3. Water governance challenges in African cities

The OECD Principles on Water Governance aim to enhance water governance systems that help manage “too much”, “too little” and “too polluted” water and foster universal access to drinking water and sanitation, in a sustainable, integrated and inclusive way, at an acceptable cost and in a reasonable time frame. The principles acknowledge that good governance is a means to an end to master complexity and managing trade-offs in a policy domain that is highly sensitive to fragmentation, silos, scale mismatch, negative externalities, monopolies and large capital-intensive investment. They consider that governance is good if it can help to solve key water challenges, using a combination of bottom-up and top-down processes while fostering constructive state-society relations. It is bad if it generates undue transaction costs and does not respond to place-based needs. The OECD Principles on Water Governance intend to contribute to tangible and outcome-oriented public policies, based on three mutually reinforcing and complementary dimensions of water governance (Box 3.1).

This chapter uses the 12 OECD Principles on Water Governance to assess a number of key governance challenges for water resources management and water and sanitation services in African cities. The following sections put particular emphasis on issues related to scale mismatch, policy coherence, data and evaluation, funding, integrity and transparency and stakeholder engagement. Issues related to Principle 1 on institutional fragmentation were covered under Chapter 2. Principle 8 on innovative water governance practices could not be appraised because of lack of data from city respondents. Principle 7 on regulatory frameworks is not investigated either because of the highly centralised regulatory frameworks in African countries and the rather limited prerogatives at the local level. Finally, Principle 4 on capacity is covered in a cross-cutting fashion under the specific governance gaps hereinafter analysed.

Weak articulation between institutional, functional and hydrological logics affects urban water management because cities sit on watersheds, bounded hydrologic systems, which do not correspond to administrative perimeters. In the absence of integrated basin governance systems, such a mismatch between hydrological and administrative boundaries can have consequences in terms of competition over water uses and effectiveness of service delivery. In order to address water governance properly, there is a need to consider the territorial continuity as the basin scale links upstream and downstream communities. In the case of water, beyond the functional and institutional/administrative perspectives, the watershed, which follows hydrological logics, must be considered.

Integrated water resource management (IWRM) is “a process, which promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems” (Global Water Partnership, 2000[2]). By bringing together stakeholders from various sectors and across levels of government, IWRM promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, thus providing a holistic framework for addressing water-related challenges. At their core, IWRM frameworks ensure that water resources are developed, managed and used in an equitable, sustainable and efficient manner.

The reporting of United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.5.1 on “implementation of integrated water resources management” shows that 42 African countries (82%) have adopted IWRM based policies, laws and plans at the national level, thus establishing an enabling environment to support IWRM implementation. However, at the subnational level, only 45% of African countries have approved plans for most of their basins or aquifers. Furthermore, progress is lowest at the basin/aquifer level when comparing the seven enabling environment IWRM elements (Figure 3.2).

While some IWRM institutional arrangements are in place in most African countries, implementation of such arrangements remains limited, with generally low capacity, geographic coverage and stakeholder participation. More than half of African countries (53%) have “medium-low” implementation of IRWM (AMCOW, 2018[3]). Important variations are noted between countries and regions across Africa, Northern and Southern Africa having higher levels of IWRM implementation than other African regions.

The SDG 6.5.1 monitoring shows that approximately 55% of African countries either have no basin or aquifer plans or are currently developing them (Figure 3.3). Furthermore, too few African cities and basins count with water allocation regimes, which, along with the limited participation of local governments into river basin committees, can threaten sustainable urban water resource management.

Finally, the SDG 6 reporting for Africa concludes that 71% of countries are unlikely to meet the global target of SDG 6.5.1 by 2030 unless progress is significantly accelerated. To improve IWRM implementation, African countries should increase efforts to establish and support groundwater and river basin institutions following the successful examples of the International Commission of the Congo-Oubangui-Sangha Basin or the Organisation for the Development of the Senegal River (Box 3.2).

