Delivering water and sanitation services in Niger: challenges and results


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Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries (44.5% of poverty incidence in 2014). The country faces a number of challenges in meeting the national (PROSEHA, the National Program for sustainable development) and global targets to increase access to sanitation and potable water, particularly in rural areas where the access to water is 44.2% and 7% for sanitation (2015 Ministry of Water and Sanitation data).

Overcoming these challenges while satisfying increasing demands for better or expanded service, the government began investigating options that bring in the know-how of the private sector. This has led to a growing domestic private sector provision of services in Niger.

Over the past five years, the World Bank supported efforts to work with sector stakeholders to foster the participation of domestic private entities in the management of rural water supply systems (RWSSs). This support was done through the development of a regulatory and legal framework and capacity building activities. The coordination among stakeholders has been facilitated through the convening of regular bi-monthly sector dialogues and an annual sector review meeting.

I recently conducted a case study on domestic private sector participation in the delivery of water and sanitation services in Niger. In 1998, the government of Niger began involving the private sector in service delivery in water and sanitation, when it carried out a vast reform agenda in public service delivery, alongside the telecom, transport, and energy sectors. In 2001, urban water supply reforms resulted in the creation of two key entities: a public asset-holding company, Société de Patrimoine des Eaux du Niger (SPEN), which is responsible for investment and debt service repayment of urban water infrastructure; and a private company, Société d’Exploitation des Eaux du Niger (SEEN), responsible for the operation of infrastructure and the marketing of water services. This reform has led to an improved urban water performance - in 2001 the access was 64.6% against 91.2% in 2015; the network efficiency was 78% in 2001 against 84% in 2015; and the water bill recovery rate increased from 78% 2001 to 90% in 2015.

Even though private sector participation in water supply has been a long-standing policy in the country, several challenges persist, including:

Official opening ceremony of water supply
system in rural Niger.
  • Difficulty in mobilizing the private sector in rural and small towns due to the lack of a business case and unclear rules of engagement.
  • Weak capacity of the different parties involved in rural water supply (e.g. regulators, public sector, and private operators managing water supply systems).
  • The water supply and sanitation (WSS) regulation body is not yet fully operational.
  • Lack of clarity of the roles and responsibilities of actors involved in the management of rural water supply systems (RWSSs).
  • Sluggish development of the sanitation subsector in both urban and rural areas hampering private sector interest.
Building on the experience of urban water reforms, the government decided in 2009 to take a few steps to respond to the challenges in rural water supply systems, including:
  • Development of the Public Rural Water Supply Services Guidance document supported by the Agence française de développement (AFD).
  • Training of different stakeholders on implementing the Public Rural Water Supply Services Guidance with the support of the sector’s development partners.
  • Technical and legal assessment of public-private partnership options for the transfer of 19 small town systems to the public asset-holding company (SPEN) supported by the World Bank Group (WBG).
  • Development of a Fecal Sludge Management (FSM) Services Strategy for the City of Niamey, supported by the WBG.
  • Pilot project to apply information communication technology (ICTs) in the management of rural water supply services supported by the AFD and the WBG.  
As a result of these efforts,
  • The regulatory and legal framework for rural water supply systems (RWSSs) has been clarified.
  • Targeted municipalities and water users’ associations are better informed about their roles and responsibilities under the RWSS contract arrangement.
  • The capacity of municipalities to handle the supervision of RWSS contract is increasing.
  • The increased awareness of municipalities about water and sanitation issues allows better dialogue between municipalities and the Ministry of Water and Sanitation (MHA).
  • The capacity of private operators has increased. Before the reforms, on average, private operators managed four RWSSs; by December 2014, the number had risen to ten.
  • The City of Niamey (municipality) committed to financially support, for the first three years, a private operator to be appointed to manage the sludge treatment plant and restore financial stability.
Private operators managing rural water supply
showing certificate of training provided
by the government. 
Although Niger’s domestic private sector is successfully participating in water and sanitation service delivery, and this participation has improved over recent times, it has yet to fully deliver on its full promise.  This will require further investment by the private sector and the government. For example the private sector should improve its organizational structure by setting achievable standards (organizing the company to respond to the needs of the required performance), hiring qualified staff, and creating increased demand through the provision of high-quality service. At the same time Government needs to further clarify its policies - The profile of the private companies needs to be clarified and certified by government entity before operating the assets. Taken together these actions will raise performance in the sector and help the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Taibou Adamou Maiga

Senior Water Supply & Sanitation Specialist

liaqat hayat
September 09, 2016

Do the private sector provided technical guidelines how to conduct water bussiness effectively as per experience elsewhere?

Taibou Maiga
January 11, 2017

Dear Liaqat Hayat,
Sorry for this long delay in my feedback. The private sector private sector can not provide this technical guidelines, however it can share its experience with other countries. based on this appropriate measures can be designed for any other specific country according to their context.

liaqat hayat
September 09, 2016

add 'were 'before provided please

Taibou Maiga
January 11, 2017

Noted. I understand.

