Sipping on aromatic coffee just a few miles from the World Bank and United Nations offices in bustling Nairobi, Tammy Mehdi from the GPSA met with Chris Heymans, Senior Water & Sanitation Specialist for the World Bank, to chat about his work in the water & sanitation sector and ways that both groups can work together to tackle service delivery issues in this area.

Chris has worked in countries ranging from Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania and Zimbabwe in Africa, to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia in Asia. His first work with the World Bank was in 2002 as consultant, and he joined the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) as staff in 2006, with a regional role covering India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where the service delivery focus of the program was integrally linked to decentralization and local governance. After a stint as a UK-based consultant, he returned to the World Bank in 2013 to coordinate WSP’s urban work in Africa with specific projects since then in Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia.

Chris also led the development of the World Bank report on Providing Water to Poor People in African Cities Effectively: Lessons from Utility Reforms, released in August 2016, which examines what we can learn from cities and utilities that successfully provide reliable and safe water to citizens. The findings have been widely shared at forums, such as the Stockholm International Water Week, the International Water Association, and the African Water Association, among others. In 2014, he also led a report, The Limits and Possibilities of Prepaid Water in Urban Africa: Lessons from the Field, which explores prepaid water systems in eight cities in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia.

The work of the Water Practice on institutions and (social) accountability brings a sharp edge to the use of inclusion and gender tools that are being used to improve public services. Chris shared a couple of examples, like in Ethiopia, where cities and towns still lack the service process chains as well as  infrastructure  to properly and safely deal with sanitation issues, such as the safe containment and disposal of feces. World Bank technical assistance and investment projects focus on these challenges, assisting policymakers and service providers to move beyond conventional approaches, such as trying to focus investments on sewerage infrastructure when in reality around 90 percent of the urban population rely on onsite facilities of sharply varying quality. In Kenya, the MajiVoice initiative has helped facilitate vastly improved communication between service providers and their customers, including software that allows citizens to lodge complaints, and service providers to identify and respond to problems. In Kenya’s largest utility, in Nairobi, complaint resolution time was reduced drastically.

Within the Water Practice, Chris and his colleagues continue to work with clients and their stakeholders to tackle challenges in the sector across Africa – addressing technical and financial issues like cost recovery, water losses and maintenance, as well as very intricate institutional, governance and social complexities, such as assisting Kenya to enhance accountability and performance within a vastly more devolved water service delivery system both within sub-national entities and in dealing with cross-boundary flows and resource sharing. While infrastructure investment is a pivotal part of the Bank’s water business, the Water Practice’s approach is not only to “fix the pipes,” but rather to “help fix the institutions that fix the pipes.” This means capacity building, but much more, especially accountability, so that aside from the relationships between public institutions, citizens and civil society have a voice in how public services improve.

The GPSA and the Water Practice will be planning some activities in the future – stay tuned!

The GPSA has a project to improve water and sanitation in Tajikistan, "Improving social accountability in the water sector through the development of quality standards and citizen participation in monitoring in Tajikistan."