On May 21, SWA organized the first Ministerial Roundtable on “Ensuring provision of water services in urban areas during COVID19”. The roundtable included ministers from Ethiopia, Indonesia and Nigeria, as well as senior leaders from partner organisations across all the SWA constituencies – civil society, external support agencies, private sector and research and learning agencies.
The meeting was structured around three questions:
- During this COVID-19 crisis what steps can be taken in the short term to ensure service continuity to all residents (formal, informal, urban or peri-urban)?
- During this COVID-19 crisis what steps can be taken in the short term to ensure the financial sustainability of utilities?
- During this COVID-19 crisis what steps can be taken in the short term to ensure small scale service providers can continue to operate?
Participants underscored some new and pre-existing challenges which are now exacerbated by COVID-19, including efficiency shortcomings, utility debt, lack of power and other critical supplies, lack of approaches that meet specific needs of customers, and inadequate engagement of some critical stakeholders such as small scale service providers.
Water, sanitation and hygiene are critical to the COVID-19 response but there is a need to work through many previously un-engaged actors at all levels including, central and local government, community and economic players such as small scale providers and private sector. There was a broader acceptance that there is more to water supply, sanitation and hygiene than piped supplies and centralized sewerage systems. Thereby, highlighting the need to draw in and formally integrate non-piped providers, who are often tolerated but not formally integrated, as part of the service delivery matrix.
More creative financial solutions are needed to ensure the continuity and viability of service providers. Some of the options discussed included liquidity facilities, government guarantees, instalment plans for customers and livelihood generation through small service providers. Self-sufficiency was also highlighted as a critical path to sustainable service provision especially in a climate of uncertain development assistance, especially grants, which might be impacted by COVID-19.
In the short term, some major needs of service providers include adequate access to supplies including imported materials. Potential solutions include bulk purchases at national level and removal of import tariffs to reduce some of the cost barriers associated with acquiring materials.
Long term service recovery will be crucial and will need to support economic stability through job creation. This will be further discussed in future roundtables. Building Back (or Forward) Better while targeting the most vulnerable and aiming at progressively eliminating inequalities will be crucial.
The full list of agencies represented on the roundtable includes, the Ministerial participants from Ethiopia, Indonesia and Nigeria; Senior sector leaders from Africa Development Bank, Africa Water Association, ANEW, Asia Development Bank, AquaFed, DFID, IRC, SIWI, UNICEF, USAID, Water.org, World Bank, and Zenith Water Ltd.