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Access, affordability, and alternatives: Modern infrastructure services in Africa

This short report summary looks at infrastructure access (access to water, electricity, and sanitation) in the African context noting that as a continent it lags behind most other developing regions. Many African countries are not managing to expand fast enough to meet demands for these services, which are driven by rapid population growth and urbanisation. The fear is that if this lag continues many African countries will be more than 50 years away from the provision of universal access of these services. However there is variation between different countries with some seen to increase services fairly significantly. This report reviews recent trends in household access to infrastructure services and associated budgetary expenditures in Africa. This information has been gathered from household surveys conducted across Africa over the past 15 years, covering 32 countries, which provides firm evidence for analysing historic trends in access to services.

Generally, the report finds that despite the overall decline in access to water and sanitation particularly in the urban areas since 2000, a significant number of countries have succeeded in expanding coverage by an annual average of 5-10 per cent, a rate fast enough to make substantial coverage gains within a reasonable time frame. Also significantly the report shows that many people choose not to use services, even when they are close to infrastructure networks. The reason for this low uptake is seen to be largely due to low household income – with average African households having little more than $30 per month to spend on all utilities and transport. This low uptake rate in African cities then creates barriers for further expansion and development of the infrastructure networks, which highlights the need to address uptake barriers through support such as subsidisation of connection fees, for example. However it seems that many poor people simply do without services altogether because of the cost, and for those people the report recommends that it’s important to improve these people’s situation through alternative services. It points out that there is clearly a need for ‘second-best’ options. In conclusion it highlights the need to better understand the variance in access to services between countries, and also to understand how is it that a new service such as cellular telephony has made major inroads so quickly.