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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

William Van Der Byl

A Review and Analysis of Private Operator Models for the Management of Rural Water Supply Services in Sub-Saharan Africa

By the end of 2015, approximately 44% of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was without access to an improved water source. Moreover, water point functionality is estimated to only be at 78%, making it increasingly clear that the functional sustainability of rural water supply (RWS) services are inadequate. This has resulted in a range of alternative RWS management models being investigated and trialled. One such alternative is the private operator (PO) management model, thereby involving the private sector in RWS. While PO management models are becoming increasingly more common, they are still relatively rare. Consequently, the holistic conditions under which PO management models are expected to work are not fully understood.


The primary research goal was to construct a rapid assessment framework (RAF), which assists in the preliminary assessment of situations to determine if it is appropriate to utilise the PO management model for RWS. Data collection consisted of a review of literature and interviews conducted with key informants involved in RWS in SSA. A systematic and iterative coding process was used to analyse the interviews. The synthesis of the literature review and interview analysis findings resulted in six themes, critical to the PO management model, being identified; namely: (1) PO functions, (2) indicators and monitoring, (3) enabling environment, (4) community characteristics, (5) financial aspects, and (6) contracts. These themes all have sub-categories which, collectively, form the RAF.


PO management models can be a viable option as a RWS management model and can be utilised to help address the sustainability of RWS in SSA. Furthermore, involving the private sector, through the PO management model, can be an option to help address the issue of financial viability in RWS. However, political will and improved public sector capacity are vital to the success of the PO management model. This implies that private sector involvement is a supplement, not a replacement, to public sector involvement. Due to the varying degree and type of private sector involvement in RWS, further research and testing is required to refine and validate the RAF to make it more context specific with regards to the location and type of PO management model. Lastly, it is important to be aware that private sector involvement is not a panacea for RWS and, therefore, a patchwork of management models is required if sustainable development goal (SDG) 6 is to be achieved.