The state of play of IWRM at the national level in African countries is mirrored at the subnational level. The results of the OECD Survey on Water Governance in 36 African cities show that approximately two-thirds of the surveyed cities are not part of any river basin organisation and as such do not take part in water resource management decision-making at the river basin level. River basin organisations are important tools for co-ordinating water policy at the territorial level, across sectors, stakeholders and between levels of government. Indeed, they can be useful to: manage water at the appropriate scale through integrated basin governance to reflect local conditions and foster multi-level co-operation for the management of water resources; encourage sound hydrological cycle management; and promote adaptive and mitigation strategies.

Beyond river basin organisation, some surveyed cities declare that they use other co-ordination tools or institutions to co-ordinate urban water policy across levels of government and stakeholders. For instance, they take part in co-ordination platforms between local authorities and utilities (44%) or inter-municipal co-operation (36%).

As many decisions affecting urban water management are taken outside the water arena and vice-versa (spatial planning, agriculture, energy, etc.), co-ordination is essential to ensure a whole-of-government approach through which water can become a factor for sustainable growth and contribute to the broader economic, social and environmental agenda. On the contrary, conflicting objectives and rationalities compromise long-term targets for integrated urban water policy and cross-sectoral co-ordination. This can happen either because of diverging interests between water-related fields or because of scarce vertical and horizontal co-ordination across levels of government.

According to the OECD survey responses, land use and spatial planning are the sectoral policies that most affect urban water management, followed by public health, building codes and solid waste (Figure 3.4). A third of the surveyed cities have put in place a range of cross-sectoral co-ordination tools to foster policy coherence in these different domains comprising joint planning or programmes, partnerships, a platform for dialogue, co-ordination groups, or contracts.

In the following sections, a specific zoom is provided on the influence of policies related to land use and spatial planning, public health and solid waste on water-related policies.

Land use policy and water policy are intertwined. The alteration of landscape affects water resources availability, quality and quantity. Ecosystems functions are heavily impaired when land use is modified. For example, where previously forested slopes retained soil sediment and moisture, conversion to agriculture may reduce dry season stream flows and generate higher sediment runoff, soil erosion or diffuse pollution. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region that has lost the largest share of its forest land (12%) over the past 25 years.

Conversion of land into built and urbanised areas is also affecting water availability, quantity and quality. Buildings, roads, roofs, paved areas and other hard surfaces prevent rainfall from infiltrating into the soil, thus exacerbating flooding risks. Urban catchments in African cities often face significant land development pressures for agriculture or urban settlements (Figure 3.5). Water security can be at risk when cities are relying exclusively on surface water sources for their water supply, like in Cape Town, South Africa, for instance. It may also generate important additional investment costs to safeguard or augment water supply sources.

Land use modification also alters species and their habitats. In Eastern Africa, the conversion of natural landscapes into cropland and livestock grazing resulted in soil modification affecting native plant species, which induced a reduction in the number and diversity of wildlife (The Nature Conservancy, 2016[7]). The unplanned urbanisation of African cities is also impeding further the development and implementation of coherent environmental and ecosystem conservation policies that could reduce water risks.

Acknowledging the influence of land use policy upon urban water policy, some cities set up tools to ensure better cross-sectoral policy coherence at the local level (Box 3.3). Nevertheless, most African cities are often struggling with overlapping and contradictory property systems, in which rights are often unclear and administrative systems function poorly. In Western Africa, for example, only 2%-3% of land is held with a government registered title. In several cases, the lack of coherence across sectoral policies has impeded the implementation of social measures to promote water access. In Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, a 75% subsidy was offered to low-income households for their first piped connection to the formal water supply. However, households had to provide proof of legal settlement; hence, the poor living in unplanned urban areas were usually not eligible for the subsidy (Ainuson, 2010[8]). In addition, across the continent, planning regulations are often anachronistic, restrictive and impracticable from an enforcement point of view (Lall, Henderson and Venables, 2017[9]).

