Commercialization of Afghanistan Water and Sanitation Activity

ICMA has worked with local units of the national water utility in five cities in Afghanistan to help them prepare for eventual privatization.


From 2008 to 2014, ICMA implemented the USAID and ICMA Commercialization of Afghanistan Water and Sanitation Activity (CAWSA) program, which was designed to develop a viable commercial business model for urban water and sanitation service delivery in Afghanistan.

CAWSA was awarded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kabul. To carry it out, ICMA began working with local units of the national water utility (the Afghan Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Corporation, AUWSSC) in the cities of Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif, Ghazni, and Gardez to help them improve their management and technical operations. 

The program was later expanded to include Kandahar and four water supply satellite operations in the smaller cities of Zaranj, Lashkar Gah, Mehtarlam, and Tirin Kot (Tirin Kot was later dropped from the program). In May 2012, when the program in the original cities ended, USAID extended the program in Kandahar for two years to allow time for it to "catch up."

The ultimate goal of CAWSA was to prepare water utilities in the country for eventual privatization. To that end, the program focused on: 

  • Improving the operating efficiency of the local water utilities by implementing standardized work methods, inspections, inventory management, systematic equipment maintenance, and other practices that can help control costs 
  • Improving financial management by revising revenue and rate structures, improving cash flow, and improving billing and collection practices—which, in combination with improved efficiency, can reduce the need for government subsidies 
  • Reducing water loss by better metering of water flow and by conservation practices 
  • Establishing key performance indicators, performance targets, and measurement methods to provide a yardstick for maintaining acceptable standards of service at reasonable cost 
  • Providing the managers and employees in local utilities with the capacity and tools to sustain improvements into the future and to replicate them in other cities after ICMA's involvement ends.

During the first year of the program, ICMA completed detailed assessments of each local utility to determine its baseline physical condition, financing, management capabilities, and other resources. ICMA worked closely with the local utility managers to tailor the program to the needs of each city and to a changing national environment. 

Based on the initial assessments, ICMA deployed practical on-the-job training and technical assistance to meet local needs. ICMA worked with the employees of each local utility to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of their financial and administrative reports and procedures, and established key performance indicators, performance targets, and measurement methods. Ongoing formal training complemented the on-the-job mentoring with such topics as water utility management, basic water works operation, water testing and quality control, water distribution, and conservation programs.

In order to facilitate the ongoing development of the local water utilities, ICMA established a Statement of Goals for each local water utility along with a Capital Project Grants program and a performance contract with incentives for achievement of goals. This program carried forward into the second and third years of the program to facilitate the establishment of performance targets, service expansion, and high-priority operational improvements that enable the delivery of increasing quantities of clean, potable water to more customers during more hours per day, including 24-hour service to customers in many areas. 

Programmatic successes over the course of the program included the following:

  • Improvements in physical infrastructure included rehabilitation of pump stations, extensions of pipe networks, and repair of dilapidated buildings and other damaged property.
  • CAWSA teams, with water supply department technical teams, developed GIS maps of existing networks to guide maintenance.
  • Water supply departments recruited interns to read meters, deliver bills, and enforce collection of delinquent accounts, resulting in increased revenues and conversion of illegal connections to official ones.
  • These improved collection practices helped the water departments increase their cost coverage. Each department more than achieved its target increase in cost recovery.
  • The Cabinet of Ministers of the Afghanistan government approved an increase in the fee per cubic meter for water—a move that improves the ability of the departments to recover costs.
  • Departments made tangible customer service improvements, including hotlines, customer care centers, relocation of inconvenient offices to provide “one-stop shopping,” better customer communications, and computerized complaint tracking and customer records systems, leading to a decrease in delinquencies by unhappy customers.
  • CAWSA procured motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles for field inspectors and technical repair crews. Elapsed time between an emergency call and the arrival of a repair crew with replacement parts was reduced significantly.
  • CAWSA trained water supply departments to prepare infrastructure project funding requests, including CAD software design preparation and budget planning, for submission to provincial planning committees and other donors for funding, resulting in significant leveraging of additional investment resources.
  • CAWSA developed a technical operations and maintenance manual to help standardize AUWSSC infrastructure, operations, reporting systems, and maintenance activities for all of its local water supply departments countrywide. The manual was customized to reflect the equipment in each water supply department and is available in English, Dari, and Pashtu. It is issued in loose-leaf binder format so it can be easily updated with new material.  
  • AUWSSC, with CAWSA assistance, developed annual corporate financial reporting based on actual performance of its network; improved communications with water supply departments; and received both organizational development assistance and financial advice to finalize its plans to integrate all CAWSA-assisted water supply departments and their satellites into the corporate holding company structure and resolve longstanding auditing and financial problems.
  • In April 2013 CAWSA convened the first annual seminar for all the directors of strategic business units under AUWSSC. Meeting in Mazar-e-Sharif, the directors discussed issues and challenges and recommended improvements related to management, administration and facilities, and technical operations. They also requested an opportunity to convene regularly.
  • The project team coordinated and managed a “study tour” for water utility staff from Kandahar, Zaranj, Mehtarlam, and Lashkar Gah to visit the AUWSSC strategic business unit (local municipal water provider) in the western Afghanistan city of Herat. During the study tour, water utility staff learned about management and engineering practices carried out in the Herat locality. 

Some of these and other "success stories" appear in the column to the right. This presentation provides a photographic "before and after" record of improvements.

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