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Leading with Sustainability: Laying the Groundwork for Lasting Services

Wed, 01/18/2012 - 19:58 -- Brian Banks

When is there right time to start thinking about sustainability? Starting the sustainability conversation from the design and proposal phase will provide the platform needed for appropriate funding and execution of sustainable WASH programs. On December 15, 2011 Global Water Challenge, WASH Advocacy Initiative  and the WASHplus Project brought together leading experts for an hour-long webinar entitled "Leading with Sustainability: Laying the Groundwork for Lasting Services".

Aligned with the WASH Sustainability Charter, the webinar presented several concrete and practical approaches that can be used in the planning process to lay the groundwork for lasting services from the donor, urban and rural perspectives.

The webinar was moderated by Elynn Walter of the WASH Advocacy Initiative and featured:

Join the Conversation

[slideshare id=10948092&w=425&h=355&sc=no]

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Submitted by Harold Lockwood (not verified) on

By this question I assume you mean system expansion? Or the ability of sector to cope with increasing demand for improved service levels (i.e. moving from point source to piped supplies)? In either case – at the level of the user/community or at national level – I think similar issues and questions are raised. Again, and as in previous answers, a very important part of this question comes down to costs and financing. In some contexts there will always be an absolute shortage of financing which will constrain expansion. But in other cases, there needs to be greater attention to, or understanding of, how financing is planned over the full life-cycle of a service, including the requirement for expansion. When this is not properly planned, with funds set aside to support growing population, , we see excessive demands placed on a service, illegal connections and an increase in un-accounted for water, all of which will ultimately lead to a slipping back of the expected or design service levels in terms of quality, quantity and reliability.

Submitted by Harold Lockwood (not verified) on

As part of the Sustainable Services at Scale research activities we view strong political support for rural water (and sanitation) as being perhaps one of the most important elements of success or failure in the long-term. Political engagement is a factor, or driver, that we see consistently across almost all of the country case studies. By this we refer to the politics of donor power, of government decision-making and political interference – both from the centre and in the local politics of decentralised government – and their impact on the relative attention to public, private and community-based services providers, choices on resource allocation, investment priorities; as well as issues such as corruption and nepotism. Across the many different contexts the formal development of the rural water sector takes place against a complex backdrop of powerful interests, competing agendas and dynamics, many of which are never formally captured in sector documentation or evaluations.

In many cases political pressure is manifested in negative terms –the local politician who uses the promise of new water infrastructure to gain votes, or the contractor who pays for the capital cost contribution of communities in order to win the tender. But it is also the donor or NGO that wants to be ‘visible’ and so ignores, or works outside of, government-led processes. Taken on aggregate, these forces can often reinforce an emphasis on capital investment (in water systems) for financial or political gain, and conversely undermine an emphasis on service delivery which are less expedient.
But political engagement can also be used for good; this is the identification and nurturing of champions, both politicians and senior and influential civil servants, who can help drive through complex reforms; the establishment of open dialogues between governments and donor agencies to move towards harmonisation. There are a number of more positive examples of positive political engagement which have resulted in systematic improvements in the way in which rural water has been supported, including cases such as Uganda, with a long-standing commitment to sector development, and Rwanda in more recent years.
Political commitment as a driver for poverty reduction strategies and budgetary allocation has been flagged in a number of other reports, including a 2004 briefing paper of the Overseas Development Institute (see: http://www.odi.org.uk/resources/docs/1646.pdf) and the Water and Sanitation Program’s recent publication on the political economy of sanitation (see: http://www.wsp.org/wsp/sites/wsp.org/files/publications/WSP-Political-Ec...)

Submitted by Harold Lockwood (not verified) on

Working in post-emergency contexts presents particular challenges as populations and indeed government systems recover from the shock of a disaster or complex emergency. There is of course a wide range of post-emergency environments, which can be determined by the type of emergency (rapid onset, chronic etc.) as well as the scale of damage (localized, massive) etc. All of these factors combined with the relative strength and capacity of national systems to cope (i.e. government, disaster management entities, civil society etc.) will have a bearing on how sustainability can be addressed in these situations.

