20 litres of water for a price equivalent to about 1 cent.

Concerning sanitation, only 29% of the urban population are connected to sewers while 30% are served by septic tanks or improved houeshold-level latrines. While these figures are low, they are actually higher than the average access in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lack of access to water and sanitation has significant negative social impacts, in particular on girls and women who are often in charge of collecting water for their villages and homes – sometimes walking extremely long distances to do so. After that girls are too tired to come back home and concentrate on education.

Service quality

Water supply in urban areas is intermittent, with an average supply of 15 hours per day for commercial utilities and an average of 5.2 hours per day for local authorities in 2006/07. The highest intermittency has been measured in the Western Utility. The only utility providing continuous supply is in Chipata.

Water resources

Unlike many other countries in the region Zambia has more than adequate water resources. The main problem is not availability of water resources, but inadequate access to improved sources of water supply.

The annual rainfall averages between 1400 mm in the north and gradually declines to 700 mm in the south. The country is rich in rivers, such as the transboundary Zambezi and lakes Tanganyika, Mweru and Kariba. It is estimated that only 1.5% of the annual renewable water resources are being used at present. There are significant regional differences across the country with regard to place and time when water is available. Also groundwater availability is unevenly distributed. During the dry season water resources may be scarce, especially in the southern part of the country. [http://www.danidadevforum.um.dk/NR/rdonlyres/6D6EE988-1EF2-4D7A-8549-727943BEA312/0/2006WP_IWRM.doc Zambia Water Sector] Challenges for Integrated Water Resources Management in Zambia, by Peter Sievers, Programme Coordinator, Water Sector Coordination Unit, Royal Danish Embassy, Zambia, January 2006, p. 3 ]

Responsibility for water supply and sanitation

Responsibilities in the sector are clearly separated between the Ministry of Local Government and Housing (policy), National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (economic regulation) and local government as well as commercial utilities owned by local government (service provision in urban areas).


The Ministry of Local Government and Housing is in charge of sector policies. Within the Ministry the Department of Infrastructure and Support Services (DISS) is responsible for water supply and sanitation infrastructure planning and resource mobilization. DISS has established a specific Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Unit (RWSSU) in 2003 and shortly thereafter also a unit for peri-urban water supply and sanitation.

According to the 1994 National Water Policy seven principles govern the state's policy in water and sanitation

* Separation of water resources management from water supply and sanitation
* Separation of regulatory and executive functions
* Devolution of authority to local authorities and private enterprises
* Achievement of full cost recovery for the water supply and sanitation services in the longrun
* Human resources development leading to more effective institutions.
* The use of technologies more appropriate to local conditions
* Increased budget spending to the sector

By 2008 at least the first three principles had been put into practice. However, full cost recovery was far from being achieved and budget spending remained far below what is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for the sector.


Economic regulation of water supply and sanitation services is the task of the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO). It oversees tariff adjustments, minimum service levels, financial projection and investment planning and corporate governance. NWASCO has made “significant progress in benchmarking, reporting and engaging users” despite being “underfunded and understaffed”. However, its effectiveness remains limited, among others because “the mechanisms for enforcing regulatory rules remain unclear”. [http://www.undp-povertycentre.org/pub/IPCPolicyResearchBrief8.pdf International Poverty Center Policy Research Brief September 2008: Reforming without Resourcing: The Case of Urban Water Supply in Zambia] ] NWASCO's lean structure is augmented by Water Watch Groups and Part Time Inspectors who monitor the quality of service on the ground. [ [http://www.nwasco.org.zm/ NWASCO] ]

According to the GTZ, NWASCO is so successful that it “can serve as a role model for other countries in the region”. NWASCO reports to the Ministry of Energy and Water Development, not to the Ministry of Local Government and Housing that is in charge of sector policy. [http://www.gtz.de/en/dokumente/gtz2008-en-water-supply-sanitation.pdf GTZ:Water and sanitation sector reforms in Africa, 2008 p. 22-23] ]

