A utility strengthening approach to tackling water scarcity

Themes: Utilities Water
Countries: Zambia

Just a few kilometres from the thunder of the largest waterfall in the world is not the most obvious place to expect water shortages.

Yet in Livingstone, southern Zambia, that’s exactly the situation.

Despite its proximity to Victoria Falls it has, like most cities in Africa, many communities which lack basic services such as water and sanitation.

But what it doesn’t lack, is a utility determined to tackle this issue – Southern Water & Sewerage Company (SWASCO). The utility has recognised the need to extend services into the city’s underserved communities and with the support of WSUP, and funding from enabling partner Wasser fuer Wasser (WfW), is now embarking on a plan to tackle this issue.

Against what the MD of SWASCO describes as a “backdrop of serious challenges in the availability of water resource as a result of the severe drought in the country, especially the southern half of the country”, a stronger utility is vital if all urban residents in Livingstone are to benefit from clean water.

What will SWASCO, which is responsible for water provision in Livingstone, need to do to extend services to the poorest communities?

Building momentum

WSUP’s and WfW’s work with SWASCO commenced last year with an infrastructure project in the peri-urban area of Burton.

Burton has a population of approximately 8,000 people and until a few months ago, most of the residents would have to buy water from the few households that had water connections. The areas was served by dilapidated infrastructure which resulted in high levels of leaks, erratic water supply and poor water quality. The poor relations between SWASCO and the community often led to unpaid water bills, and further deterioration of the service.

With support from WSUP and WfW, SWASCO was able to introduce a new water network, using high quality pipes which are expected to dramatically reduce leakage. The utility in Lusaka, Lusaka Water & Sewerage Company, provided advice on how best to install the pipes to make the most of the advanced polyethylene material.

Residents such as Matilda Mumba Bwalya are now able to get a household connection, guaranteeing a regular supply of water right within their property.

“With the water connected to my house directly, I now start my business early because I do not spend most of my morning fetching water,” says Matilda. “And because of this, I am able to cash more money from my sales which has helped my family.” Matilda used to have to walk 3 kilometres every day to get water for her family’s needs.

To date, well over half the households in the community have connected to the network, taking advantage of a subsidised rate for new connections. Subsidising the connection fee is one of the first steps taken by SWASCO towards assuring the community that as a utility, they are committed to providing improved services to low income areas as well as ensuring that effective channels of communication between the community and service provider are established.

Utility strengthening

But the project in Burton is just the start. Building infrastructure is important, and a visible way to build momentum, but its only one piece of the puzzle. In order to deliver effective services, other challenges need to be addressed. How can the utility best engage with low-income customers? Does it need to adapt its approach billing when working in marginalised communities? How can it increase the number of hours that water is available for? What’s its approach to leak detection and repair? All these issues are vital.

SWASCO and WSUP are therefore now conducting a utility capacity assessment to help develop a road map towards universal coverage in Livingstone. This assessment will be based on WSUP’s Utility Strengthening Framework, which provides a structured approach to improving how a utility can function, across the entirety of its operations. The assessment will set out short, medium and long term objectives for enabling SWASCO to move towards ensuring universal water coverage.

The Utility Strengthening Framework has grown out of WSUP’s Sector Functionality Framework, which helps map out the changes that need to happen in urban areas to create universal water access.

Read more about the Sector Functionality Framework

At the official launch of the Burton network, the District Commissioner of Livingstone, Madam Kawina, recognised the importance of the initiative.

“The project could not have come at a better time than now, when the need for water supply and sanitation services by the people of Livingstone is on the increase,” she said.


Learn more about our work in Zambia