In the Eastern and Southern African region, although the rates of access to safe water and sanitation have not yet reached acceptable levels, water supply and sanitation (WSS) service coverage has been progressively improving. This improvement, in some countries, could partly be attributed to the establishment of WSS regulators in the 2000s.

The premise of regulation is to ensure efficient, affordable, reliable and quality services while balancing the commercial interest (sustainability) with that of social consideration. The goals of regulating WSS services are to correct for inherent market failures associated with the provision of services, particularly in monopoly settings, that must deliver public goods, and ultimately to improve and maximise the well-being of the whole population.

Ongoing water sector reforms in the Eastern and Southern African region, have established autonomous regulators for water supply and sanitation (WSS) service providers in Lesotho, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Burundi, Zanzibar and Angola.

This article gives a brief profile of the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO), the WSS regulator of Zambia.


Zambia is a landlocked, resource-rich country located in Central Southern Africa, bordered by eight countries (Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe).

Zambia gained its independence in 1964 and has maintained relative peace through changes in political regimes.

Zambia has extensive surface water resources, including three major rivers, several tributaries, and many smaller rivers and waterfalls, as well as vast natural lakes. The Zambezi in northwest Zambia runs through the Barotse Floodplains and forms the border with Zimbabwe. In the southern region is the Kafue River which spills into the Zambezi River while in Eastern Zambia is the Luangwa River.

The major dams are used primarily for the generation of electricity, but also provide water supplies. The population relies both on groundwater and piped water for domestic water supplies.


Reforms in the Zambian water sector instituted in the 1990s, were aimed at addressing the poor performance of the institutions charged with the responsibility of service provision. Prior to this, the Zambian water sector was characterised by:

  • Lack of a comprehensive sector policy or strategy to guide sector organisations in the performance of their tasks;
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities for the water sector, leading to either a duplication of efforts or gaps in some areas;
  • Deteriorating infrastructure as a result of poor maintenance and lack of new investments, with most of the investment being provided by external Support Agencies;
  • Erratic and insufficient funding through Government with little impact of government institutions on the ground;
  • Increasing pollution of water resources among other environmental problems, particularly in the mining areas;
  • Non-existence of comprehensive legislative framework for Water Resources Management (WRM) and Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) as the Water Act from 1948 was outdated and did not cover WSS); and
  • Lack of stakeholder involvement and ownership by consumers and users.

Attempts to reform the water sector began as early as 1974. A report issued by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) in 1979 proposed a Zambian National Water Authority, responsible for WSS, as well as water resource management (WRM), although this proposal was not implemented. A change in Government in 1991 saw the introduction of the public service reform, and a new attempt was made to solve problems linked to WSS. The government established a Programme Coordination Unit (PCU) through a Cabinet memorandum to reorganise the water sector.

In 1994, the government committed itself to transform the water sector as a means of ensuring the provision of safe water supply and sanitation at affordable costs and on a sustainable basis. A National Water Policy was adopted, with seven key sector principles as guidelines for the water sector reform as follows:

  1. Separation of water resources functions from water supply and sanitation;
  2. Separation of regulatory and executive functions within the water supply and sanitation sector;
  3. Devolution of authority to local authorities and private enterprises;
  4. Achievement of full cost recovery for the water supply and sanitation services (capital recovery, operation and maintenance) through user charges in the long run;
  5. Human resource development leading to more effective institutions;
  6. Technology appropriate to local conditions; and
  7. Increased GRZ spending priority and budget spending to the sector.

The same year the secretariat of PCU, called the Water Sector Development Group (WSDG) was established, and a Sector Strategy for an institutional and legal framework for water supply and sanitation services was announced.


1997 saw the enactment of the Water Supply and Sanitation Act based on the seven sector principles, with a focus on commercialisation, Private Sector Participation (PSP), regulation and delimitation of the service area.

