Working in development is often difficult, as even the best-planned projects can have different outcomes than expected. In this IEG Project Lessons series, we take a close look back at the World Bank Group’s projects to assess what has worked, what didn’t, and why, to better inform future projects and investments.

This brief captures the lessons from evaluating the World Bank’s Zambia Water Sector Performance Improvement Project (2006-2010). To read the full evaluation,

Download the Project Performance Assessment Report (PPAR)

Background: Basic Needs for Water and Sanitation Not Being Met, Especially in Rural Areas

In 2015, even as many countries set their sights on meeting the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, Zambia still lagged on the earlier Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets for water supply and sanitation. Only sixty-three percent of Zambians had access to an “improved” drinking water supply, compared to the MDG target of 75 percent by 2015. In 2010, only 46 percent of residents had access to an improved water supply at all in rural areas, while about 90 percent of the urban population had access.

Providing access to sanitation has been an even bigger challenge, as only 43 percent of Zambians had access to adequate sanitation (56 percent in urban areas and 34 percent in rural areas) compared to the MDG target of 70 percent. Zambia is estimated to lose 1.3 percent of GDP due to the public health impact of poor sanitation, which is linked to child malnutrition, illness and premature death. In Lusaka’s 33 “peri-urban” areas, where an estimated 70 percent of Lusaka’s urban residents live, roughly 90 percent of the population relies on pit latrines, most of which are “unimproved”, and one percent defecate in the open. These unsanitary conditions threaten Lusaka’s water supply, half of which is derived from fairly shallow groundwater abstracted within the city and is prone to contamination through fissures in the underlying rock.

In 1994, the Government of Zambia adopted the National Water Policy to promote sustainable water resources development and provide adequate quantity and quality of affordable water for all users while ensuring the security of supply under varying conditions. Zambia was one of the first countries in Africa to establish an independent regulatory agency for the urban water sector (the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council - NWASCO), devolving authority for water service provision to local utilities to promote autonomy and financial self-sufficiency with respect to operation and maintenance costs. While the creation of utilities serving the urban population has progressed over the last two decades, the task of building an institutional structure for rural water supply and sanitation provision lagged.

Read more about the water and sanitation challenges addressed by the Government of Zambia’s National Water Policy

About the Zambia Water Sector Performance Improvement Project.

The project, approved on October 5, 2006 with an IDA Credit of US$23 million, supported the Government’s on-going commitment to the urban and rural water sector by improving access and sustainability of water supply and sanitation services for consumers in Lusaka city and by supporting a more comprehensive institutional structure for sector-wide investments. The project project’s original objectives were to:

  • Improve access to, and sustainability of, the water supply and sanitation services for consumers in Lusaka; and
  • Develop of a comprehensive institutional structure supporting a coordinated approach to water supply and sanitation investments.

In 2009, the Bank’s Board approved an IDA Grant of US$10 million in Additional Financing to scale up the project, and the objectives were revised to:

  • Improve the technical efficiency and financial sustainability of Lusaka Water and Sanitation Company and improve access to water supply and sanitation services for urban consumers in Lusaka, Kafue, Chongwe, and Luangwa districts; and
  • Strengthen the effectiveness of national water supply and sanitation planning.

The Project closed on June 30, 2013, thirty-six months after the planned completion date of June 30, 2010 (The IDA Grant was also closed on June 30, 2013).

Performance Rating

The first original objective – improving access and sustainability of water supply and sanitation services in Lusaka – is rated modest. The project helped about 5,000 people obtain access to safe water through 100 new kiosks in peri-urban areas. Water availability increased from 210,000 to 230,000 cubic meters (per day); coverage of beneficiaries for water supply (64 percent to 87 percent) and sanitation services (64 percent to 71 percent); water supply duration in peri-urban areas (15 hours/day to 20 hours/day); and water quality (bio-content from 17.7 to 2 percent). However, IEG’s PPAR mission found deterioration in these outcomes since project closure.

Overall, the efficacy of the second original objective is rated substantial. MLGH prepared separate Water and Sanitation Policies and coordinated sector investments with the Cooperating Partners (CPs) on a regular basis by 2013. In 2016, MLGH continued to conduct regular reviews of sector performance and investments with the CPs to further improvements in the institutional structure and investments.

The efficacy of the first revised objective – to improve the technical efficiency and financial sustainability of Lusaka Water and Sanitation Company and improve access to water supply and sanitation services, for urban consumers in Lusaka, Kafue, Chongwe, and Luangwa districts – is rated modest. While LWSC’s technical and financial efficiency parameters had improved by closure, they have deteriorated since.

Efficacy of the second revised objective – strengthening the national water supply and sanitation planning – is rated modest. The planning capacity of the sector ministry remains weak. The ministry has no clear mechanism to coordinate with the City Councils that own and manage the utilities nor does it have a clear role in enforcing regulations.

Overall Development outcome is rated moderately unsatisfactory.

Read the full report for more outcome assessments.


IEG’s evaluation resulted in the following lessons relevant to improving the financial viability and sustainability of water and sanitation as a service:

1) Maintaining the financial viability of a service provider requires strategies to deal with exogenous factors in addition to securing technical and commercial efficiency of operations. The financial viability of utilities supported by the project faces pressure from reduced availability and increased cost of energy (with the crisis in hydropower), thus adding to the effects of shortcomings in operational and technical efficiency and a reduction in annual budget allocation for utility operation, maintenance, rehabilitation and expansion, making it difficult to maintain the quality of water and sanitation service delivery.

2) Sustainable provision of water supply services in the face of growing population and demand requires active coordination between the authorities responsible for long-term water resource planning, and service providers. In the case of Zambia, the growing urban and rural population and recurrent droughts have strained surface and ground water resources. In the project area, unregulated drilling of bore holes by public agencies and public and private organizations and businesses is putting pressure on the utilities. It is necessary for the Ministry of Water Development which is responsible for water resources and the Ministry of Local Government and Housing responsible for the water supply to coordinate in developing further strategies to manage the extraction and use of river and surface water for competing users.

3) Alternative approaches need to be actively explored and adopted for urban and rural sanitation, especially when conventional sewerage may not be financially feasible. In the project areas, reliance on existing on-site sanitation facilities poses problems, especially in the rainy season when run-off rainwater floods these facilities which are not emptied or properly managed. Zambia could learn from countries that have similar geographic, economic and demographic patterns, and have developed more effective approaches to improving and managing sanitation facilities.

Read the full Report

Read more about the Zambia Water Sector Performance Improvement Project

Read more about IEG's Upcoming Evaluation of the World Bank Group's Support for Water Supply and Sanitation Services, with Focus on the Poor

photo credit:  © GIZ Rahul Ingle, 2010


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