Why water systems fail part 16: lack of institutional coordination

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By Susan Davis, Executive Director

What leads to success or failure of water systems?  Everything we read points to a complex mix of factors.  In this series, we share quotes on various topics related to failure of water systems from our literature search and interviews for the report on resolution of problems with water systems as a way to highlight pieces of the puzzle.

This blog focuses on lack of institutional coordination. Improved coordination among donors and government and alignment of all actors (both government and non-government) with national policies and systems have been identified as building blocks for sustainable services.

Greater alignment and coordination is needed in the sector so those that are able and willing to pay do so, creating a long-term, sustainable solution (Stone Family Foundation, 2014)

Does the Ugandan government require that, maybe through the water and sanitation coordination group, is there a requirement that NGOs are registering so that work is coordinated among different NGOs? Yes, that’s a requirement and there are good laws and good guiding principles towards that. The only problem is the implementation of those guides, and then the laws that are put in place. (Uganda-based interviewee, 2013)

There is a clear guideline by the Ministry of Water and Environment in Uganda [but] other implementers or actors do not coordinate well with those guidelines. If we say our money is to be spent in three months, and the community is not prepared, the software is not done, then you are making other people’s work for following the guidelines very difficult. (Uganda-based interviewee, 2013)

Because lots of times you have so many ministries involved in water: Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Mines… And then you have the district, the region, the municipal, all of these different layers. . . who has the authority? (US-based donor, 2013)

The authors of this paper advocate for (i) a high level of coordination between rural water supply actors at national and local levels ; (ii) strengthened institutions and imp roved mechanisms to better hold NGOs, other Government agencies, and donors to account; (iii) raised awareness among agencies of the damage that they can actually do with misdirected approaches and actions – so that they realise the need to adhere to existing policies; (iv) development of ways of ensuring that project implementation schedules are for the benefit of rural dwellers rather than funding agencies and (v) high levels of professionalism and work ethic among rural water supply sector actors. (RWSN, 2010)

Financing of the sector has not been well coordinated, with implementation taking place in discrete and fragmented projects (Baumann & Danert, 2008).

[District Water Office (DWO)] heavily criticised the central Ministry for drilling boreholes, and not informing them of the work. The [Regional Water Office] complained that the DWO do not relate data to them and vice versa. NGOs work in isolation and do not provide information of their plans or outputs (Baumann & Danert, 2008).

In Malawi, boreholes and protected wells are being constructed by the Water Department, NGOs, churches and by donor-sponsored programs. All require villagers to organize themselves and to contribute to the venture in different ways. Often two or more such projects, sponsored by different organizations and requiring different forms of participation, co-exist in the same village. Further, borehole maintenance falls under the purview of the Ministry of Health, which also requires that a committee be established to ensure sanitary practices. Not surprisingly, research by Ferguson & Mulwafu (2001) indicates that most of these village-level committees are non-functional and exist only on paper. This is not an indication of lack of local concern with water sources, but rather reflects both uncoordinated ministerial, NGO and donor participatory requirements. This example illustrates the challenges District Assemblies will face in carrying out integrated sectoral planning. Many of the NGOs and donor programs are reluctant to have their autonomy reduced, preferring to work directly with communities rather than through newly-established local government structures.(Ferguson & Mulwafu, 2001)

Let’s get together, people!

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