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.