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Reforming urban sanitation under decentralization: cross‐country learning for Kenya and beyond


Written by Nathaniel Mason


Unclear institutional frameworks undermine progress in improving services, and ongoing decentralization reforms often reduce clarity further. This research sought to identify key challenges for the institutional arrangements for urban sanitation in decentralizing contexts, in Kenya and elsewhere, and to propose possible responses.

Key informant interviews and literature review were used in a problem‐driven analysis, drawing from three comparative case studies: South Africa, Indonesia and Tamil Nadu State. The analysis builds upon research on institutional effectiveness—co‐operation, collaboration and co‐ordination—rooted in game theory and elaborated in the 2017 World Development Report.

Three key problems in Kenya are identified: overlaps and competition around sector leadership at national and devolved levels; weak incentives for county governments to commit policy attention and finance, despite devolution; and limited regulatory oversight. In response, we identify a range of options for urban sanitation policy‐makers: (a) to engage non‐sectoral authorities in co‐ordinating multi‐sectoral issues across all levels of government; (b) to encourage political commitment to pro‐poor sanitation services at decentralized levels; and (c) to use incentive‐based and risk‐based approaches to regulate decentralized entities and strengthen local capacity for monitoring and enforcement.

The research was funded by the Urban Sanitation Research Initiative – a programme managed by Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor and funded by UK aid from the UK government.

Authors: Nathaniel Mason, Charles Oyaya, Julia Boulenouar