From Rehabilitation to Resolution: Developing an Action Brief on Resolution of Problems with Water and Sanitation Systems
The high percentages of failed or poorly working water systems and filled or failed latrines have been documented in many countries for decades. Monitoring and mapping of water systems in developing countries is becoming more prevalent, both at the national and project levels, and confirms that the rates have not improved.
So what should the water and sanitation sector do about these failures? One common response is to “rehabilitate” broken systems. In one large, 5-year, multi-partner, multi-country program in Central America, 68% of the water projects were rehabilitations of previously built systems, accounting for 80% of the budget. A donor organization recently estimated that 25% of their funding goes to rehabilitation.
But are rehabs addressing root causes of problems? Should it be international development organizations and charities who address these problems? There is extensive documentation on types of post-project failures. Typical categories of causes of interruptions to water and sanitation services include: infrastructure, institutions, environment, social, and financial. However, an area that has not been well defined is who is responsible for fixing the problems, and what has worked well. In most cases, the identified problems can be resolved by a combination of money, knowledge and trained expertise. But key questions for the implementing organization and donors are:
- How to resolve problems without creating future dependence or open-ended obligations?
- How costs to resolve a problem should be divided among the implementing organization, community, host governmental entities, and external donors?
- How long should the implementing organization be required (contractually or ethically) to confirm post-project resolution of the problem?
These are questions that Improve International seeks to answer as they develop the Resolution Action Brief. This work, funded with a $25,000 grant from the Wallace Genetic Foundation, was prompted by USAID’s recently released Water and Development Strategy. In the strategy, USAID indicates that they “Will seek investments in longer-term monitoring and evaluation of its water activities in order to assess sustainability beyond the typical USAID Program Cycle and to enable reasonable support to issues that arise subsequent to post-completion of project implementation.”
Improve International is reaching out to various experts around the world to develop case studies of what works and to seek input for guiding principles for resolution. The ultimate goal of the brief is to improve the probability of sustainable water and sanitation services for people in developing countries.