The interactions between public health policy and urban water management are also strong, as the COVID-19 pandemic showed (see Chapter 1). Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Microbiological contamination of groundwater and water-related diseases challenging for sub-Saharan Africa with low-income groups and children being disproportionately affected (Howard G, 2006[11]). The lack of access to clean water, sanitation and handwashing facilities is a leading to the death of some 842 000 people each year from diarrhoea, including 361 000 children aged under 5 each year (WHO Africa, 2021[12]). Faecal waste is the largest source of contamination in urban groundwater, in particular where there is high-density housing with poor and/or inadequate sanitation facilities and treatment. Water cuts and shortages in African cities also require households to switch temporarily from their principal water supply source to an alternative one, whether improved or not. This potentially generates varying social and health impacts on users, depending on the context (Santos et al., 2017[13]). The Kampala Water and Sanitation Forum (KWSF) facilitate co-ordination of stakeholders in developing an integrated water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector to develop and support the citywide integrated hygiene education/promotion strategy for upscaling public health and environmental management in Kampala (Box 3.4).

Solid waste management also has a great impact on urban water management. With collection rates below 50% in many African cities (Table 3.1), unmanaged urban waste is increasing water risks. Indeed, this low level of service and the common lack of guidelines for the management of sanitary landfills are affecting water quality, generating runoff pollution into rivers and coastal waters. The lack of waste management also leads to blocked waterways which exacerbate flood and health risks (Lall, Henderson and Venables, 2017[9]). The situation is especially problematic in informal settlements where garbage piles up along walkways and roads, and in gutters, drains and waterways.

Understanding water systems that get more and more complex in a rapidly changing environment is a huge challenge that water managers have to face. Continuous monitoring of water systems and processes therefore appears crucial. As stated by the UN, “Data is the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Quality and timely data are vital for enabling governments, international organisations, civil society, the private sector and the general public to make informed decisions and to ensure the accountability of representative bodies” (n.d.[15]). Data and data-related analytics make it possible to understand complex water systems from a holistic perspective. Nevertheless, an increasing number of institutions face a widening gap between emerging realities (like growing populations, climate change and rapid digitalisation) and their existing practices and capacities.

The GLAAS report 2019 provides information with regard to monitoring and evaluation practices of SDG 6 in African countries. In 34% of African countries (15 countries), regulatory authorities do not release publicly accessible reports on drinking water quality. The proportion reduces to 16% of countries (7 countries) for reports on treated wastewater flows and faecal sludge volumes (Figure 3.6). In all remaining countries, information is either partially published, not published or absent.

Data regarding the frequency of drinking water and sanitation surveillance against requirement also shows that much progress still needs to be made in Africa, as 27 countries do not monitor drinking water quality according to frequency requirements while 11 countries did not set any surveillance frequency requirements at all. Data for sanitation describe a similar situation with 20 countries not fulfilling monitoring frequency requirements while 18 countries did not set any surveillance frequency requirements at all (Figure 3.7). This situation is likely to generate issues with regard to the accuracy, the consistency and comparability of data, which can finally result in not being policy-relevant.

The GLAAS report shows encouraging results with regard to the use of performance indicators, especially for water quality. However, much progress is still needed for treated effluent quality and sanitation (Figure 3.8).

Missing information remains a prominent obstacle to effective water policy implementation in most African countries. Substantive problems with data inhibit integrated water resource management (IWRM) as mentioned in the first section of Chapter 3. This lack of data and information is further hampering any water policy evaluation and monitoring. The absence of periodical review and scrutiny of water policies is preventing the assessment of policies effectiveness and potentially from implementing remedial actions when policies are not delivering intended outcomes. Data and information gaps also hinder governments from taking water policy decisions based on updated and reliable evidence.

