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  • Richard

IWA's 'Regulating CWIS' project

Working on IWA's 'Call to Action' summary of their 'Regulating Citywide Inclusive Sanitation' project, following on from Kathy Eales' fantastic research and work with the very expert Task Force and Advisory Board, I've been trying to communicate various issues about the reality of the challenge that faces all cities and, if they have them, their regulatory colleagues.

In discussion, agreeing with a correspondent that indeed: ‘regulation is needed to drive improvements in public safety in any given current context, to drive cost efficiencies for providers (public or private), to drive market incentives for the private sector to invest in Non Sewered Sanitation products, services, and R&D, to drive innovation that is needed in products and service models for urban areas, to drive equity and combat patterns of service exclusion or regressiveness in pricing /tariff models across a city.’

Thinking of how to encapsulate all that in the Call I want to send the strong message that regulating can really make a difference, even to NSS … but miracles do take a little longer? Particularly as regulating in a low-income, limited governance capacity context is even slower and incremental and necessarily flexible and adaptive and learning by doing than the bumbling and stumbling I watched Ofwat grow through … and regulating combined sewered and NSS, when regulators haven’t yet (understandably) been able to get the ‘so much easier’ piped water suppliers anywhere near effectiveness for all, efficiency and cost reflectivity (with a few honourable exceptions), is, I am guessing, an order of magnitude more challenging.

The good regulators (WASREB, NWASCO, CRA Moz as examples in my African experience) really can make a difference in ‘nudging things forward’ - but for sanitation, regulators having, in effect, to take over from the failed municipalities who have had, and failed to implement, their (relatively) clear guidelines and standards and byelaws for a couple of generations at least, is super challenging. The good regulators will understand and do their best … but then the only real ‘lever’ they have to pull on is the utility - ESAWAS rightly I believe saying there has to be a single service provider who is responsible for all sanitation service delivery at scale (otherwise it all becomes the regulators’ management task? … and that is not regulating?). And utilities in low-income countries are very unwieldy and clunky and focused on other things at the best of times … ‘teaching elephants to dance’ is time-consuming… but they have been responding, eventually, to the good regulators.

All of this to say I don’t want the Call to set up regulators to fail … IWA as a water and sanitation professionals organisation is full of ‘doers’, that is the USP I guess, and I/we want the Call to recognise the pragmatic challenges regulators face and not try and dump on them not only the tasks of failing municipalities but also the tasks of failing Ministries (the suggestions that regulators should address the governance of the sector etc.).

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