Analysis: LOUIS MWAPE
TWO years ago, the formation of a stand-alone Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection, as well as the launch of the National Non-Revenue Water (NRW) Reduction Strategy, added a new twist to the evolving water sector narrative.
There is no doubt, those two chapters began as already remarkable stories and a number of significant developments today can be attributed as proof of their impact.
There have been sector reforms and a clarion call from the Central Government, to all players to collectively rise above issues hampering the growth of the industry.
However, the full meaning of many reforms that have taken place in the last two years will be unpacked some time to come, but here are a few quick takeaways about where the sector is seemingly sailing to.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that the formation of the ministry was unprecedented and perceived by many as a precursor of so many good things to come.
Not too long after its establishment, Permanent Secretary Bishop Edward Chomba echoed that the creation meant that 50 percent of all water matters were already resolved.
It also meant that commercial utilities, the regulator and all water engineers would be sitting under one roof, under one minister and one permanent secretary, and that there would be seamless coordination in terms of policy implementation and execution of projects.
Bishop Chomba explained that the ministry will solve most of the problems because it will be able to do a normal Gantt chart for all players, adding that it will not only focus on issues of sanitation and domestic water but also infrastructure development.
Consequently, at one level, it is easy to assume that investor confidence in the sector has been increasing because of recent happenings. Players seem to ramp up efforts in terms of financing water projects. In December 2016, for instance, the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved a US$135 million loan to finance a water and sanitation programme, targeting 12 towns located in four provinces of Zambia. The project is yet to be completed.
On the Copperbelt, Kafubu Water and Sewerage Company Limited recently received funding to a tune of US$450 million to complete the Kafulafuta Water Supply Project, which is aimed at reducing NRW from the current 50 percent to 20, and also boost water supply.
There is also an indication that Central Province is set to benefit from the K14.5 million Mkushi-Itala Water Supply Improvement project, and the K13.5 million Makululu Water Supply Improvement project.
With these and many other projects in the pipeline coming either through financing by the Government or other financiers, the general consensus is that the ministry has recorded significant progress in terms of lobbying for projects and it might soon exceed expectations of many.
However, one cannot call those developments as a complete success because the ministry and the sector at large still have some other mountains to climb, too.
For instance, high NRW remains one of the most eminent onslaughts threatening the water sector and it clamours for urgent attention. Currently, the national NRW statistics remain at 49 percent against the acceptable benchmark loss of 25 percent.
In a layman’s language, NRW is the difference between the quantity of treated water distributed in the network and the quantity of water billed. It is the water that has been produced and lost due to leakages, illegal connections, unbilled customers, or wastage on unmetered customers’ premises, among other things.
What this means is that plans to improve service delivery and extending water and sanitation services to unserved areas by commercial utilities will remain a daunting task. This is because the much needed resources that could help supplement capital projects continue to be lost through NRW.
Though the launch of a national strategy may have seemed to be a throw-away group discussion at that time, looking back, it’s obvious that it was actually the tone-setting template that demonstrated Government’s passionate fight against water losses.
It was also a sign of a warm embrace for absolutely every reform and effort that utilities were trying to replicate in order to thwart the vice. The question as to whether the sector has busted down all the barriers since the launch of the new Ministry and the National NRW strategy becomes hard to tell, but there is certainly so much optimism, considering huge projects that are coming on board.
On the other hand, individual commercial utilities seem to be making frantic efforts in combating water losses.
Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited (LgWSC) was recognised as the most improved commercial utility in terms of curbing NRW during the launch of the 2016 sector report. However, the company still acknowledges that a lot of work lies ahead of it in terms of combating the vice. Its 2017-2020 Strategic Plan aims at reducing its NRW from 43 percent to 25 by 2030.
With a number of milestones that could be referred to as fair winning streak in the last two years, the water sector is poised for significant growth.
The author is communications officer at Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited.
Analysis: LOUIS MWAPE