[SPONSORED] A promise delivered: Scaling up access to water & sanitation services

Walking nearly 3 kilometers to access clean water was not an easy chore for Uwamahoro Claudine a business woman, resident of Nyamata, Bugesera district.
A school child in Muhanga District drinks water. More than 85% of Rwandans have access to clean water. (Timothy Kisambira)
A school child in Muhanga District drinks water. More than 85% of Rwandans have access to clean water. (Timothy Kisambira)

Walking nearly 3 kilometers to access clean water was not an easy chore for Uwamahoro Claudine a business woman, resident of Nyamata, Bugesera district.  

She says, 10 years ago, access to clean water was not an assured occurrence in Nyamata and residents struggled to cope up with the situation when it came to sanitation


The story has since changed for the better. ”Thanks to the good leadership of President Paul Kagame, we no longer have to walk long distances to access clean water. We  can say  the living conditions have greatly improved,” Uwamahoro narrates.


Despite the challenges, she says, government has invested resources and efforts to ensure every citizen gets access to clean water and excellent Sanitary services across the country.


Uwamahoro’s story is not unique and resonates well with other similar testimonies across the country.
It also  invokes the fact that access to affordable water and sanitation services is a basic right of all Rwandans.   It is also important to recognize the economic value of water and good sanitary servicers as ingredients in achieving economic development.

Experts strongly believe that managing and regulating water as an economic good is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable applications, and of encouraging conservation and protection of water resources.

This has been the driving factor of RURA in the past 7 years.


“The Authority has over the past years taken Water and sanitation as one of the critical components and top priorities of economic development with a clear understanding that economic excellence can best be realized through a healthy population.

Engineer Byigero, the in charge of water, sanitation services at RURA.

The idea was to ensure that 100 per cent of  our Citizens have access to clean water by 2020 as it is enshrined in the EDPRS2 and Vision 2020, says  the Head of Energy, Water and Sanitation at RURA, Eng. Alfred Dusenge  Byigero.

“The principle objective is to provide sufficient and sustainable water supply to the citizens of Rwanda.”

The development of a 25-year national water supply and sanitation blue print is a manifestation of the direction government is taking in terms of access to clean water and clean environment.

And therefore RURA’s guiding principle has always been “make the country achieve its national universal access to water supply and sanitation through the identification of effective water supply and sanitation projects.”

This has been the objective for the government.

Indeed, RURA looks at the importance of adequate water supply and sanitation services as key drivers for social and economic development, poverty reduction and public health.

And this is because Rwanda‘s overall development objectives and planning tools are driven by the Vision 2020, EDPRS, Seven Year Government Program and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Government of Rwanda has set an ambition to improve the quality of life of its population by provision of adequate water supply and sanitation services. It is evident that the lack of basic services such as water supply and sanitation leads to poverty and underdevelopment.

Therefore, the EDPRS 2 which runs and underpins this vision and has set very ambitious targets for the water supply and sanitation sector, aiming to reach 100% coverage rate by 2018.

School children line up in a sanitation demonstration exercise.

It has prioritized water supply and sanitation services in the thematic themes as a critical service that can contribute significantly to attainment of the growth needed for Rwanda.


According to RURA, Sanitation issues need to be observed as an integrated development strategy because inadequate sanitation services are detrimental to the health and well-being of the population. Water supply and sanitation are inextricably linked as part of the broader development process.

RURA mandate in water sub-sector has been to regulate the provision of water services in a way that promotes fair competition, sustainable and efficient use of water resources and ensure that water service providers offer a good quality of service in regards to drinking water.

The authority has ensured that the sanitation sub-sector is effectively promoted through regulation of sanitation services.

Sanitation regulation consists of establishing tools necessary for sound regulation of sanitation services in Rwanda, licensing sanitation service provision, monitor compliance to licensees through audits and inspections conducted to sanitation service providers and analyze reports from sanitation service providers.

There is no doubt throughout the last 7 years, a commendable progress with regard to increasing access to improved drinking water supply and sanitation services has been made.

This is in line with the vision of being the most sustainable water utility in Africa, a vision government has set for all stakeholders   who are supposed to embark on the process of crafting strategies and treading the path towards its attainment.

The plan has been to ensure by 2020 the distances from dwelling units to water sources is reduced to   at least 200 meters in urban areas and 500 meters in rural areas.

Experts believe the growing population will ultimately increase the demand for water and sanitary services across the country. It is therefore important to keep the sector well regulated.

One of Kigali’s clean highways. Rwanda is one of Africa's cleanest counties.

And in order to improve service delivery in water and sanitation, government  has been  implementing large projects including the  Nzove II, water treatment plant now supplying  more than  25,000 m3 per day to Kigali residents alone.

Similarly, projects like Kigali Bulk Water Supply are expected to play a key role in ensuring government realizes its objectives in this sector.