Ed Bourque
September 10, 2016

Excellent post.
I have quick questions/points of classification for you, if you don't mind:
The responsibility for water and sanitation infrastructure management was
transferred down to the municipal level (from the MHA/Water & Sanitation ministry) without increased budgeting and staffing support?? That must be frustrating for local government. How optimistic are you in terms of decentralization improving service delivery, generally?
Also, the long term results in urban water management from 2000-2015 that you cite are impressive. In terms of water supply, specifically, are there simply issues of scale and affordability (of the business models) that make the challlenge of leveraging private sector participation to improve water supply coverage and efficiency?
Ed Bourque
WASH Consultant

Taibou Maiga
January 11, 2017

Dear Ed Bourque,
Thanks you for your comments and sorry for this late answer to your questions:
Regarding the decentralization, it is an ongoing process, despite that the financial resources was not transferred to the communes during previous years, today the government is on the way to transfer both the responsibility and the financial resources to the local entities. a devolution decree is underway.
How ever I agree with you that it is frustrating to the communes to have the responsibility transferred without the resources. What happed is that the government is building the infrastructure and transfer the management of these assets to the communes.
For the second aspect of your question, Yes the urban water management is doing well because of the institutional reform. today the government intends to use urban assets holding company to replicate this experience to rural small towns by using domestic private sector.

Ousseini Bachir
October 06, 2016

The article unfortunately omitted an important aspect of the reform of the water sector in Niger that is the regulation of the urban water sector through an important institution that was the ARM (Multi-sectoral Regulation Authority). Indeed, institutional reform enshrined in the Act 2000-012 of 14 August 2000 saw the State to delegate the management of Urban Water sub-sector to a property company (SPEN) and an operating company, private farmer (SEEN) without disengaging from its sovereign role of defining, monitoring and supervision of national policy in this area, including tariff policy. The control and regulation of the activity of production and distribution drinking water have been entrusted to the sectoral legislation (2000-012), in Sector Water Directorate housed within a Multi-sectoral Regulation Authority having conducted its activities from 2003 to 2011. Moreover, the short experience of independent regulation (2003 to 2012) of the urban water sub-sector had enabled good management concession contracts and leasing (PPP between the state, the dealer public SPEN, the private farmer SEEN subsidiary VEOLIA) by the implementation of a economic regulatory model ensuring pricing and equalization of just and equitable price of water.
However, the cost recovery system in force at the time was soon revealed its shortcomings. Indeed, it was a question of a resurgence of substantive issues (and funds) that justified the privatization of public water supply services in many African countries including Niger, during the 2nd half of 90 until 2000, the problem was remained and that of non-payment when due water bills of the State creating the accumulation of arrears, affecting from month to month cash operators, ends up undermining the financial balance of the sub-sector and therefore the infrastructure renewal. Faced with this adverse situation accumulation of unpaid state, the French Development Agency (AFD) has intervened many times to settle the state account receivable with budgetary support going directly in crates farmer while these resources appear as a shortfall that would have to subsidize the price of the poor (social slice reserved for the poorest in a fee schedule practicing true prices) even if this liquidity farmer helps restore financial stability of the sector. Also, through grant strategies ensuring both cost recovery and the establishment of social justice through incentive mechanisms such as OBA (Outputs Based Aid), one can effectively help supply water and other basic services for the poorest.
In general, you may avoid subsidizing the profit of the farmer but would it ensure at least the recovery of costs invested by the latter. The Public Administration of unpaid bills issue raises a question of communication and compliance with commitments at all levels. Starting with the state that needs to be better informed on the issues and benefits residing in the use of budgetary aid in favor of such subsidy strategies OBA. But for that he would have all the parties synchronize their scores? The Administration should it not also pay its bills on due date? Such an option, although painful in our country "at all priority" and "all safe" nevertheless will generate a virtuous circle of resources unlike the destination reserved for these budgetary assistance for the clearance of government arrears so that finally, after all, tap into cash public companies to cope with the surge of national treasury. This is one of the indispensable and irreplaceable task of an independent regulation of the sector provided with adequate tools (economic regulation model, trained, protected and sworn ...) causing each actor to play its full role.

Taibou Maiga
January 11, 2017

Dear Ousseini Bachir,
Thanks for your comments and this shows that you know well the sector in Niger. I agree with your point on the regulation and the dissolution of ARM wasn't really a wise decision from the government of Niger. Niger was a learning country for many African countries regarding the regulation of water, telephone, transport and energy. However I just want to highlight the fact that simple presence of ARM did not solve the issue of arrears of government water bills. the issue of government water bills payment was known since 2007 and unfortunately these arrears have increased by the double since the dissolution of ARM in 2012.
I think there is a key that the government need to play to avoid hampering the reform in the water sector. what ever the design of the sector is, if a key function is not doing well, it will jeopardize the all other effort in the chain.