The Water Supply and Sanitation Act No. 28 of 1997 was promulgated to establish the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council and define its functions; to provide for the establishment, by local authorities, of water supply and sanitation utilities; and to provide for the efficient and sustainable supply of water and sanitation services under the general regulation of the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council.

NWASCO was formed as a corporate entity and its management reports to the Council (Board), which consists of seven members from public and private institutions. The NWASCO Council reports to Parliament through the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection. All functions related to the provision of water supply and sanitation services are the responsibility of the Local Authorities under the overall supervision and support of the Ministry of Local Government and Housing (MLGH).

The institutional set-up of the Zambian water sector is as follows:


The National Water and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) begun operations in 2000. Within two years, guidelines were issued on Tariff Adjustment, Required Minimum Service Level, Preparation of Business Plans, Financial Projection, Investment Planning, WSS Services for Peri-Urban Areas and Corporate Governance.

The regulator is tasked with the following core functions:

  • Licence utilities and other service providers as well as activities relating to the provision of water;
  • Advise the government on water supply and sanitation matters;
  • Develop guidelines for the provision of water supply and sanitation services; the establishment of water supply and sanitation utilities; the technical and financial management of utilities; and the setting of tariffs for the provision of water supply and sanitation services;
  • Establish and enforce sector standards for water supply or sanitation services; the management of utilities and other service providers; the design, construction, operation and maintenance of water supply and sanitation facilities;
  • Advise utilities and other service providers on procedures for handling complaints from consumers; and
  • Disseminate information to consumers on matters relating to water supply and sanitation services.
  • Advise local authorities on commercially viable institutional arrangements for the provision of water supply and sanitation services; and

NWASCO has a staff of twenty-one, comprising both professional and support staff. Trained part-time Inspectors are engaged in various parts of the country to monitor water supply and sanitation service provision in their areas. Water Watch Groups were established, composed of approximately nine volunteer customers per service area, as a means of promoting public involvement in the oversight process.


  • The sector has a new National WSS Policy of 2020, which provides the framework to facilitate universal access to WSS services and promotes the sustainable implementation of WSS initiatives.
  • Developed further Guidelines on Water Quality Monitoring, Non-Revenue Water, Pre-paid Metering and Risk Management among others.
  • Utility Benchmarking and Comparative Publication via the annual Sector Report. Best performers and most improved Utilities receive recognition awards at a high-level public ceremony
  • Improved performance of Commercial Utilities as evidenced by increased coverage area. According to the 2020 Urban and Peri-Urban Sector Report, the water coverage stood at 87.5% of the total urban population. In the same period, national urban sanitation coverage was 69.6%;
  • Developed a Transparent Tariff model in which consumers are involved in the tariff setting process;
  • Has a NWASCO Information System (NIS) since 2004, through which CUs submit their annual reports;
  •  Instituted the Regulation by Incentives Programme in 2008, which uses incentives to induce high performance and innovation in the CUs by rewarding good performance, thereby inducing efficiency gains.;
  • Developed MyWatSan QuickFix, a complaints resolution platform for the submission of water supply and sanitation complaints to the water supply and sanitation provider. It allows unresolved complaints to be automatically escalated to the regulator;
  • Launched frameworks for the provision and regulation of Urban Onsite Sanitation and Rural water Supply and Sanitation in Zambia in 2018, resulting in commercial utilities changing their names from ‘water and sewerage’ to ‘water and sanitation’ as per section (1) of the Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) Act No. 28 of 1997 and incorporation of rural areas in their respective operating licences;
  • Enhanced research in water supply and sanitation through the NWASCO Resource Centre.



WSS service delivery is comprised of network infrastructures which create natural monopolies that need to be regulated.  Safe and equitable water supply and sanitation service provision depends on effective regulation to formalise the sector and provide clear guidelines for those working within it.

Regulators aim to ensure efficient, affordable, reliable and quality services while balancing the commercial interest (sustainability) with that of social consideration. Regulators ensure Government policy is implemented and service providers are accountable and supported in delivering services equitably. 

