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Technical meeting debates private sector involvement in the Ethiopian WaSH sector

Published on: 24/07/2015

On the 23 April 2015, a technical discussion was held at the Jupiter hotel in Addis Ababa to debate the findings of a study "Private Sector Landscape for WASH in Ethiopia – Bottlenecks and opportunities" commissioned by UNICEF and undertaken by IRC within the scope of the DFID-funded One WASH Plus programme.

The key question addressed in a draft report for the meeting was how the private sector can play a greater role in the One WASH National Programme, developing and providing its capacity to provide goods and services that lead to new and better water, sanitation and hygiene for all Ethiopians. Eyob Defere from IRC presented his findings to a group that well-represented government, the private sector (such as the consultants and contractors associations), and development partners.

Some of the key issues emerging from the debate were:

  • Sector policy and strategies are outdated with respect to the role of the private sector and should be updated by government according to some of the participants. At the same time, GTPII means higher service norms (40-100 lpcd) and there are new targets too, like those for wastewater collection and treatment. There is almost no capacity, expertise and lots of technology questions in wastewater treatment. The private sector could develop its capacity in this area but will need to be guided by long-term government strategies to be encouraged in invest in building and marketing the relevant skills.
  • Development partners are shifting their own strategies and putting more focus on the private sector, UNICEF for example are looking to support the private sector develop deep drilling capacities and are examining options to bring in private sector capacity to support post-construction service delivery issues.
  • The private sector looks for support, not hand-outs. Contractors can cover costs but are interested in structured support and issues like better contract administration, access to financing for equipment, training, access to new technologies etc
  • One area of substantial discussion was contracting and how to spread risks and incentivise the private sector to help improve performance. A simple measure is making better use of contract retentions to ensure proper completion and functioning of systems. Innovations include re-examining how the risks are shared in borehole drilling with contracted drillers potentially taking on risks as part of packaged contracting with exploration studies, rather than the consultants and drillers blaming each other and leaving all the risk with the client.
  • A further innovation floated by UNICEF is packaging contracts in drier, needy and expensive to serve rural areas like Afar and Somali where larger contracts could attract the international private sector. The One WASH Plus programme is already piloting contract innovations in small towns, testing Build-Capacity Build-Transfer as an alternative to Build-Operate-Transfer contracts and with the aim to create sufficient capacities within Town water Utilities to maintain services.

Following the meeting, the private sector bottleneck analysis report was revised and is available to download at the link below.