The “critical” phase of an acute emergency which requires fast, often temporary, solutions is very often quite short, usually a matter of weeks or even days. This initial period quickly evolves into a more stable phase requiring more permanent and durable interventions. Even situations involving displaced populations can easily turn into protracted situations, requiring a level of care and maintenance which goes beyond the provision of temporary facilities. In post-acute scenarios, such as the period following the devastating earthquake in Bam in 2003, or the Asian Tsunami in 2004, many aspects of water and sanitation interventions and approaches share characteristics common to those of chronic situations. In these more long-term scenarios there is often the need for strong coordination mechanisms and guidance for particularly smaller humanitarian organizations that may be very focused on the delivery of assistance without paying attention to the very important WASH sector context. All humanitarian interventions should place a high priority on addressing long-term issues as soon as possible, including those concerning management capacity, financing of operation and maintenance costs, national/local standards and norms and linkages with external support mechanisms.

In 2004 our company, Aguaconsult, carried out a major review on behalf of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) of Water and Sanitation issues relating to the funding of humanitarian operations under the EC Humanitarian Regulation (see: http://www.aguaconsult.co.uk/casestudies_echo-2005/). This review resulted in the issuance of an ECHO policy framework, concept note and model guidelines which have been disseminated widely and are available in English, Spanish and French; to access these guidelines see: http://ec.europa.eu/echo/evaluation/thematic_en.htm

Submitted by Harold Lockwood (not verified) on

This is a very broad question with many facets and elements. The central question is I think already agreed upon for some time by the vast majority of people working in the sector and has been enshrined in the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development, also known as the Dublin Principles, in 1992. The most relevant of the four principles states that: water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.

This principle reflects the fact that the value chain of water from location, abstraction, transport, storage, distribution, consumption and eventual disposal of waste water is a long one and in most cases incurs costs that have to be borne by someone, otherwise the system stops working either in part or in full resulting in poor levels of service, intermittent supply or complete system failure – lack of sustainability.

Accepting that we should charge for water to keep the whole ‘system’ working then raises a number of sensitive issues around who should and can pay, who should receive subsidies and how these can be implemented in practice. It also brings into play the concept of water as a human right versus an economic good. The use of (cross)-subsidies can work at multiple levels, within communities through intra-household payments all the way up to national level subsidies from urban to rural sectors. As in the previous answer we can see that where there is a simple lack of financing for the sector in absolute terms (and this may be for political reasons as well as economic ones), then the question of covering the true costs of water becomes somewhat academic.

With the Human Rights Council resolution 7/22 access to water is now increasingly recognized as a human right obligation, which will undoubtedly raise tensions between what is enshrined in the State’s obligation to provide safe water and what can be paid for and by whom. The new report on human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation drafted by the UN special rapportuer is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/water/iexpert/docs/MDGReportA6524.pdf

Submitted by Harold Lockwood (not verified) on

As I stated in my reply to this question during the webinar, the standard should be that there is a continuous element of support to rural communities once access to improved service levels has been established. For many many years, if not decades, the ‘development community’ focus in the rural water supply sector has been on increasing access, by developing new water supply infrastructure and establishing service providers, which in rural areas are mostly community-based management entities, often named water committees, though sometimes may include private operators, local governments or mixed arrangements. This investment has been provided in ‘projects’ which invest large amounts of capital in building the infrastructure, training and establishment, but then typically fade away once the infrastructure has been installed; hence the question I think in terms of ‘to make sure the project continues to meet its goals’.

Since the early 2000s, and even before, there has been a recognition that the majority of service providers – and especially community-based organisations - will be unable to manage their own water supply systems without some form of support. There are a number of terms for such long-term support - institutional support mechanisms, post-construction support and follow-up support – they all point to the same thing: the structured direct support to service providers in the operation, maintenance and administration of a rural water service. Investing in such long-term capacity to support communities is one of the most important aspects of shifting from the provision of ‘projects’ to the provision of permanent water services, such as you and I enjoy in the USA, the UK and elsewhere in the developed world.

