2. Mapping key water policies and institutions in African cities

Coping with current and future water challenges requires robust public policies, targeting measurable objectives in predetermined time schedules at the appropriate scale, relying on a clear assignment of duties across responsible authorities and subject to regular monitoring and evaluation. Water governance can greatly contribute to the design and implementation of such policies, in a shared responsibility across levels of government, civil society, businesses and the broader range of stakeholders that have an important role to play alongside policymakers to reap the economic, social and environmental benefits of good water governance.

Assessing the state of play of water governance in African cities requires understanding who does what in water policy design and implementation. Providing such a mapping is the first step to clearly distinguishing key roles and responsibilities for policymaking, policy implementation, operational management, information, monitoring, regulation and financing. This chapter specifies who does what by assessing water-related policies and institutions at the national and city levels in Africa.

The mapping presented at the city level builds upon responses collected from a sample of 36 African cities to an OECD Survey on Water Governance carried out between May and September 2020 (Box 2.1).

The United Nations (UN) Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) report from 2019 provides information with regard to the adoption of national water and sanitation policies in African countries. In 28 African countries (64%), national water policies have been formally approved while they are undergoing revisions in 8 countries (18%) and are under development in 8 countries (18%). The situation is somewhat comparable for sanitation as 25 African countries (57%) have formally approved a national sanitation policy. In 8 countries, this policy is undergoing revisions and in 10 countries, (22%) it is under development. (Figure 2.2). Furthermore, in two-thirds of African countries, the human rights to water and sanitation are recognised in the constitution.

The GLAAS reporting also shows that national plans are fully or partially implemented in 33 African countries (75%) for water and 27 countries (61%) for sanitation (Figure 2.3). Thirty-two African countries developed cost estimates of their water plans and 30 countries for their sanitation plans. However, a lot fewer countries have conducted human resources assessment for their water (18 countries) and sanitation (20 countries) plans. Furthermore, approximately half of the countries report that the financial and human resources they have are less than 50% of what is needed to effectively implement water and sanitation policies. Although two-thirds of African countries have developed agreed financial plans for water (68%) and sanitation (64%), these plans remain insufficiently used and implemented in most countries.

In addition to national water and sanitation policies, African cities take greater leadership to address water-related issues at the local level by adopting and implementing dedicated water and sanitation policies. The OECD Survey on Water Governance in African Cities (2021[1]) shows that about three cities out of four in the respondents’ sample have also adopted local dedicated water and sanitation policies, which include investment plans and programmes. In comparison, only half of the cities have adopted a local policy on water resources management.

In general and where they exist, local water and sanitation policies tend to clearly indicate goals to reach and duties of the involved water institutions. On the contrary, they do not always clearly indicate the resources needed to achieve the goals, thus generating unfunded mandates hampering their implementation (Table 2.2 and Table 2.3). In addition, many local governments do not monitor nor evaluate policies implementation, lacking the setup of corrective actions whenever necessary, based on robust information. The findings are equivalent for local water resource policies.

Eighty percent of the cities that have adopted a local water resource policy have also developed a local dedicated water and sanitation policy. As such, these cities have developed a comprehensive local water policy thus avoiding a silo approach that often generates poor planning, a lack of policy coherence and misalignment of incentives. Within the sample of surveyed cities, six cities declare that they have adopted neither a local water and sanitation policy nor a local water resource policy, whereas another five cities did not provide an answer.

Examples of dedicated water and sanitation policies at the local level include for instance generic social measures and targeted provisions towards vulnerable categories of population. Indeed, half of the respondent cities have set up measures to guarantee a minimum water volume for basic needs, whether these measures derive from national or local policies. As an illustration, this volume amounts to 7 m3/capita in Benin, 55 l/capita/day in Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo) and 10.5 m3/household/month in Cape Town (South Africa). Furthermore 79% of the surveyed cities are implementing social measures with regard to access to water and sanitation services (Figure 2.4). These measures take the form of a social water or/and sanitation tariff (27%) or a social connection rate (14%), or both (55%). In Senegal, the national water provider SONES has set up a social connection programme allowing low-income customers to have access to the network for free whereas the average cost exceeds XOF 100 000. To date, more than 200 000 social connections have been installed, as well as 1 500 standpipes.

The GLAAS report states that almost all African countries have adopted water and sanitation national policies and measures to reach poor populations. The situation is more nuanced with regard to affordability schemes. Thirty-four African countries (in a sample of 44) have set such schemes for water supply but only half of them are reported to be widely used, while another 7 countries have not established any affordability scheme.

In addition to social tariffs or connection fees, cities have implemented other explicit measures at the local level to guarantee access to water and/or sanitation services to vulnerable groups. In 58% of the surveyed cities, these measures are targeted towards the poor population and, in 42% of the cases, they are targeted towards population living in informal settlements which can represent up to three-quarters of the city’s overall population. In one-third of the cities, some measures concern indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, or people living with disabilities. Women or female-headed households benefit from specific measures in 14% of the surveyed cities only. The latter raises particular challenges in terms of gender and inclusion overall since in many countries, women and girls are tasked with the management of household water supply, sanitation and health as they are often in charge of food production and preparation, care of domestic animals, personal hygiene, care of the sick, cleaning, washing and waste disposal (Box 2.2).

Access to safe and sufficient water supply and improved sanitation facilities has a heavy impact on the lives of women and girls. In the absence of such access, they have to discharge related difficult and time-consuming tasks, which precludes other occupations or participation in education. It also puts women at risk of abuse and attacks while walking to and using a toilet or open defecation site, as they have specific hygiene needs during menstruation, pregnancy and child rearing.

