Following the reorganization of the water supply and sanitation sector in Zambia, where service provision has been decentralized to the local level, it became important to keep a watchful eye on the service providers.
In order to protect the interests of consumers, follow up their complaints and improve communication between consumers and providers, The national Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) has established Water Watch Groups (WWG).
In Lusaka, the WWG was the first to be set up as a pilot project in 2002. It works on voluntary basis. So far, 8 WWGs have been established across the country.
The major challenge has been to correct the impression that the WWGs concept is not employment but voluntary work for the good of all water users. Many people who applied mistakenly assumed it was like the UN voluntary service with a good allowance. Also, it was important to keep out politicians to avoid the WWG to be used as political instrument.
The WWGs in carrying out consumer sensitisation, mainly use the media, popular theatre in peri-urban areas, participate in workshops and debates, and open air meetings. The main functions of WWGs include public awareness about rights and obligations of consumers (such as proper use of water, timely payment of bills).
Due to the very high impact on consumer participation and utility response to complaints the energy and telecommunication regulators have come forward to join hands with NWASCO and eight of the WWG have been transformed into consumer watch groups to address energy and telecommunication issues as well.
- Consumer involvement is key to the success of water sector reforms.
- WWG members must be committed, and operate under clear objectives.
- WWG activities have to be adequately funded with strict fiscal controls.
- The volunteer concept has proven to be an excellent tool for reinforcing consumer protection.
- It is very important to integrate health messages into WSS programs in order to have a holistic approach.
- It is essential to pay specific attention to low income urban areas where the quality of service provision usually lags behind.