In addition to programs like the school Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion Program which is contributing to construction of sustainable water and sanitation facilities in schools, the country is on right track towards achieving a well regulated and monitored water and sanitation sector for all stakeholders to benefit.

Different streets in Kigali show the impact of good sanitation policies. 
Police officers join stakeholders to promote sanitation in a zebra crossing painting exercise.

The installation of urine-diversion ecological toilets and rainwater catchment tanks for hand washing and cleaning have contributed to the dissemination of sound hygiene best practices among students and teachers.


With RURA playing the watch dog role, there is evidence that most water and sanitation  projects have  helped increase provision of access to safe water supply to more than 85 per cent of the population across the country  within a period of 7 years.

Government and UNICEF working together have for example provided to more than 500,000 households with access to clean water. Equally, more than 108 schools and 23 health centres have benefitted under this project.

The provision of rain water harvesting facilities in 258 schools and 50 health centres have boosted the number of those accessing clean water. The same project has benefitted 450,000 Rwandans with good access to sanitation services.

President Paul Kagame launching Nzove I water treatment plant recently.

The coverage of water supply in these districts of Rulindo, Musanze and Rubavu has increased from average of 64% – to 80% presently.

Government recently enacted the National Water Supply and Sanitation Program with the objective of providing sustainable drinking water supply and sanitation services to rural communities with a view of improving their health.

This progress is highly attributed to the continued partnership between government and the private sector saying it has resulted into more than 85 percent of the population accessing clean water.

This could not have been possible without a strong regulatory framework which has ensured the citizens of Rwanda have the best quality of service, a cornerstone of RURA.

According to James Sano, the Chief Executive Officer WASAC, the goal has been to ensure we provide quality, reliable and affordable water and sewerage services through continuous innovations and detailed care to customers’ needs

The regulator has over the past 7 years has emphasized the need for sustainable and efficient use of water resources plus the provision of quality sanitary services as a cornerstone of a healthy population.

Different streets in Kigali show the impact of good sanitation policies. 

And so far the utility body has licensed more than 32 companies to supply clean water to citizens across the country.

These cover 3 categories including water regulation, bulk water and infrastructure management in complex and simple water systems.

The institution has enforced sector laws and regulations through issuing licenses, ensuring compliance by all service providers.

RURA has also ensured excellence in conducting audits and inspections to ensure compliance, and   make sure citizens have access to clean water and quality sanitation services.

In the last seven years, RURA has set new regulations and new tariffs for those operating in the water and sanitation sector in Rwanda.

There has been improvement in the water supply services coverage as per the EICV3 and EICV4 results.

For-example,   access to clean water source increased from 74.2 to 85% which shows that the sector is doing well.

Urban households within 200 meters of improved water source increased from 86.4 in 2014 to 90% in 2015 while rural households within 500m access to clean water source increased from 72.1% to 83% in 2014/2015.

The regulator has been setting regulations for minimum requirements in water service provision, since 2011 and in September   2015, RURA developed instruments in water supply, service regulations, which were later updated to help decentralize wastewater treatment system.

Experts believe that it is essential to recognise the basic right of all Rwandans to have access to clean water and sanitation at an affordable price.

This is because past failures in recognizing the economic value of water has led to wasteful and environmentally damaging uses of this scarce resource.

Therefore, managing water as an economic good is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable use, encouraging conservation and protection of water resources, says Grace Umuraza a health expert   in Kigali.

According to Umuraza,    It is economically wise to invest in water and sanitation infrastructure. Quantifying the costs averted and benefits gained from improvements in water and sanitation is difficult, but estimates show that the benefits far outweigh the costs of such investments.

“Water Service Providers now have to ensure that water supplied to consumers is always of good quality and fits human consumption requirements both aesthetically, chemically and bacteriologically,” says Byigero.

Economic Value of Water and Sanitation

The United Nations (UN) reports (2012) says, for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there are around $8 gained through averted costs (for healthcare, illness among others) and increased productivity.

In 2004, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that investing $1 in water, sanitation and hygiene education would bring health and other benefits of between $3 and $34, depending on the technology used.

Research done for the 2006 UN Human Development Report estimated that the total cost of the current deficit in investment in water and sanitation is $170 billion, what means 2.6 % of all developing countries’ GDP.

While it is important to invest in water and sanitation services, it is equally imperative to ensure the sector is well regulated and monitored for desired benefits.
Regulation of rural water services
According to Byigero, in 2011 RURA introduced a strategy to regulate rural water services by engaging districts.

Among the key issues addressed were to cluster water systems to create economies  of scale and attract professionals, creating District Water Boards for planning and overseeing the management and licensing and regulating professional operators that comply with licensing requirements, says Byigero.

Institutions responsible for distributing water have increased in number since 2011.

“Today, there are other 32 investors dealing in water supply in the whole country. It is RURA’s intervention in regulating this sector that has helped to bring order. It is only those with the potential and expertize that are allowed to distribute water,” Byigero says.