At the local level, gender-sensitive approaches that involve women at design, implementation and management phases are proving successful to improve the suitability, sustainability and reach of water and sanitation services. Embedding further gender equity into policies at all levels will be crucial to achieving many parts of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda. One illustrative case is that of the Obudu Plateau in Nigeria, where the construction of a tourist resort exacerbated existing pressures and tensions around water resources (Majekodunmi, 2006[8]). As a result, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation implemented a Watershed Management Project in 1999. Women were included throughout all stages, including the design, implementation and monitoring of the project, and elected to the management committee. This allowed the resolution of a water conflict between the Becheve women and the Fulani herdsmen, and reduced diarrhoea cases by 45%. The considerable reduction in the time needed to collect water also gave women more time for income-generating activities such as farming as well as other activities, in addition to increasing the rate of school attendance for girls. The World Bank Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project, carried out in 6 Moroccan provinces, reduced the time spent by women and girls collecting water by between 50% and 90% (World Bank, 2003[9]). As a result, the school attendance of girls in these provinces increased by 20% in 4 years.

In a majority of African countries, water policy is driven at the national level by a line ministry. A large number of African countries have also set up national water service providers, thus amplifying further the leadership of the national level over water policies (Figure 2.5). As an illustration, in 71% of the countries where respondent cities from the OECD survey sample are located, the national level is responsible for the provision of water supply and sanitation (WSS) services throughout the country’s territory (Table 2.2). Another consequence of this centralised institutional setting is that the national level is also in charge of most regulatory functions including tariff setting, quality standards definition and monitoring, and consumer protection and engagement. As a result, 78% of the surveyed cities reported not having any control over their water tariffs and two-thirds not overseeing any water utility business plan.

The OECD survey results provide further information regarding some characteristics of WSS utilities in African cities:

  • There is a predominance of single operators for service provision at the city level, whether it be a municipal or a national service provider.

  • Utilities are operated by public operators in two-thirds of the surveyed cities. Private operators are running services in about a quarter of the respondent cities, while in the remaining ones, services are operated by a mix of public and private operators.

  • Nine cities out of ten declare to be delivering water mainly through in-house domestic connections and public standpipes. Access to water through shared yard-tap connections is also widespread in two-thirds of the cities, as well as boreholes and wells. In the case of water shortage, some formal water providers resort to delivering water through tanker trucks or bottled water (Figure 2.6).

This variety of water access forms illustrates the capacity of local governments to develop tailor-made and place-based responses. This includes the ability to adapt service quality standards to local needs and the specific context of disfavoured neighbourhoods and vulnerable urban areas. Initiatives such as flow limiters, the use of plastic-bodied water meters, ground tanks and semi-pressure water service levels, were first introduced to South Africa by the water service of eThekwini (Box 2.3) in order to provide water supply in informal settlements. At the same time, this diversity of access forms generates some co-ordination and regulation challenges. For instance, in Cape Town during the water crisis, many residents and businesses developed alternative water supplies including drilling private boreholes, in response to the severe water restrictions and penalty tariffs for high volume consumers decided by the city. The legal status of these boreholes was poorly defined (guidelines were issued in 2018 by the National Department for Water and Sanitation) and they have led to over-abstraction, illegal resale of water, inadequate water quality compliance and difficulties to get people to register their boreholes through the online registry. Unregulated boreholes are likely to pose a long-term threat to the recharge and sustainability of underground water bodies, as well as quality issues due to possible contaminated aquifers in the absence of protected areas. Moreover, the unregulated use of groundwater is competing with legal use granted through water licences.

  • In three cities out of four, formal sanitation service is provided through flush or pour-flush to piped sewers,1 or to open drain mainly in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. More than half of the cities also provide access to sanitation through a ventilated improved pit, and one-third through open pits (Figure 2.7).


[6] Dos Santos S, W. (2016), Les Objectifs du Millénaire pour le Développement, l’accès à l’eau et les rapports de genre, pp. 63-78.

[12] eThekwini Municipality (2019), eThekwini Water and Sanitation Service Level Standards, 13th edition, July 2019/2020.

[8] Majekodunmi, A. (2006), Using Gender Mainstreaming Processes to Help Protect Drinking.

[1] OECD (2021), OECD Survey on Water Governance in African Cities, OECD, Paris.

[7] Santos, S. et al. (2017), “Urban growth and water access in sub-Saharan Africa: Progress, challenges, and emerging research directions”, Science of the Total Environment, Vol. 607-608, pp. 497-508.

[5] UNDP (2006), Human Development Report 2006. Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis.

[3] UN-Water (2019), Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) 2019 Report, United Nations.

[2] UN-Water (2019), National Systems to Support Drinking-water, Sanitation and Hygiene – Global Status Report 2019, United Nations.

[4] WHO/UNICEF (2015), Progress on sanitation and drinking water: 2015 update and MDG assessment, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/177752/1/9789241509145_eng.pdf.

[11] World Bank (2006), “Taking account of the poor in water sector regulation”, Water Supply & Sanitation Working Notes, No. 11, World Bank, Washington, DC.

[9] World Bank (2003), Implementation Completion Report. Report No. 25917.

[10] World Bank (n.d.), World Bank Aggregation Toolkit (interactive map), https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water/publication/water-aggregation-toolkit.


← 1. The survey included the following sanitation categories: flush/pour-flush to piped sewer, or to septic tank, or to pit latrine or to open drain; ventilated improved pit latrine, pit latrine with slab; open pit; buckets; hanging toilet/latrine.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2021

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.