At the local level, the OECD Survey on Water Governance in African Cities (2021[6]) shows a contrasted situation with partial and incomplete water-related data and information available in half of the cities surveyed. In the other half, WSS performance indicators are routinely used. For WSS, these data mainly concern water and wastewater quality, and the costs associated with the service provision (Figure 3.9). In the Central African Republic, for instance, the city of Bangui has access to the data produced as part of the national survey on municipalities’ profile (World Bank, 2017[18]).

These results (Table 3.2) underline that most surveyed cities have some data available (more on water and wastewater quality than on cost recovery and affordability, for instance) which can be used to guide their WSS urban policy decision-making. In addition, in 61% of the surveyed cities, water and sanitation utilities are using performance indicators to monitor the quality and performance of WSS provision. This information is generally published yearly in reports available to the public (Table 3.3 and Table 3.4).

With regard to water resource management, half of the surveyed cities produce or have access to data regarding water abstractions, water-related disasters and meteorological information at the city level (Figure 3.10).

In one-third of the surveyed African cities, key data on water resources management are produced regularly at the city level (Table 3.5). When these data exist, they are often part of a harmonised, integrated, standardised and co-ordinated information system across the country. However, the survey shows that such data are not frequently publicly available and communicated to users (only one out four times). In addition, missing and patchy information stemming from incomplete, outdated and/or fragmented data, remains a prominent obstacle to effective water policy implementation, evaluation and monitoring in most cities surveyed.

According to SDG 6 monitoring, 27% of the sub-Saharan population use a safely managed drinking water service and 18% a safely managed sanitation service (UN-Water, 2017[21]). In sub-Saharan urban areas, this proportion reaches 50% for water and 20% for sanitation. Hence considerable investment efforts are still required to achieve SDG 6.1.1 and 6.2.1 targets by 2030. Furthermore, among the 25 African countries reporting in the GLAAS report 2019 (UN-Water, 2019[17]) on national systems to support drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, 20 declared that the financing allocated to sanitation improvements correspond to less than 50% of what is actually needed to meet national targets.

The OECD Council (OECD, 2016[22]) recommends setting up measures for the sustainable financing of water services, water infrastructures, water resources management and protection of water-related ecosystems by:

  1. 1. Considering the following four principles for financing water resources management: “polluter pays”, “beneficiary pays”, equity and coherence between policies that affect water resources.

  2. 2. Aiming for the greatest social returns to investment, for example through:

    • Exploring options that can minimise current or future financing needs while addressing trade-offs and exploiting synergies between policy objectives and between short- and long-term challenges.

    • Taking stock of existing assets, maintaining them, looking for efficiency gains.

    • Developing strategic financial plans that match financial resources with policy objectives and ensuring affordability for vulnerable segments of society, including through ad hoc targeted measures.

    • Setting up an independent review of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of investments.

  3. 3. Considering diversifying revenue streams and tapping into new sources of capital, where needed and in line with policy objectives. A first step could be to combine revenues from water tariffs, transfers from public budgets and transfers from the international community to recover the costs of investment, operation and maintenance of water infrastructure as much as possible and where efficient.

The OECD makes a distinction between the three ultimate sources of finance for water-related investments (revenues from tariffs, taxes and transfers from the international community) and other sources of repayable finance (loans, bonds, etc.) (Figure 3.11). Taxes and tariffs are very important for not only raising revenue but also for demand management and signalling the value of water, water services and water security.

Repayable sources of finance require a creditworthy borrower, which can provide a financial return. Notably, there is a growing consensus that mobilising commercial finance (through blended finance or other means, such as a combination of equity and debt) will be instrumental to achieve the SDGs and provide the incentives to put the water sectors’ financing on a more sustainable footing. Bearing in mind the megatrends that affect African countries, achieving the SDGs for water and sanitation throughout the African continent will require consistent investment in water infrastructure, operations and maintenance, efficient management of water resources, and strengthened policy and regulatory frameworks. Current annual total spending in the region represents USD 8-13 billion (Figure 3.12). Compared to the estimated annual need of USD 22 billion (USD 15 billon capital expenditure and USD 7 billion for operations and maintenance), the yearly expenditure fulfils between 34% and 60% of the projected needs (ICA, 2019[24]).

