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Pioneering a future-ready water and sanitation sector in Zambia

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Pioneering a future-ready water and sanitation sector in Zambia Luyando Hamanyjandi works as an assistant technician in the control room of the “power house” at the Kariba Dam and North Shore Power Station in Zambia. Photo credit: Arne Hoel / World Bank.

In the heart of Africa, Zambia is experiencing a strategic shift in the water and sanitation sector, moving from a traditional infrastructure-centric approach to an excellence and efficiency-oriented model that emphasizes strengthening institutional and staff capabilities within utilities. The objective is to improve the service in a sustainable manner with the collective goal to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The Utility of the Future program: A strategic shift in sustainable utility management

Water and sanitation utilities continue to embrace innovation and transformation under the Utility of the Future  program. But this story is more than a narrative of operational improvement, it is a testament to the power of a collective mindset change. By making every employee an integral part of this forward-looking journey, these utilities are setting a precedent that promises to set new standards for utility management in the region.

Testimonials on the impact of the program, from behavioral changes to performance improvement, on Zambia utilities, in the words of their own leaders:

“As a result of the Utility of the Future Program, our employees are now more aware of the corporate strategy as well as the values of the organization.”  
—Felistus Banda, Director of Finance at Nkana Water Supply
“During the Utility of the Future Program, we developed documents and tools for processes and plans to improve the operational management of the utility.” 
—Chris K. Kanyembo, Projects Manager, North Western Water Supply & Sanitation Company
“Within 100 days, the Utility of the Future brought efficiencies in financial management and good utilization of human capital, so that we are able to deliver our mandate in a very efficient manner.”  
—Joe Mbewe, Managing Director of the Kafubu Water Supply and Sanitation Company

From urgency to sustainability: A new era of efficiency and expansion in Zambia's water sector

The turning point for Zambia's commercial utilities was emphasized by the findings of the Zambia Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Diagnostic, supported by the Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership. This study highlighted critical inefficiencies hindering the nation's goal of universal water and sanitation access by 2030. The findings advocated for a shift from focusing on infrastructure investment to improving utility efficiency, reducing nonrevenue water, and enhancing financial viability through operational improvements and technological innovations.

“We've done analytics that really showed us the issues, and the Utilities of the Future program really helped us with the solutions and gave us something that we could present to the government of Zambia, to the commercial utilities, as a practical tool …”
—Ruth Kennedy-Walker, Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist at the World Bank 

Implementing the Utility of the Future program exposed diverse challenges, from operational disparities across provinces to financial constraints. These obstacles stressed the necessity for adaptive leadership, inclusive engagement strategies, and innovative solutions to surpass traditional barriers. These experiences highlighted the importance of flexibility, strong governance, and continuous learning in driving utility management advancements. 

Zambian utilities have demonstrated commitment to addressing internal challenges and setting a precedent for innovation within the region. By August 2024, all of Zambia's 11 utilities will have undergone a transformational journey through the Utility of the Future program, aiming to mitigate financial losses from non-revenue water and improve billing efficiency. This initiative stands as a strategic framework for redefining utility management and service delivery in Zambia. 

The World Bank's involvement has been instrumental in driving this transformation, focusing on making utilities more efficient and extending their services to reach not just urban but also peri-urban and rural communities. Given the mandate extended to Zambia's commercial utilities in 2021, there's a renewed emphasis on ensuring these services are accessible in rural areas as well.

To achieve this goal, the World Bank has built on the work of the Utility of the Future and is attempting to address the technical and governance challenges faced by water utilities through a new Program-for-Results operation. The proposed Water and Sanitation Services in Growth Centers project (P179237) is designed not just to incentivize improvements in selected commercial utilities’ operational capabilities, but also to strengthen their ability to attract private sector investments by demonstrating improved creditworthiness. This will help to decrease dependency on public funding, thereby ensuring that water and sanitation services across Zambia are sustainable and accessible to all, including those in peri-urban and rural locales.

“We're now in the process of preparing a new operation in Zambia called the Water Supply and Sanitation Services in Growth Centers Program for Results ... which basically means it's tailoring the government and those commercial utilities to do specific actions ... making them much more efficient and effective service providers.”

The new program focuses on the following: 

  • Policy and governance enhancement: Enhance policies, institutional frameworks, and regulation to improve service delivery.
  • Operational efficiency improvement: Incorporate technology like SCADA and automated meter reading to reduce water losses and enhance energy use efficiency.
  • Service delivery and expansion strategy: Expand access to water supply and sanitation services, focusing on peri-urban and rural areas.

In Zambia the transformation began with the sector diagnostic study. This paved the way for the Utility of the Future program, which sparked comprehensive initiatives that highlight the importance of shifting focus from solely large-scale infrastructure projects to improving governance, systems, and even smaller but critical operational elements. This holistic approach then led to the adoption of the Program for Results and the advocation for more efficient and effective utility management practices and long-term sustainability. Together, these staff-driven initiatives are steering in a new era of sustainable development for Zambia's utility landscape, anticipating a future where operational excellence, financial viability, and universal access to water and sanitation services become the norm.

Ruth Kennedy-Walker

Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist

Ousmane Yida Yaya Bocoum

Senior Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist

Josephine Goma

Water Supply and Sanitation Consultant, World Bank

Matilda Duri

Communication analyst consultant

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