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Formalized services for the urban poor; have we nailed it with delegated management model?

By Rose Makenzi

This article does not aim to evaluate already implemented projects of delegated management but, however, tries to trigger a critical debate on the sustainability of the approach in the country.

Slums and other settlements of the urban poor have for a long time been a prominent feature of our urban society. These are densely populated areas often carrying a majority of the urban inhabitants. Yet these areas are underserved or not receiving the most basic services for water and sanitation at acceptable minimum standards, that fulfill the Bill of Rights on water and basic sanitation1. The utilities which can provide formalized 

services – services of reliable quality and regulated prices, have ignored these areas and leaving room for the exploitative small scale informal service providers to take advantage. This makes the people living in these areas the most vulnerable in the country2 as they grapple with all manner of challenges related to unreliable, poor accessibility and exorbitant water and sanitation services provision. In addition, sector politics in the past have played a devastating role as tariffs were held low to attract votes. Consequently utilities could not adequately cover costs to match-up the rising demand stemming from urbanization and population growth.Provision of adequate and safe, water and sanitation services, as a basic necessity for every man and woman and particularly the urban poor, has to be provided at an agreed minimum3 service level. This applies regardless of whether the water utilities are directly or indirectly providing it. By ignoring urban poor settlements, the utilities have contributed to the proliferation of small scale informal service providers, which have taken over provision of these basic services. The informal service providers are providing services without guarantying minimum requirements and therefore discriminating against the poor, as compared to the connected customers of utilities. However, presently the utilities are extending their services into the urban poor areas but at a very slow pace that does not match-up the population growth, resulting in an increased number of the underserved population (refer to figure on soaring underserved population). If this current trend is maintained the fight to eradicate poverty will remain dismal as reliable and adequate services provision is key to win this fight.

The Bill of Rights to Water and Sanitation, in the Kenyan Constitution, has curtailed the long standing exploitation of the urban poor, by the small scale informal service providers4. Also, the continued willingness of the urban poor to pay exploitative fees for poor quality services has, in the long run, made some water utilities to understand that there is business potential5 in the urban poor areas.. But many more water utilities still lag behind in coming to this realization. Nevertheless, the well performing utilities have engaged in innovative pro poor approaches extending their formalized and regulated services to the urban poor areas; not only due to promising economic benefits but also due to their obligation to meet constitutional rights linked to the human rights to water and sanitation.

Delegation of water services through the delegatedmanagement model has been one of the approaches implemented particularly in the developing countries, as an innovative way of trying to extend formal services to the urban poor areas with limited responsibilities for the utilities. Experience with the delegated management solution shows that, in very few cases the poor receive the same guarantied service levels as the consumers connected to the utilities network.6One of the reason is
that cross-subsidization within the delegated system is often not possible. Thus delegated management systems generally suffer the same weaknesses as community operated urban system which makes little sense where economy of scale is needed. Nevertheless, Burkina Faso has demonstrated that delegated management can work under strong presence of the utility. Therefore, delegation by the utilities does not mean getting rid of responsibility but getting more involved with the community.

In Kenya this approach has been tried out in Kisumu and Naivasha7 . The delegated management model as seen in Kenya mainly involves; the water company that ideally ensures supply of safe water and strict supervision of compliance to rights requirements, and the local operators who are community representatives selected via an interview process, who ensure localized distribution of the safe water to the residents. The arrangement is governed by agreed upon, signed contracts of the parties. In this approach, the key tasks delegated by the water utility to the local operator, include; billing, revenue collection, complaints handling, minor maintenance of infrastructure, connection of consumers, extension of water distribution lines.. Subsequently, the success of the delegation approach is depended on effective local participation and compliance to constitutional rights.

The delegated management model approach seeks to ensure a high service level through extension of formalized water provision in these urban poor areas. However, this raises pertinent questions about the sustainability of the approach and the extent to which it adequately meets the human rights criteria to water and sanitation. Concerns such as:

wat• How to consistently ensure that the local operators have adequate capacity to handle these critical tasks delegated to them
• The level of utilities commitment to adequately and consistently oversee these localized water services provision, especially of quality and standard of infrastructure installed, as well as, tariffs levied to consumers
• How to consistently ensure that the local operator knows and complies to the requirements of rights and operates in transparent way
• Satisfactory handling of consumer complaints
• Capacity of the utilities to strictly enforce the regulations as stipulated in the service provision agreements by the regulator
• Sanitation service is a key component to water services provision. The extent to which sanitation services can be delegated is yet to be addressed in this approach and thus continues to lag behind.


The required high level of supervision by the water utility is central to this delegated approach. This involves consistent monitoring and regulation to ensure that the operation does not get out of hand - by way of the local operators compromising agreed upon standards in order to benefit themselves. For efficient and effective supervision, it also means that the water utility must maintain a comprehensive and up to date database of service provision in the area; such as the type and number of infrastructure, location of the distribution lines and population served in each of the settlements. It has been observed that some water utilities tend to use the delegated approach as a way of avoiding their mandate to serve the poor which should not be the case. Therefore in order to make the delegate management model a more sustainable approach it is important to root it in key sector institutions as the Regulator and the Water Services Trust Fund. These institutions have the capacity to select promising water utilities based on developed criteria and hold the utilities accountable for their responsibility in service provision.

About the author

Ms Rose Makenzi is a Senior Project Officer, MEWNR/GIZ Water Reform Programme – Kenya.


1In Kenya since 2010 constitutional requirements
2 The Growing Urban Crisis in Africa; Roland Werchota, 2013
3 Human Rights Declaration to Water and Sanitation
4 Water and Sanitation in The World’s Cities; UN-Habitat, 2003
5 Reaching The Urban Poor With Sustainable Services- Informal Service
6 Burkina Faso is one of the exceptions, Study 2012
7 Business Model for delegated Management of Local Water Services- Experience from Naivasha Kenya; WSUP Topic Brief, 2011






Current Issue: Africa Water & Sanitation & Hygiene March-April 2017 Vol.12 No.2