To achieve this shift in perspective and practice, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the way in which we consider such ‘projects’ and the role of charity in simply dropping in to install infrastructure without due attention to supporting the capacity to keep such infrastructure working over time.
This issue is the main focus of the Sustainable Services at Scale research project; for further details see: http://www.waterservicesthatlast.org/About-Triple-S

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Does the Hilton Foundation's concept of M&E include specific assessments of impacts on health, both in the short and long term? If so, how are they measured?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Does the Hilton Foundation use cost/benefit analysis tools to evaluate potential grants? If so, how does it value the service provided (ie. clean water)?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Is there a Rule of Thumb for the percent of a grant (say 5-10%) that you provide that could be reserved for post-construction visits (say 3 over the course of one year) to the communities to ensure functioning WASH committee, fee collection and transparent bank accounts, and proper O&M?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

How does the Hilton Foundation address the issue of the Right to Water in their projects vis a vis the sustainability of these projects?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Does WSUP's strategy include partnerships with beneficiary communities? How does that work?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

WSUP establishes a project level forum at the outset which brings in key stakeholders, particularly community representatives, to share information, engage in joint planning and identify innovative approaches to service provision. Targeted community capacity building through the life of the project ensures communities understand their right to improved services and their role in improving access. Often there are inadequate mechanisms through which the urban poor participate in the design and delivery of services and a lack of information that might empower the poor to combat strong vested interests (e.g. water vendors, landlords) who actively discourage improvements.

Submitted by Brian Banks on

How should we take into account future emergencies in WASH programmes in such urban areas? Can you provide examples?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

WSUP promotes climate proofing of water and sanitation services within its service provider partnerships to improve a city’s resilience against climate-related disasters, of which the poor are most vulnerable. See “How to Climate Proof Water & Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor” Heath et al, 2010 on the Sharing & Learning section of www.wsup.com

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Does cost of direct support scale relative to existing coverage levels?

Submitted by Harold Lockwood (not verified) on

The short answer to this is that we do not have enough accurate cost data on direct support to be able to address the question precisely. In terms of how the unit costs of providing direct support to rural communities are likely to change in theory as coverage levels go up, there are probably two opposing trends. On the one hand, certain cost elements would come down as coverage levels increase, including the overhead costs of management, office space/equipment, information and reporting systems and oversight of the promoters working to provide such support. On the other hand the number of promoters, or staff, needed to visit would increase as coverage levels go up thereby increasing direct salary costs, social benefits etc., as would their recurrent costs such as transport, vehicle depreciation, fuel etc.
We do have some data that shows what costs look like in different country contexts and for different support mechanisms, some of which are localized and some of which are at the national level. Among the best/most complete examples is from Chile where the nation-wide system is estimated to cost US$3.44 per person per year for direct support to rural water services. However, it is difficult to compare costs ‘at scale’ from an example like Chile with other country contexts where coverage is lower. Even within one country the costs of direct support will vary according to service levels provided (i.e. in-house or compound supply versus shared tap-stand), technology, water resource and population disbursement. So for example in South Africa where we have detailed data from two different districts with predominantly two different technologies, the costs of support ‘at scale’ (meaning for the whole district’s rural population) reflected these differences at US1.69 and US$3.93 respectively.

Complicating the answer further is the fact that in many countries we find a multiplicity of actors providing direct support mechanisms running in parallel even in the same geographic area. These can be provided by government (central or local), NGOs, faith based charities, associations and utilities. It can be argued that such a system provides support ‘at scale’ but does not actually work in a scaled up way in cost effectiveness or in terms of savings to the unit cost of support.

For more information on the arrangements and costs of direct support see a new publication at: http://www.waterservicesthatlast.org/Resources/Building-blocks/Post-cons...

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Is the enabling environment (cap development, support, loans, quality assurance, regulation) for small entrepreneurs in water and sanitation adequate to promote cost-effective service delivery?

Submitted by Harold Lockwood (not verified) on

In most low-income countries there is usually a very big gap in terms of such aspects of the enabling environment being in place and functioning well enough to generate the conditions under which water and sanitation entrepreneurs can flourish. In part this is often due to weak government leadership and lack of vision to create such an environment, but largely we can see this as the result of inadequate financing in absolute terms. Put simply, if you are in a sector where coverage levels are very low and the amount of funding available is limited, there is an enormous political pressure to spend on new infrastructure development, rather than on these ‘systems’ elements.

Speaking for the rural water sector, we do start to see investments in these types of systems in other (lower) middle income countries which can result in a more vibrant market for entrepreneurs to establish themselves. One of the more striking examples is from Colombia where the central government set up the Programa de Cultura Empresarial, best translated as entrepreneurial or business culture. This runs alongside the presence of a reasonably independent and well-financed regulatory authority; although its penetration into the rural sector and regulation of small community-managed service providers is still limited.