There are various approaches for instituting WSS regulation in a country. However, depending on the prevailing governance arrangements, regulation can typically be instituted using two models: – a) Regulation by Agency in which a regulatory body is given discretionary powers by government to oversee and sets rules for the sector, or b) Regulation by Contract whereby an oversight institution and a service provider agree on contractual clauses for monitoring performance and making regulatory decisions.


Ongoing water sector reforms in the Eastern and Southern African region have established autonomous regulators for water supply and sanitation (WSS) services provision in Lesotho, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Burundi, Zanzibar and Angola.  Some countries have reposed the WSS regulatory function in a government department or wing e.g., Uganda, South Sudan, South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The regulators have generally been mandated to undertake both economic and technical regulation of WSS service provision, ensuring a balance between the quality of the service, the interests of consumers and the financial sustainability of service providers.

This article gives a brief profile of Autorité de Régulation des secteurs de l’Eau potable et de l’Energie (AREEN), the WSS regulator of Burundi.



The Republic of Burundi is a small and densely populated, landlocked country bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, lies at the North-eastern end of Lake Tanganyika.

Burundi gained its independence in 1962, but the country has been plagued by tensions, including a civil war in 1994 which made Burundi the scene of one of Africa’s most unyielding conflicts. Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a decline in economic growth resulting from political instability.

Burundi has relatively abundant water resources, including Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second-largest freshwater lake by volume. The country also has several internal waterways and border rivers flowing from international channels. Because of its proximity to the equator, the country experiences adequate rainfall, varying from 750 mm in the extreme North-West to more than 2 000mm in the North-West, and an average of 1 274 mm of rain annually.



Despite Burundi’s abundant water resources, the demand for potable water is not met, and sanitation services are even more limited. According to the 2017 WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report, 87% of urban residents benefit from piped water on their premises, but only 25% of rural areas benefit from such services. Only 3 per cent of urban residents in Burundi receive sewage services, or 0.61 per cent of the total population.

Burundi’s WSS sector endured years of destruction by sabotage and neglect during the civil war and its aftermath. As Burundi continued to recover, new challenges emerged as the WSS sector moved from reconstruction to development. Drinking water and sanitation coverage declined as many of Burundi’s urban centres, and particularly peri-urban areas of Bujumbura, experienced rapid growth resulting from the return of exiled and internally displaced peoples. Households resorted to obtaining untreated water in rivers, lakes, shallow wells, and water hauliers and unmanaged standpipes. As a result, there was a persistence of waterborne diseases, leading to high mortality rates.

In the early 2000s, Burundi undertook decentralisation reforms to improve governance. A new constitution was adopted in 2005, providing communes or municipalities as decentralised administrative units. Cities are responsible for ensuring that populations have access to essential services such as water and sanitation. The central government transfers financial resources to municipalities to fulfil their mandates and enables communes to levy local resources via taxes, licenses and other municipal charges.

In 2000, Burundi adopted a law that both liberalised the sector and created a new regulatory framework. The law defined the conditions for private sector participation and allowed for establishing a regulatory entity for water supply and energy and a development fund for the sector. It stated that REGIDESO no longer had a monopoly over public drinking water and electricity supply. However, it was several years before this was fully implemented. 



The Water Policy of 2009 set the guiding principles of government actions in the water sector. These fundamental principles include a government commitment to ensuring the availability of water resources (giving priority to domestic users), equitable access to good drinking water quality, sustainable use of water and a viable environment. The Water Policy also sets out the intention for the water sector to plan and mobilise investments through a programmatic approach. Finally, it provides a detailed action plan to achieve the government’s ambitions for sustainable and equitable water and sanitation services, starting with detailed inventories and allocating institutional responsibilities.

