Africa to Pilot New ISO Standards for Water Services

5 Countries Selected to Pilot Standards

Five African countries have been picked to test a set of newly-developed International Standardization Organisation (ISO) standards for water services designed specifically for the developing world. The selection of Anglophone Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda was agreed at a regional workshop conducted by an ISO technical committee in Kampala on July 24-27.

The Kampala workshop follows a previous one held in Rabat last May, for Francophone countries - where Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal were selected as test sites. The Rabat and Kampala workshops are the result of a partnership between the World Bank Institute (WBI) and the Africa Water Association (AfWA), aimed at building the capacities of water sector actors in Africa. The training on standardization will make it possible to accelerate the management of water utilities in Africa.

The three sets of standards related to drinking water and waste water have been developed by ISO’s Technical Committee TC224 since 2001. The new standards are different from certification standards like the ISO standards 9000 series, and instead focus on guidelines for water services operators to improve the management of services and to involve users – particularly consumers - in the identification of priorities.  Since water and sanitation services present huge differences between developed countries and developing ones, recommendations were made to improve applicability of the new standards in the developing world.

Improved Standards Reflect Developing Country Needs

The areas addressed by the standards include quality assessment and performance indicators to measure the results of the services delivered and thus contribute to better efficiency and management of water utilities. The standards will also help contribute to water conservation by increasing the efficiency of water distribution services and reducing leakage in water service systems, thus preventing unnecessary water losses.

Only a few African water utilities – like in Uganda - have attained ISO standards 9000, but many have expressed interest in implementing these new standards. The 24510 standards address consumer concerns and expectations, and the improvement of service provision. The approach is particularly original in their focus on consumers as key actors. The two other standards 24511 (sanitation) and 24512 (drinking water) are management oriented and aimed more at water operators and oversight bodies such as regulators. The goal is to improve management and then to improve the service provided to users.  Implementation of these standards will be on a voluntary basis.

The new standards in the selected countries will be implemented through local pilot committees comprising stakeholders such as water operators, government authorities, regulators, consumers, bureau of standards and NGOs.  The Local pilot committees will be supported by partners to implement the different activities needed such as studies, training, ISO documents building, reports to and relationships with the ISO TC 224, coordination, benchmarking and results dissemination.

The test process is intended to verify the relevance of these standards in developing countries, particularly in Africa, and establish their usefulness and contribution to improving water and sanitation services.  It will also feed into the development of a guidebook for ISO standards specifically adapted to the realities in African.

The workshops are sponsored by WBI and InWEnt - the German international agency for capacity building - in collaboration with AfWA, Uganda's National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), the Water Solidarity Program (pS-Eau), and the Partnership for Municipal Development (PMD).  The workshops target different stakeholders, including national water operators, water oversight authorities and regulators, consumer organizations, NGOs, and standardization experts.

WSP Supports Selection of Utilities and Monitoring

 WSP-Africa played a key role in identifying stakeholders – particularly water operators – to participate in the Kampala workshop. WSP-Africa will also be involved in supporting both consumers and service providers to monitor and plan service improvements. The aim is to ensure that the new ISO standards ensure the participation of poor communities who suffer stark inequities in access to services the water utilities.  For instance, in Kisumu – one of the pilot cities for the new standards - only 7 percent of the poor are connected to the water mains network.

The new ISO standards for the developing world are being tried out against a backdrop of increasing concerns over the quality of water service and sensitivities to the transparency of management and quality/price ratio of the service.  In Kenya, for example, citizens are using report cards to strengthen their engagement with service providers and policy makers, as a means of enhancing public accountability, performance and responsiveness in the urban water and sanitation sector.

With more than 300 million people in Africa lacking safe drinking water and about 313 million lacking sanitation, it is hoped that the new standards will help alleviate water scarcity and water quality problems and thus contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation.

Contact Name: 
Rosemary Rop
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