International charity WaterAid this week released a new framework for sustainable management of in-country water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs.
My organisation, eWater, is a member of WaterAid Australia and we are pleased to support the WASH development projects that WaterAid Australia undertakes in our region, including work in Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan.
The overarching objective of the WaterAid report is to address concerns about the need to bring long-term sustainability to water and sanitation programs carried out by WaterAid and other international aid organisations. As the report states “We indeed need more taps and toilets, but at the same time we need fewer defunct and abandoned water and sanitation services.”
With due acknowledgement to the report’s lead authors, Richard Carter, Vincent Casey and Erik Harvey, and to its many other contributors, I reproduce below excerpts from the introduction to that report.
“Progress in achieving safe, convenient and affordable water supply and sanitation services is sometimes frustratingly slow, both for those working in the sector and those outside it. In 2010, nearly 900 million people (of which 84% live in rural areas) still lack access to a convenient supply of safe water and nearly three times that number (70% of whom live in rural areas) have inadequate sanitation. Much more needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets in water supply and sanitation, to promote better hygiene and, ultimately, to bring services to all.
However, at least as important as the imperative to do more is the urgent need to do better. Whether we progress slowly or quickly to the achievement of water and sanitation services for all, it is crucial that the systems put in place – both ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ – and the changes in practice brought about in people’s lives, last. Somehow we in the water and sanitation sector need to live with this constructive tension between accelerating progress on coverage and getting the sustainability story right. … The neglect of the word ‘sustainable’ in the MDG target to ‘halve by 2015 [relative to 1990] the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation’, needs to be corrected.
Sustainability means beneficial change in access to services leading to corresponding lasting outcomes and impacts in people’s lives. If communities slip back into a situation where they have to rely on unimproved water and sanitation services then investment has effectively been wasted. A greater emphasis is required on getting the ‘service’ component of service delivery right if progress is to be made…
In regard to sanitation and hygiene, the evidence of sustainable outcomes lies in permanently changed attitudes and behaviours. The use of improved sanitation (as opposed to simply having a latrine) and the habitual practice of good hygiene – including hand-washing, personal and home hygiene and safe storage and management of water – are the outcomes which are likely to lead to the greatest health benefits for those who practise them and for those with whom they come into
contact. In contrast to water supply, we have far less evidence of the factors which contribute to the sustainability of sanitation use and hygiene behaviour change.
The responsibility of communities to manage their water and sanitation services forms a central component of much WASH sector policy and strategy. However, subscription to this principle has not delivered the results expected. In some cases this is due to poor implementation, in other cases the principle is simply inadequate. The community management model has sometimes been presented as a panacea for achievement of lasting services but in the absence of external support, there is extensive evidence of its weaknesses. The evolution of community management as a pragmatic response to weaknesses in public service provision, and its subsequent promotion as the ideal model of service delivery was a triumph of hope over realism.”
I encourage interested readers to read the full report available from the WaterAid international website .