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By Susan Davis, Executive Director, Improve International

Rwanda water pointLast week I went to the Sustainable WASH Forum and Donor Dialogues in DC. A theme of the conversations was roles and responsibilities, especially the roles of governments.  One interesting debate was about who should be responsible for monitoring.  Some said that governments should be solely responsible. There are some governments who are leading the way on this, but I and others believe that this doesn’t mean that development organizations shouldn’t also be accountable for their own work.  If an organization visits water and toilet systems for years after they are built, they can learn from their successes and failures and make their future work better.

Since many organizations only do monitoring & evaluation (M&E) during development programs (see my thoughts after the Learn MandE conference), I think we need to use a new term like “services monitoring” to refer to the need for a way of confirming that water and sanitation services are still available to people.

Why is service monitoring important?

780 million+++

783 million people without access to improved source of water[i]3 billion without access to safe water[ii]4 billion without access to safe, permanent, in home water[iii]

2.5 billion+++

2.5 billion people without adequate sanitation[i]4.1 billion lack access to improved sanitation[iv]


water and sanitation systems that fail within a few years of construction[v]

Less than 5%

water systems that are visited at least once after they are built

Less than  1%

water systems and toilets that are monitored regularly for the long-term after they are built

The Opportunity

Long-term service monitoring is critical for the ongoing improvement of implementing organization practice and understanding, as well as donor policies. Beyond helping individual organizations learn from their experience, services monitoring could reveal geographical or sectoral trends. What if each year, USAID, other government aid agencies, development banks, and major foundations pooled a portion of their funds for water & sanitation projects ? These funds could be used to ensure service monitoring for all (or a sample of) previous water and sanitation systems funded by those donors in a country or region.

With this information, they could identify region-wide problems and solutions. For example, declining amounts of water available from spring fed systems in a geographic region could point to a need for investing in water source protection and installation of household water meters to reduce leaks and wastage.

A way forward

To remove some of the barriers to ongoing service monitoring, we recommend a way forward below.

  • A percentage of funds (perhaps 3-5%) of each donor’s funding for water, sanitation and hygiene programs is contributed to a pool for service monitoring each year.
  • The funds could be used to monitor a sample of past programs funded by the donors.  For example, those 5, 10,  and 15 years old.  That way we get the learning now and can use it to change programs moving forward.
  • Keep the monitoring indicators very basic and in line with government monitoring protocols, where present.
  • Development organizations should be responsible for ensuring that service monitoring happens, but doesn’t have to use their own staff.  For example, where governments have a robust system of national monitoring, the organization could pull recent relevant government data.
  • Engage an independent auditor to verify a sample of results.


As more service monitoring data become available and accessible, we’ll get past the statistics to specifics, leading to learning, and more effective performance. Thus, people in developing countries will have a better chance at reaping the life-changing benefits of safe water for life.