Furthermore, it is estimated that the annual costs required addressing issues related to access to sanitation, access to drinking water, water resource management and water scarcity represent 1.44% of the African continent gross domestic product (GDP) (Figure 3.13).

When solely focusing on investment, Eastern Africa, which represents one-third of the total African population, accounted for the largest share (31%) of new investment in the water and sanitation sector across Africa. Northern Africa accounted for 20% while representing 18% of the African inhabitants. The Republic of South Africa accounted for 18%, while Southern Africa (5% of the African population) and Western Africa (30% of the African population) accounted for 12%. Only 7% of new funding for water and sanitation was invested in Central Africa (representing 13% of the continent’s population) (Figure 3.14).

National governments in Africa need to dramatically increase the amounts of public funding invested in WASH services. Official development assistance, although critical is insufficient. It can, however, help leverage investments from other sources, such as commercial and blended finance, including from the private sector. A certain proportion of the investment gap could also be covered through increased efficiency with technical losses representing from 20% to 50%, and collection ratio ranging from 80% to 95% throughout Africa (IBNet, n.d.[26]). Subsidies and tariff structures must also be appropriately designed, targeted and implemented with the objectives to achieve sustainability, equity, affordability and the appropriate level of service for all.

Confirming the existing funding gap, all surveyed African cities declare that lack of funding is the first obstacle to good water governance and is also the first water-related priority for the future. Surveyed cities also note that the ageing, obsolete or absence of infrastructure is another major challenge that they have to face especially in a context of rapid urbanisation and population growth. Indeed, long-lasting underinvestment has jeopardised the development and provision of needed urban water infrastructure. Thus, all surveyed cities declare that building, operating and maintaining WSS infrastructure is a top priority on their agenda.

Tariffs and subsidies are the most commonly used funding sources for utilities. A total of 70% of the cities surveyed state that formal urban water services are resorting to tariffs and subsidies (Table 3.6) and about half of the cities surveyed use transfers as a funding source for their water services. It should be noted that 44% of the respondent cities have set up cross-subsidy schemes through the implementation of a differentiated water tariff for industrial or large consumers. A total of 58% of the cities surveyed use tariffs as a funding source for formal urban sanitation services, while half of the cities declare that subsidies are also an important source of financing. Both for water and sanitation, official development assistance (ODA) is a funding source that is less resorted to by cities (in number not in volume).

In Africa, water tariff setting is mostly driven at the national level either by a national service provider, a line ministry or a national regulator. As a result, 79% of the surveyed cities state that they do not make decisions over water tariff setting as there is uniform national guidance. This is, for instance, the case in Morocco where a ministerial decision is providing the specifications for water tariff setting or in Ghana where the Public Utility Regulatory Commission is setting the tariff policy.

Some countries, like Côte d’Ivoire, as part of their centralised tariff setting policy, have established the operating cost recovery principle as a rule for urban WSS. Operating costs of urban WSS must be covered by revenues from the water sales without resorting to resources from the central state budget. In addition, two earmarked funds financed via the water invoice have been set up, namely the National Water Fund and the Development Fund. The former ensures the repayment of loans contracted for the benefit of the water supply and sanitation sector while the latter finances social connections, works to renew installations, works to strengthen and extend the network, and invests in works.

Water abstraction and pollution charges are another economic instrument that can help manage resources through partially reflecting some of the costs associated with using or polluting it. These charges can be used to fund the costs of managing water resources and regulating activities that impact water availability and quality. The general principle for setting water abstraction or pollution charges is to reflect the externalities that related actions by one user cause to third parties and the environment. However, this task requires an important capacity to produce, update and share consistent and comparable data and information on the state of environment and resources, and to carry out technical and socio-economic assessments.