The 2009 policy priorities are as follows:

  • The rehabilitation of drinking water supply systems to increase access to this commodity considerably.
  • The construction of new systems in areas with the most significant shortage to reduce regional disparities in WSS.
  • Integrated management of the country’s water resources through integrated multipurpose information systems.
  • Improved hygiene and sanitation
  • Encouraging the private sector to invest in the industry to ensure its sustainability.

The National Development Plan (NDP) is the overarching planning framework guiding government actions, including those in the WASH sector. The NDP set the targets to “improve access to services” and “improve the water and sanitation sector management” and proposes ten sector-specific objectives to realise its ambitions related to infrastructure development and institutional strengthening. This promotion of the water sector as a key to national development objectives has provided sector institutions with the renewed impetus for developing sector strategies. 

A national water sector development policy is in progress, including implementing the National Water Master Plan (PDNE).

Several national institutions and government ministries are involved in the management of the sector. The Ministry of Water, Energy and Mines (MWEM), through its Directorate-General for Water and Energy (DGEE), is responsible for leading the central government’s overall policy formulation and administrative functions related to the WSS sector. The Directorate of Water Resources (DRH) within DGEE is responsible for developing strategies for sustainable development of the country’s water resources, developing and maintaining the country’s National Water Master Plan, and maintaining the water tariff policy for rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the Directorate General of Rural Water and Electricity (DGHER) oversees and coordinates drinking water and sanitation. The Water and Electric Authority (REGIDESO), an autonomous public utility operating under the supervision of MWEM and 34 Communal Water Authorities (RCEs), undertake actual service provision. REGIDESO is responsible for the catchment, treatment, and distribution of drinking water in urban areas, while RCEs supply drinking water to the rural areas. Municipal Engineering Services (SETEMU) is responsible for sewerage and wastewater treatment services.



The WSS regulator of Burundi was created initially by Decree 100/320 of 22nd December 2011 bearing the name ‘Agency for the Control and Regulation of the Drinking Water and Electricity Sector in the Republic of Burundi (ACR)’. Decree 100/120 of 11th December 2015 included the responsibility for the mining sector and renamed ACR as ‘Agency for the Regulation of the Sectors of Drinking Water, Electricity and Mines’ (AREEM). Decree 100/159 of 5th November 2018 removed the mining portfolio and renamed AREEM to ‘Autorité de Régulation des secteurs de l’Eau potable et de l’Energie’ (AREEN) as the economic regulatory authority for drinking water, sanitation and energy sectors.

The regulatory authority is tasked with monitoring and regulating public service activities, ensuring economic and financial balance and preserving the economic conditions necessary for its viability.

AREEN promotes competition and private sector participation in the production, transport, distribution and sale of drinking water, as well as provision of safe and equitable sanitation services under objective, transparent and non-discriminatory conditions. It ensures that operators comply with the requirements for the execution of authorisations, concession contracts, public-private partnership contracts and their specifications and business plans. 

The regulator also ensures the implementation, monitoring and application of tariffs as per regulatory pricing principles and the settlement of disputes between actors. The regulator is tasked with protecting the interests of consumers and their rights, including regularity of supply, quality of service and compliance with tariffs, and ensuring that any operator in the sector respects the principle of equal treatment of users.

AREEN further proposes to the minister essential rectifications in his remit and drafts legal and regulatory briefs for governing the sector. Besides this, AREEN acts as an advisory body on the sectoral policy of drinking water and sanitation.


  • Burundi’s government recently developed a 10-year National Development Plan (NDP) to chart a path for growth to become an emerging country by 2027. The plan designated Burundi’s WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector as an area of high priority with “more than 8% of the total budget of the NDP allocated to water and sanitation.
  • By 2017/18 water supply service coverage was at 83% and sanitation service coverage at 6.3% for the urban areas.
  • The government of Burundi has encouraged community-led total sanitation coverage (CLTS), which allows communities to independently analyse the effects of open defecation in their community and work towards collective change.
  • AREEN has held dissemination workshops for the regulatory strategy and framework developed by ESAWAS to improve sanitation sector



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