Service provision

By law service provision is a responsibility of local authorities. However, most of them have formed regional commercial utilities to which they delegate service provision. In 2006, ten commercial utilities, each covering several municipalities and owned by the local authorities, provided water services to 86% of the urban population with access to improved water supply. (WB) [ [http://www.nwasco.org.zm/water_utilities.php NWASCO Commercial Utilities] ] An 11th utility is expected to start operating in 2009 in Luapula. Often the utilities were established without further capital leaving them hampered in terms of operational sustainability. The capacity of the utilities differs considerably. For example, in 2006/2007 the regulator ranked the Nkana utility first and the Chambeshi utility last of the 10 utilities in terms of performance.

There are also 6 private schemes that are run by commercial entities that supply water and sanitation services to their employees as a fringe benefit. These are owned and run by companies whose core business is not water supply.

Service provision in the mining towns of the Copperbelt of Zambia, themost financially viable service area, has changed hands many times. After the collapse of ZCCM in 2000 the responsibility of water supply and sanitation service provision to these areas was entrusted to the Asset Holding Company-Mining Municipal services-AHC-MMS for continuity purposes, since local governments were not ready to assume the responsibility for service provision. In 2001 a management contract was signed with the support of a World Bank loan to pay for management fees and network rehabilitation. The contract was terminated in 2005 on the grounds that the privatized management did not perform any better than publicly owned utilities. In December 2005 the service responsibility was transferred to another public utility in the province, Nkana Water and Sewerage Company, pending their transfer to the respective commercial utilities. Although this was a temporal arrangement, it meant that a given area or town had more than one service provider. Finally, in 2008 service provision was entrusted to the three commercial utilities in the area. [ [http://www.nwasco.org.zm/news.php?id=7 NWASCO 2008:Copperbelt CUs New Institutional Arrangement] ]

History and recent developments

* 1989: Begin of urban water and sanitation sector reforms through commercialization of utilities with the aim of full cost recovery. Creation of a commercial utility for Lusaka.

* 1991: Transition to democracy. Frederick Chiluba elected President (1991-2002).

* 1992: Creation of the second commercial utility in Chipata. Process of "tariff rationalization" and significant tariff increases between 1992 and 1994, starting from an extremely low level.

* 1994: National Water Policy approved by Cabinet.

* 1997: Water Supply and Sanitation Act passed. It foresees the creation of a regulatory agency (NWASCO) and a Devolution Trust Fund (DTF) as a financing vehicle.

* 2000: National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) becomes operational. Creation of six commercial utilities. Further substantial tariff increases.

* 2002: Levy Mwanawasa elected President (2002-2008).

* 2004: Establishment of the Devolution Trust Fund (DTF)

* January 2008: At least 13 people in Mufulira in northern Zambia were admitted to hospital after drinking water alleged to have been contaminated by the nearby Mopani Copper Mines. Residents are afraid to drink tap water and are collecting water from shallow wells or nearby streams. Mopani Copper Mines said the water used at its plant was treated before re-entering the water system. A similar water contamination affected nearby Chingola in 2006. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7170295.stm BBC:Zambia in water pollution scare] ]

Financial aspects and efficiency

Tariffs and cost recovery

Urban tariffs for unmetered domestic users are set according to the category of housing (low, medium and high costs) for purposes of cross-subsidization. For metered users an increasing-block tariff is applied.

Tariffs were increased substantially between 1992 and 2006, between twofold and eightfold in real terms. The highest increase (+881% in these 14 years) was for the highest tranche for metered consumption in Lusaka, while the lowest increas (+61%) was for unmetered mid-cost housing in the Southern Province. The average collection efficiency in 2006 was 84%, indicating that 16% of users did not pay their bills.