While pollution and abstraction charges are often driven by national regulatory and policy frameworks, there are not common in all African countries and cities. Abstraction charges are being collected in 58% of the cities surveyed, whereas pollution charges are less developed (36%) (Table 3.7). Reasons for the slower uptake of pollution charges in the management of water pollution may include: political resistance from polluters; limited data on the costs of environmental degradation; difficulties in measuring sources of pollution and attributing them to polluters.

The absence, low level or low enforcement of economic instruments to manage water resources in African cities can represent a threat to water security in the region. For instance, although charges for water resource management and waste discharge exist in South Africa, they are set too low to serve as an effective economic instrument to manage water resources. Indeed, economic tools could be used to force water users and polluters to internalise the economic consequences of their water abstraction/pollution and encourage a behavioural change, and to fund the costs of managing water resources and regulating activities that impact water availability and quality.

Water infrastructure is typically capital-intensive and long-lived with high sunk costs, which exposes the sector to important corruption risks unless sound integrity, transparency and procurement frameworks are in place across the national and local levels. Water infrastructure calls for a high initial investment mainly funded through public expenditure (see the previous section) and procurement. Public procurement represents on average 13% to 20% of world GDP. Global expenditure in procurement is estimated at nearly USD 9.5 trillion throughout the world (World Bank, 2021[27]) and, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 10% to 25% of a public contract’s overall value may be lost due to corruption (UNODC, 2013[28]).

Mainstreaming integrity and transparency practices across water policies, water institutions and water governance frameworks are key for greater accountability and trust in decision-making, and effective implementation of water policies. A low level of adoption of integrity tools can be a major threat to water security as investments can be discouraged by widespread corruption practices, despite considerable needs. For instance, this can prevent the increase in water and sanitation coverage thus hindering the potential for economic development, health and hygiene improvement, or ecosystems preservation. According to the UN Global Programme Against Corruption (UNDP, 2011[29]), corruption emphasises water scarcity threat by undermining government institutions, increasing the gap between rich and poor, and fostering illicit behaviours, which in turn threatens social and political stability and triggers violence. Whereas the magnitude of corruption varies substantially between countries and across areas of the water sector, the World Bank (World Bank, 2006[30]) has assessed that 20% to 40% of the water sector finances are being lost to dishonest practices.

Corruption remains a prevalent issue in Africa as sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest-scoring region of Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, with many of the region’s countries among the worst-performing, although Botswana, Cabo Verde and the Seychelles rank among the top 25% worldwide (Transparency International, 2020[31]). However, there is a large diversity of situations across the continent with most Northern African countries in the top two-thirds performing countries, (with the exception of Libya) as well as Rwanda.

The water sector is no exception to corruption in Africa: 20% of respondents from 34 African countries having tried to obtain utility services (water, sanitation and electricity) claimed to have paid some form of bribe between 2016 and 2018, and over half of the respondents said that their governments were “failing” them in the provision of clean water and sanitation services (Howard, 2020[32]).

The diverse forms of corruption and integrity failures in the water sector have a wide range of consequences: they increase costs, lead to poor delivery outcomes and undermine social trust. Reducing costs and promoting trust is essential; especially in the context of a pandemic like COVID-19 where public resources are under pressure and the stakes of non-compliance with government recommendations are high. Because it is hidden from public view, corruption is difficult to quantify but some estimates are available: for example, research from Kenya suggests that corruption may have accounted for at least 4% of total public WASH expenditure in 2015/16 (Water Integrity Network, forthcoming[33]).

