Strengthening Sanitation in Burundi: Insights from an EquiServe Training-of-trainers Workshop

On August 17, Athena Infonomics kicked off a two-day training-of-trainers workshop that brought water and sanitation professionals from across Burundi to consider real-life examples of citywide inclusive sanitation (CWIS) and various service models, and discuss use cases for regulators, utility providers, ministries, and other stakeholders. This workshop introduced participants to EquiServe, a powerful analytical tool designed to assist public-sector leaders and development actors to design creative service models that advance equitable, safe, and sustainable sanitation services in cities. These efforts are a part of a scale-up and institutionalizing plan being developed with the Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation (ESAWAS) Regulators Association.

    The need for CWIS is clear: Burundi faces significant water and sanitation challenges. Access to clean drinking water is limited, particularly in rural areas, leading to widespread health issues. Sanitation facilities are often inadequate, resulting in cases of open defecation. Limited investment in infrastructure and growth further strains the situation. Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach, involving government action, community engagement, international support, and tailored solutions encompassing improved infrastructure, hygiene education, water treatment, and strengthened governance. Analytical tools such as EquiServe can help bring various stakeholders together around a comprehensive framework and process for CWIS service delivery planning.

    The event was attended by representatives from organizations such as: l’Autorité de Régulation des Secteurs de l’Eau Potable et de l’Energie (AREEN); l’Office Burundais de l’Urbanisme, de l’Habitat et de la Construction (OBUHA); Le Service Technique d'Assainissement de Gitega (SETAG); l’Agence Burundaise de l'Hydraulique et de l'Assainissement en Milieu Rural (AHAMR); and Burundi’s Department of Environment, Hygiene, and Sanitation.

     The different stakeholders came to the meeting with varying expectations. OBUHA was interested in how the tool can be used to provide services to the poor and improve sanitation works, sanitation planning, and service provision (especially for women and children); and how to collect sanitation data effectively and systematically. AREEN wanted to understand how utilities can be trained to use the tool. The Department of Environment, Hygiene, and Sanitation was looking for approaches to attract investors in the sector.

  l’Autorité de Régulation des Secteurs de l’Eau Potable et de l’Energie (AREEN) is exclusively mandated by the Government of Burundi to regulate drinking water and energy. AREEN seeks to: set up tariff guidelines and key performance indicator (KPI) reporting for the sector, as well as guidelines for sanitation emptying and transport; regulate illegal dumping; organize capacity-building sessions; create a CWIS team; and understand good practices from other countries. And, with sustainability in mind, they plan to focus on revenue collection and the reuse and/or valorization of sludge.

 To achieve its goals, AREEN needs to address a number of challenges:
     -> There are two separate utilities in Bujumbura—one for water and one for sanitation. There is currently a problem with the transfer of funds between the two.
    ->There is no sewer tariff at all: households only pay for a one-time connection fee. AREEN needs regulatory tools to ensure that those who are connected will continue to pay.
     ->There are no performance contracts for utilities. AREEN has very few regulatory tools and wishes to expand upon the ones it has. At the moment, they mostly regulate through informal mechanisms, such as the application of political pressure, stakeholder meetings, etc.
     -> At present, there are no KPIs being reported by the implementing agencies, but AREEN is in the process of establishing KPIs.

AREEN is now developing a regulatory framework to oversee tariff setting—with help from Zambia’s National Water Supply & Sanitation Council (NWASCO), whose members have served as mentors and have hosted learning visits in Lusaka. The amount of, and accuracy of, sanitation data remains an obstacle in Burundi: only national-level reports are available for various data points, and city-level data is often missing and/or very inaccurate. For this reason, a GIS mapping is scheduled to be implemented in Bujumbura this year, with funding from ESAWAS. This mapping will seek to capture all households, demographic and economic data, infrastructure and buildings, water and sanitation facilities, and natural resources and drainages.

   l’Office Burundais de l’Urbanisme, de l’Habitat et de la Construction (OBUHA) is the executing agency for all sanitation works in the country and is in charge of developing policies and guidelines for the management of the sector.
   As part of this work, OBUHA oversees the institutional and regulatory frameworks guiding sanitation in the country. There is a national sanitation policy in place to provide general guidance on the implementation of programs and projects. The government has established the Department of Environment, Hygiene, and Sanitation to manage urban areas and AHAMR to govern rural water and sanitation.
   There is presently no national financing framework, as no major work has been taken up in the last 30 years. However, the government recently financed a sewer extension project for one billion Burundi francs. Revenue is low for several reasons: there are no charges levied for the pollution generated by commercial and/or industrial customers; sewer-connected households are not charged; there is a lack of general interest to invest in the sector; and the government provides only a limited/minimum budget, while continuing in its efforts to attract investors.
   Burundi’s water and sanitation needs are reliant on Lake Tanganyika. As the world’s longest freshwater lake, Tanganyika is the source of drinking water for the city of Bujumbura, and the city’s treated wastewater empties into it. For this reason, OBUHA has prioritized the protection of Lake Tanganyika against liquid and solid waste.

   Le Service Technique d'Assainissement de Gitega (SETAG) provides sanitation services to Burundi’s municipalities. In Gitega, the country’s political capital and home to more than 130,000 people, the households rely on on-site sewer systems (OSS), as the city’s sewer system runs only 1.5km in length. The fecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) in Masenga receives 25% of the city’s capacity and the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) at Shatanya receives half of the capacity (though it requires rehabilitation of its lagoons).
The Workshop’s EquiServe Training

   On the first day of the workshop, the various parties considered CWIS examples from a number of cities, as well as a selection of different service model examples. The participants were keen to look at examples that could be structured for donor funding, investor funding, and/or budgeting from the government. Later that day, Athena Infonomics conducted a participatory walkthrough of the tool that shared results and baseline data for Bujumbura.

   On the second day, use cases for regulators, utility providers, ministries, and other stakeholders were presented and discussed. These were followed by scenario development, with practical, hands-on training for all participants. The training continued with a demonstration on how to model and construct scenarios in the tool, how to change parameters, etc. The remainder of the workshop was used to deliberate on next steps, compile feedback from participants, and provide guidance to trainers.

Key Takeaways from the Workshop
    As the workshop came to a close, several observations became clear among the participants:
   -> There were very high levels of interest around the tool and how it can enable regulators and service authorities to plan in a systematic way. Stakeholders were eager to learn lessons from other geographies and held engaging discussions about the gaps in their current systems and data availability. One of the most critical gaps involved identifying the citizens they are serving through sewered and non-sewered systems, and the lack of policies for tariff-setting among their customers.
   -> Participants were very interested in the public-private partnership (PPP) examples provided, as well as the descriptions of different business models. Burundi has a limited budget for sanitation (for example, it may not be possible to provide continuous subsidies), as well as competing priorities from other sectors (such as energy and water), so the stakeholders were very interested in how they might use business models to maximize service outreach with limited resources.
   Next Steps
   Stakeholders at the workshop agreed to a number of actions in the near future:
   -> EquiServe will be implemented in the city of Bujumbura and the Gitega municipality, with OBUHA and SETAG serving as implementation leads.
   -> AREEN and other stakeholders will reach out to Athena Infonomics for tool support. Any training and other deployment support will be based on the authorities’ use of tool during implementation.