Benin overview

Benin is located in West Africa and has a population of approximately 8.8 million. The economy of Benin is largely dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. According to the IMF, Benin is classified as a least developed country with a GDP per capita of US$1,445. At the end of the 1980s, Benin underwent a major political crisis. A massive reorganisation of the State and a decentralisation process resulted from this crisis.

Administrative set up

Benin is divided into 12 departments, and subdivided into 77 communes.

Main sector institutions

  • The General Directorate of Water (DG Eau) is the main sector agency, responsible for policy development, facilitation and regulation. It has provincial (deconcentrated) offices at Departmental level.
  • The Société Nationale des Eaux du Bénin (SONEB) is the National Water Utility of Benin, and is the main service provider in cities and towns.
  • Communes are the level of local government which, since early 2003 when the process of decentralisation began in the water sector, have the obligation to guarantee water supply service delivery. Among others, communes are responsible for investing in facilities, and they have become asset holders responsible for ensuring that service delivery arrangements are in place. In reality, the decentralisation process is going very slowly, and many communes do not play their role as asset holders. Many planning functions continue at departmental level.
  • Operators can be either private operators or community groups.
  • The sector has been largely guided by the Rural Water Supply Assistance and Development Programme (PADEAR), started in the 1990s. This programme has been aimed at reorganising the sector, as well as at harmonising efforts in rural water supply among sector stakeholders.

Service Delivery Models

The national water supply strategy was published in 2006, and is aimed at strengthening the decentralisation process. It identifies the need to promote delegated management as a way of improving sustainability of supplies. The specific delegation model depends on the type of infrastructure, either small piped systems or point-source infrastructure, and the already existing management arrangements. As a result, in rural and small town settings, many water SDMs coexist:

  • In the more complex distribution systems, four models of delegation have been identified in the national strategy using lease contracts: to a private operator; tripartite involving the commune, water user association and private operator; production by a private operator and distribution by a water user association; and to a water user association. Under these models the commune owns the infrastructure and undertakes planning, the district directorate for water provides support and ensures regulation, and the operator is the one who provides the services, with different responsibilities regarding asset management, depending on the type of delegation. The operator is either private or community-based, but the former is strongly encouraged by the strategy.
  • In the case of point-source infrastructure, four delegation models also exist: to a community representative, a private operator, several systems to one local operator, or to an operator of both point-sources and complex systems in a geographical area. The commune delegates following a proposal for a community representative, or to a private operator following a feasibility study of the financial sustainability of the system and subsequent tender.

Key issues

Although, the actual implementation of these models lags behind, there are notable changes in professionalisation of community management. It is important to recognise the potential that delegated management models has for professionalisation of service provision.