The Programme has three objectives: 1) to establish and/or legalize community-based water service providers in rural areas and small municipalities; 2) to support the development of a business structure among these service providers; and 3) to improve service provision indicators among the providers that participate in the programme. One of the principles of the programme is the recognition that CBM is the main and most relevant service provision option in rural areas, but that it needs to operate as a formal service provider, operating under basic business and entrepreneurial principles, even while they continue operating as non-profit organisations. Initially, a big effort of the programme was on dissemination of the legal and institutional framework and requirements among municipalities and operators. Later on, more practical tools were provided that allowed operators to become more professional, including the provision of training material on issues such as billing and tariff collection, book-keeping and financial management, operation and maintenance and customer relations. Operators which have progress on certain criteria also received a free license for billing software

A recent (and as yet unpublished) review of the impact of support mechanisms in Colombia looked at seven such models and compared these also with communities where there was no support. The Programa Cultura Empresarial came out with the best results in terms of improved administrative and technical performance of service providers.

In other low-income countries, notably in sub-Saharan Africa, there is more limited evidence of establishing such positive environments for private entrepreneurs, although there are some good examples. Mozambique is one of the few countries in SSA with an independent regulator but again this focuses mainly on the urban core population and has little capacity to monitor the quality of services and price setting for rural and small town services. In Mali we have the Suivi Technique et Financier (or STEFI - Technical and Financial Follow-up) which is a system for monitoring the functionality of water facilities and the financial costs of small town and rural water services. The Communes pay the STEFI operators two thirds of the monitoring fee annually or every six months. The monitoring costs are divided between the users (via tariffs established by providers), the communes and the government. The national water ministry reports on the differences in the systems supported by STEFI and the ones without such support. Evidence for the cost-effectiveness of the former approach is indicated by the following findings, which show them as having:
higher network productivity in terms of water consumption being registered and water losses reduced
small networks’ life expectancy have been doubled (with according cost savings)
water prices and tariffs have decreased, because higher efficiency
advocacy for fundraising both from the government and the communes has been facilitated.
The total costs of STEFI are equivalent to 0.34 US$/capita/year (MEME/DNH, 2009). This is equivalent to around 0.06 US$/m3 sold by the associated service providers. The benefits of STEFI, in the form of less unaccounted for water, have been estimated to be equivalent to 0.16 US$/m3 (MEME/DNH, 2009).
Another West African country, Benin, shows a good example of an enabling environment in which the design of delegation processes has a built-in positive discrimination for local entrepreneurs to encourage local private sector development. These delegated contracts may include area-based arrangements as well as concessions for operation and investment.

Further information can be found about these examples in the new book called Supporting Rural Water Supply: Moving towards a Service Delivery Approach published by ITDG; it is available as a hardcopy or as a download, both of which can be accessed at the following site: http://www.waterservicesthatlast.org/Resources/Multi-country-synthesis

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Is it ethical to charge for water? How are the prices for water determined?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

This is an interesting question that many people like to debate, but let’s not go into that now. Everyone has a basic right to access water but that doesn’t mean it should be free. There are many costs associated with getting adequate amounts of safe water to the poor in quantities that promote health and wellbeing. With well structured pricing policies, the poor can be served water at an affordable rate, much less that what they get charged by unregulated water vendors.

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Is there an industry standard for how and how long you follow-up with communities to make sure the project continues to meet its goals even after it is over?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

With better standards and increasing availability of water and sanitation, an increase in population is expected on the long run. What are your ideas on expansion?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

What is - in general - the effective political support (take Africa) needed to promote water and/or sanitation sustainability?

Submitted by Brian Banks on

How can you address issues of sustainability, specifically behavior change, in post emergency situations? How do you engage partners who may be interested in short-term, unsustainable solutions?

Submitted by toyrt on

Complicating the answer further is the fact that in many countries we find a multiplicity of actors providing direct support mechanisms running in parallel even in the same geographic area. These can be provided by government (central or local), NGOs, faith based charities, associations and utilities. http://www.test-insides.com/156-315.75-exam.html It can be argued that such a system provides support ‘at scale’ but does not http://www.test-insides.com/1z0-050-exam.html actually work in a scaled up way in cost effectiveness or in terms of savings to the unit cost of support.

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