Promoting transparency and integrity in the water sector in Africa is crucial to ensure efficient, cost-effective and fair access to water and sanitation. The OECD Survey on Water Governance in African Cities (2021[6]) highlights the ongoing efforts to adopt integrity and transparency tools at the city level. For instance, in 58% of the surveyed cities, water accounts are separated from city accounts thus ensuring a clear identification of water-related revenues and spending. However, these efforts need to be strengthened. Less than half of the surveyed cities declare that clear procurement processes or clear budget transparency principles are duly applied. Only one-third of the surveyed cities have annual disclosure of financial information of water and sanitation services, or random audits, or anti-bribery management systems (Table 3.8).

In a rapidly changing and connected world where climate change, population growth, urban development, rising water need for energy and food, natural disasters and water risks are likely to damage societies and the environment, stakeholders must be empowered to act together to shape water governance. Stakeholders that compose the water sector play a crucial role in determining the outcome of a given policy or project. They can initiate and support it, but they can also oppose efforts, attempt to block them or divert them to serve their own aims. Stakeholder engagement provides opportunities to share objectives, experiences and responsibilities, and to secure more support to the solutions that will be reached while voicing and addressing concerns and interests. As such, stakeholder engagement is a means for groups and individuals to share tasks and responsibilities in a sector where they often contribute to challenges as well as solutions.

The reporting of SDG 6.b.1 on “stakeholder participation” shows that two-thirds of African countries have defined procedures in law or policy for the participation of local communities in water and sanitation planning. On the contrary, only one-third of African countries have developed such participation procedures for water resource planning and management (Figure 3.15).

Furthermore, the extent of local community participation for water and sanitation planning remains moderate to low in urban areas throughout the African continent, thus highlighting the need to improve effective stakeholder engagement (Figure 3.16). This finding is compounded by insufficient financial resources, which hamper the implementation of community participation procedures. Over 85% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa report that financial resources were less than 50% of that needed to support community participation in 2017 (UN-Water, 2019[17]).

These findings are confirmed by the results of the OECD Survey on Water Governance in African Cities (2021[6]), where most respondents declare facing obstacles to engaging stakeholders in water-related matters. The lack of funding, time and staff along with the complexity of the issues at hand or the low capacity of stakeholders to engage in consultation processes represent some of these impediments. The political discontinuity and the weak legal framework to support engagement are also reported as significant issues (Figure 3.17). In such a context, cities believe that improving knowledge, information and competency will be key to strengthen stakeholder engagement and citizen awareness on water-related topics in the future. For instance, in August 2017, the city of Cape Town established a Water Resilience Advisory Committee (WRAC) as a response to the drought crisis in order to gather a variety of stakeholders outside the municipal administration and foster information and knowledge. In its 2019 Water Strategy (City of Cape Town, 2019[34]), Cape Town capitalised on this experience to further create a Collaborative Resilience Action Plan - a multi-stakeholder platform to co-ordinate efforts and improve governance and decision-making during any crisis.

In addition to the above-mentioned obstacles, African cities also declare that some categories of stakeholders are more difficult to engage with than others. Service providers (28%) and central government (28%) are reported as the most difficult counterparts to engage with, followed by vulnerable groups (19%). In response, 42% of cities have implemented specific mechanisms for poor populations and population living in informal settlements. For instance, in Accra, the Ghana Water Company Limited established a unique Low-Income Customer Support Unit (LICSU) to exclusively deal with unserved areas in the country. The LICSU ensures that newly developed and unserved urban settlements are piped and connected to the network. This unit provides affordable and sustainable solutions to increase access to safely managed drinking water for the urban poor. In 2019, the unit successfully managed to connect almost 10 000 low-income households to piped water supply.

Besides the difficulties encountered to engage with stakeholders, African cities are primarily lacking basic knowledge about the stakeholders they should engage with. More than three surveyed cities out of four have not carried out a stakeholder mapping for their water sector (Figure 3.18). Such mapping allows to clearly identify public, private and non-profit actors that have a stake in the outcome or that are likely to be affected by water-related decisions, as well as their responsibilities, core motivations and interactions. This mapping can be considered as a first step to guide and build stakeholder engagement processes.

