Increasingly regulators are being assessed not only on how they drive utilities to greater efficiency and protect existing customers, but what role they
play in ensuring that services reach poor communities. This is especially so in developing countries, where as many as 50% of the population (many of them
poor) currently receive little or no service from the formal utility
This trend underpinned work recently completed in East Africa. BPD, a membership organisation that works with partnerships that get water and sanitation to poor communities, engaged four regulators to understand how they address services to the poor. The regulators from Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya and Rwanda came together in October 2005 to discuss their work with each other, with water sector representatives from Kenya, and with several donors. The World Bank has also been looking at the topic, and has recently published a review titled "Taking account of the poor in water sector regulation" (siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWSS/Resources/WN11.pdf).
The focus is on what regulators (or indeed, the broader 'regulatory framework' - see overleaf) can do to assist and encourage utilities to serve poorer communities. Some of the discussions are at an early stage. Yet it is helpful for utility managers, policymakers, NGOs and others to engage now with the issue. Being pro-active may allow stakeholders to adapt their operations to the evolution of the regulatory framework, but may also provide opportunities to have their say
over why and how the rules of the game change.