President Paul Kagame in one of his routine Umuganda exercises recently. This exercise has largely boosted access to sanitation services and contributed to the development in general.

Government support
Meanwhile, government recently earmarked Rwf467.7billion for water and sanitation under the new policy.

The total funding of water supply policy implementation strategy is about Rwf337 billion to be used between 2015/16 up to 2020.

In sanitation, the Government plans to use over Rwf130.7 billion in infrastructure investments in a five year period.

According to Aimé Muzora, the director of planning at MININFRA, the policies, which were drafted by the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA), seek to ensure the full coverage for both water and sanitation areas by 2020.

Muzora said water production is at impressive stage (at over 85 per cent) in coverage but there is still a gap to bridge.

“We have various water treatment projects such as Nzove I, which is supplying water now, and Nzove II, which is under construction and will be completed in the near future,” he said.

The lack of collective sewerage system remains a challenge to sanitation and there is need to improve, replace or build about 500,000 improved on-site sanitation facilities every year to reach full coverage and improve hygienic behaviour of the population.

From an annual average growth rate of less than 1 % (23 years ago), access to safe water supply according to WASAC statistics increased by 4.3 % annually since 2005, and access to hygienic sanitation increased by 11 % in the period 2005-2008.

This has resulted into achieving the status Rwanda has today for water and sanitation.

This positive and dynamic trend is secured through strong commitment of the Government of Rwanda (GoR), formalized with clear indicators in EDPRS 2008-2012 and Vision 2020, said James Sano the chief executive officer of WASAC.

Accordig to Sano, this has resulted from the implementation of different initiatives and projects in collaboration with

Development partners such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Union, and The Japanese Government through the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UN HABITAT, UNICEF, WATERAID, and Water for People, among others.

Meanwhile, Sanitation has also been given a major priority in RURA’s operations. Revision of the water and sanitation policy is ongoing.

RURA has been cautious on the development of a central sewage system, taking into consideration the topography of Kigali.

The Authority has to ensure that the sanitation sub-sector is effectively promoted through regulation of sanitation services.

The regulator has been looking at different types and models of sewerage systems that would suit best to and be implemented in the growing Kigali and secondary cities.

The sanitation master plans for most of the secondary cities have been developed and shall be validated sometime this year.

The key activities have included strengthening of enabling framework, development of National Policy for Water and Sanitation in 2004 which was subsequently updated in 2010; prioritization of sanitation and hygiene in the national agenda; launch of Community Based Environmental Health Promotion Program(CBEHPP) aimed at promotion of safe sanitation and hygiene practices countrywide; strong emphasis on decentralization; and putting in place comprehensive mechanism for monitoring the performance.

“We are now building a legacy of efficiency, a culture of professionalism and tenets of providing quality customer services,” says Byigero adding that the efforts have made Rwanda one of the cleanest countries globally thus playing a key role in attracting investors into the country.

The litter-free streets and manicured gardens paint a completely different picture to the derelict African cities portrayed in the media.

The efforts to improve sanitation in the country have paid off with access to improved sanitation facilities increasing from 18% in 1994 up to 74.5% in 2015 and to the current 83.4% according to EICV4 statistics.

In urban centers, access to proper sanitary services have improved  from  83%  in 2014 to 93.5% in 2015 and rural  areas  from 73% to 81.5% in 2014/2015 respectively.
 More than 172, 219 individual latrines have been constructed, mostly for vulnerable people.

 Public latrines were also constructed in schools, market places, hospitals, health centers, among others.

Messages on safe hygiene practices were provided through direct promotion activities with communities and training on sanitation and hygiene promotion.

This has been implemented through the Community Hygiene Clubs established in all villages of the country.

The goal of the Community Hygiene Clubs is to deliver sanitation and hygiene message at the community level.

By banning the importation and manufacture of plastic bags, promoting anti-littering habits and hosting a mandatory community clean-up once a month, the local government has succeeded in breeding a culture of eco-conscious citizens.

When RURA started regulating sanitation in partnership with Local Authorities in 2011, it brought order in service provision by approving stringent regulations to regulate the services.

 This brought about professionalism in the sanitation sector. Operators in this domain are composed of companies, cooperatives and individuals providing solid waste collection and transportation services, cleaning services and, waste recycling among others.

 Engineer Byigero, says all service providers are licensed and,  currently, number  to 23 providing sanitation services in Rwanda.

“The sector is well regulated and to avoid the confusion that was there before, we adopted the allocation of one operator per Sector in the City of Kigali for waste collection” says Byigero, who urges that Waste collection services have improved thanks to strong monitoring and regulatory framework.

There are also other 159 investors in this sector that were given licenses to carry out cleaning services along the road sides. “All these have continued to keep our country among the top cleanest globally,” says Byigero.

Going forward, RURA is committed to ensuring that government policies in regulated utilities are implemented, consumers are protected and investors gain from their investment.

RURA attributes all the achievements highlighted to the good governance and visionary leadership of His Excelency President Paul Kagame.

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