Financial viability in the sector has improved with six of the nine licensed commercial utilities operating in Zambia reaching operational cost coverage by the end of 2006. Nevertheless, according to another source, in 2005 utilities recovered on average only 67% of their operation "and maintenance" costs based on actually collected revenues. The highest level of cost recovery was achieved in Kafubu (95%) and the lowest in Chambeshi (36%). According to one study, there are two main reasons for the low level of cost recovery despite significant tariff increases:

* A significant increase in non-revenue water from an estimated 28% in 1987 to around 50% in 2006
* A low collection efficiency, due to a large extent to the non-payment of water bills by public institutions.

The share of household expenditures for water among the poor varied from 2.5% to 9.9% in 2002-03. More than 60% of poor households paid more than 3% of their expenditures on water [http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/119389488/PDFSTART Hulya Dagdeviren:Waiting for Miracles: The Commercialization of Urban Water Services in Zambia] , Development and Change, Volume 39, Issue 1, Pages 101 - 121, 2008 ]

The regulator is financed through a 1-2% surcharge on water tariffs.

Investments and Financing

Actual investment. In 2002 total investments in water and sanitation were estimated at US$ 33.5 million, including US$ 33 million by donors and NGOs (98%) and US$ 0.5 million (2%) by the government using its own resources. Government capital expenditures had been budgeted at US$ 6.1 million for 2002, but only 9% of that amount was actually invested.

Investment needs. The Water Supply and Sanitation Development Group prepared a medium-termdevelopment strategy to implement during 1994–2003. Their estimations suggested that the government had to invest between US$ 407 million (a low-cost investment strategy) and US$ 1,553 million (a medium-cost investment strategy) "every year" during this period in order to rehabilitate the existing system and expand the network to avoid any reduction in access rates, i.e. without increasing access rates. Actual investments thus are only a small fraction (8% of the low-cost scenario) of investment needs..

Financing. As pointed out above, 98% of investments in the sector are financed by donros and NGOs. The government has established a Devolution Trust Fund (DTF) to provide financing to increase access in poor urban areas through the use of low-cost technologies. Until 2006 DTF financed water kiosks that provided access to clean water to 120,000 people at a cost of 643,455 Euro. The DTF assigns its funds based on proposals received from water utilities.


The average level of non-revenue water in the commercial utilities operating in urban areas was estimated at about 47% in 2006, varying among utilities between 31% in Chipata and 61% in Lukanga. Staff per 1,000 connections varies between 8 and 19, thus indicating significant overstaffing, since international good practice is less than 8 staff per 1,000 connections. [ [http://www.nwasco.org.zm/media/sector_report_2007.pdf NWASCO Report 2007] , p. 7 ] Benchmarking has shown that performance indicators for utilities have constantly increased since NWASCO began its benchmarking exercise.

External cooperation

A large array of external donors support the water and sanitation sector in Zambia.

Multilateral cooperation. The World Bank assists the sector through a US$ 23m Water Sector Performance Improvement Project approved in 2006. [ [http://web.worldbank.org/external/projects/main?pagePK=64283627&piPK=73230&theSitePK=40941&menuPK=228424&Projectid=P071259 Water Sector Performance Improvement Project] ] In the Central Province the African Development Bank has been supporting the seven local authorities in the institutional reforms and infrastructure rehabilitation. UNICEF in cooperation with the Maureen Mwanawasa Community Initiative, the wife of the late President Mwanawasa. [http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/zambia_25065.html First Lady of Zambia: Clean water gets girls into school] ]

Bilateral cooperation. The Eastern Province, which currently has only Chipata operating as a commercial utility, is receiving support from the German Government to commercialise the service delivery in the rest of the towns in the province. Southern and North-Western commercial utilities have also benefited from German support in terms of infrastructure financing from KfW and technical advice from GTZ. (NWASCO) GTZ also supports the strengthening of NWASCO. [http://www.gtz.de/en/aktuell/6629.htm GTZ:Reform of the water sector] ] Ireland supports the Chambeshi commercial utility.
DANIDA and JICA also support the sector.

NGOs. Among many other NGOs, CARE supports water supply in Zambia.

External links

* [http://www.nwasco.org.zm/ National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO)]


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