HARARE, August 21, 2014 – Supplying safe, clean water has long been a challenge for the country’s growing population. More than 4,000 people lost their lives during an outbreak of cholera in 2008 – 2009, and thousands more were affected throughout the country, including small towns like Beitbridge, which reported 26% of cases. Even in the major cities of Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru, dilapidated infrastructure made service delivery difficult. Alarmed by deaths from water-borne diseases, international organizations such as the World Bank Group (WBG) stepped in to help save lives and create life-saving institutions.
There still remains a risk of water-borne disease outbreaks as a number of deaths related to dysentery, diarrhoea and others have recently been reported. In Harare, the challenges are compounded by losses through leakages of more than 40% of treated water due to antiquated and dilapidated equipment and water distribution system.
In transiting from emergency through early recovery to sustained growth, the WBG has put greater emphasis in creating sustainable institutions and the use of country systems. In addition to the Analytical and Advisory Assistance support provided to government ministries, departments and support partners, the WBG supported $2.65 million Emergency Water and Sanitation Rehabilitation Programme in Beitbridge Town. The program succeeded in improving water access from zero to 70%, and built engineering capacity within Beitbridge Town to deliver services. To re-establish urban water and sanitation utility viability nationally and enhance efficiency in revenue collection and effective prioritization of interventions, the WBG is supporting, in a participatory manner, a water and sanitation service-level benchmarking exercise.
This service-level benchmarking draws from the WBG’s international experiences, customizing for Zimbabwe without compromising the value and quality of data. It focuses on the 32 urban local authorities in the country, which range in size from 5,000 people to up to three million, and tracks service delivery performance over time. The service-level benchmarking enables these local authorities to tell success from failure, allow for learning and acts as a self-regulation tool that enhances transparency and accountability.
For example, in India, the WBG’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) noted that “by providing an opportunity for introspection and self-improvement benchmarking will improve service delivery efficiency and quality, strengthen accountability, bring in greater transparency, help in optimal resource allocation and prioritization of activities, and therefore becomes highly relevant in view of rising customer expectations, demands for more efficient performance and ever increasing quality standards.” For Zimbabwe, where the demands far outstrip available resources and customers have strong memory of high standards of services in the recent past, regular self-introspection, transparency and accountability enhances good governance, trust and confidence of citizens in country led structures and systems; a key objective for the country to transition out of fragility.
The Service-Level Benchmarking (SLB) Process
The benchmarking project began in August 2012, with the development of the data collection tools and the adoption of key indicators and their definitions. This was done in participatory workshops that included town engineers, town treasurers, planners, city health officers, government officials and representatives of water and sanitation sector funding agencies, including the WSP, the African Development Bank (AfDB), GIZ and UNICEF. The first such workshop, attended by more than110 participants produced three questionnaires, one each for water supply, wastewater and solid waste management, each with nine-to-10 indicators and a reliability score against which the quality of data was to be assessed (depending on whether the data was estimated or based on actual measurements or from sample survey). In 2013, the questionnaires were filled in by urban local authorities’ staff and then rigorously validated (by show of evidence) during workshops attended by a national team led by the ministry responsible for the local government, the ministry responsible for water, the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ), the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), the University of Zimbabwe and the WSP. Support partners, including AfDB, GIZ and UNICEF assisted in reviewing, triangulating and improving the collected data. Further field workshops were held with stakeholders to ensure buy-in and also verify evidence provided by local authorities, before a baseline report was finally produced based on 2012 data. To enhance horizontal learning and foster full ownership of the process, the WBG supported the creation, by local authorities, of multi-disciplinary peer review teams based on the four clusters of urban local authority categories in Zimbabwe; local boards, town councils, municipalities and cities.
The major challenges that the SLB is highlighting for attention includes poor property stock records, weak customer care, high non-revenue water, low revenue collection efficiency, low coverage, low investments in maintenance, low capacity, demand outstripping supply, poor quality data for management and decision making, poor services, and high levels of pollution.
The Minister of Local Government Public Works and National Housing, Dr Ignatius Chombo, in his address to the Accolades Giving Ceremony of Local Authorities, at which WBG was represented, noted that the SLB, “was providing a basis for assessing the performance of local authorities; giving justification for rewarding well performing local authorities, while framing incentives for those that struggle.” He also noted the synergy between this WBG support and the UNDP Capacity Building Support Programme to Zimbabwe local authorities.
As the SLB continues to be institutionalised in local authorities, the WBG will continue to support the analysis and sharing of the data, capacity building, the development of knowledge products and the advocacy to ensure that the bottom 40% of the poor benefit from efficiently prioritised local and external investments and water and sanitation services do reach them. Evidence-based data collection that resides within urban local authorities is made available for future sector regulators and developing partners and the WBG continues to provide linkages with other institutions involved with SLB regionally and globally by strengthening the gains made so far, which include:
- Councils and ZINWA now have a better understanding of the status of their Water, Sanitation and Hygiene services and are able to peg themselves against peers
- Data on property stock has improved and this will plug off revenue losses due to underhand activities in the system
- Asset accounting and management has improved, standardised and strengthened
- Budgeting systems have improved through rational cost build up in tariffs
- There is more transparency on the operations of councils as most council utility data is now readily available
- Research and teaching can now improve on local authority management as the academia were involved in the SLB processes
- Knowledge products are being developed and these will improve policy and decision making