However, if few cities have conducted stakeholder mapping, several water utilities have. This is, for instance, the case of the water and sanitation service provider Lyonnaise des Eaux Casablanca (LYDEC) in Morocco (Box 3.5) or of the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) in Uganda (Box 3.6). In both cases, utilities also resort to specific engagement mechanisms.

Cities are using a variety of mechanisms to engage with water-related stakeholders (Figure 3.19). Meetings (56%) and workshops (44%) are the predominant engagement tools, followed by citizen committees (42%) and subnational water institutions such as river basin organisations (42%). In Cameroon, the city of Bangangté has set up a water and sanitation communal committee as a forum for discussion, decision-making and action relating to water and sanitation issues at the municipal level. The committee gathers water users as well as municipal officials. Its annual meeting is open to the public and chaired by the mayor. In Lusaka, Zambia, for instance, the Lusaka Water Security Initiative, a multi-stakeholder collaboration platform gathering stakeholders from all sectors, aims to foster dialogue, knowledge sharing, awareness raising, planning and project development in the view to improve water security (Box 3.7).

In a tentative taxonomy, the OECD (2015[39]) describes some of the advantages and drawbacks that both formal and informal engagement mechanisms bring about.

  • Formal mechanisms such as water associations and river basin organisations are often based on the principle of representative democracy, which confers them legitimacy. However, they can also be perceived as single-minded when they focus solely on pushing forward the agenda of a single group of stakeholders. River basin organisations can present challenges in terms of lobbying and consultation capture when discussions and decisions are “highjacked” or monopolised by the interests of certain groups. It can also generate principle-agent tensions by which the person sitting at the table voices his/her own concern rather than representing his/her broader constituency. This should be a key concern when selecting stakeholders to participate in advisory boards, working groups or assemblies.

  • The relatively informal nature of meetings and workshops can foster both deliberation and build a sense of community. They provide an open atmosphere which makes participants generally more willing to discuss issues and maximises dialogues on issues that may not come to light through more structured mechanisms. For instance, meetings and workshops are flexible in terms of timeframe and scale (from community meetings to international conferences) and can apply to a wide range of issues (e.g. from discussing a municipal sewer project to debating on transboundary basin management agreements). They offer an opportunity for anyone to express concerns, access and share information, and gain a better understanding. However, if tools used to involve stakeholders do not have a minimal level of structure and mediation, outcomes may be difficult to incorporate into final decisions. Follow-up is also needed to turn views and concerns into actual contributions to decision-making beyond information sharing.

Critical aspects of governance should guide stakeholder engagement frameworks. Fair and equitable access to engagement opportunities is key to ensure a balanced and representative process that takes into account diverse ideas and opinions. Being transparent and open about the ways to identify stakeholders, choose engagement mechanisms and define the objectives pursued can help to raise interest among stakeholders and develop an understanding of and support for the final decisions. It is not sufficient to provide platforms for stakeholders to share their ideas as decision-makers must also clearly demonstrate how these ideas are taken into account. Procedural transparency and timely disclosure of information, including alternative solutions, are therefore critical to ensure the legitimacy of decision-making processes and their outcomes. Engagement processes may bring together groups with opposing views who fear that their views will not be taken into account. Showing participants what the intention of the process is and how their input will be considered is important to ensure productive discussions and exchange of opinions. It is also important that decision-makers be able to trust the quality and value of input from non-technical experts.


[8] Ainuson, K. (2010), “Urban water politics and water security in disadvantaged urban communities in Ghana”, African Studies Quarterly, Vol. 11/4, p. 59.

[3] AMCOW (2018), Status Report on the Implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management in Africa: A Regional Report for SDG Indicator 6.5.1 on IWRM Implementation.

[4] CICOS (n.d.), Homepage, International Commission for the Congo-Oubangui-Sangha Basin, https://www.cicos.int/.

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