The most important report that you have never heard of, and why and how it should change the global water and sanitation sector
For months, millions of people have been eagerly anticipating the release of the latest UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) report.
Well, that’s not entirely true. In fact, it’s not even mostly true. But it should be. The biannual GLAAS report is one of most important reports in the global water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector.
So what does the 2014 GLAAS report – released today – actually mean? What are its most important findings and recommendations, and how should we respond to them?
The 2014 report - using data from 94 countries and 23 donors - shows increasing momentum, political commitments, and financial support for WASH. It also highlights the huge regional disparities that remain, the continuing challenge to attract more and smarter money to the sector, and the relative lack of attention paid to sanitation. Implicit in the report are a number recommendations that the international nonprofit and donor community should take to heart.
What are the report's most urgent findings?
- There is a need for more, smarter, and better targeted money in the sector, the vast majority of which will need to come from the public sector (domestic tax revenues). 80% of respondent countries indicated insufficient financing for the sector, and 70% of countries reported that tariffs do not cover the costs of operation and maintenance. Extra credit assignment: read this article from IRC about public finance in the WASH sector.
- There is an imbalance between where the money is going, and where it is most needed. For example, rural sanitation expenditures comprise less than 10% of total WASH finance. This is particularly germane on World Toilet Day.
- There is a noted lack of human resources in the global WASH sector, leading to problems in monitoring and evaluation, pro-poor (viz. rural) targeting of programs, and operations and maintenance of systems. There are simply not enough professionals engaged in water and sanitation.
- It’s not just about households. Schools and health facilities also have a dire need for sustainable WASH systems, as manifested recently by the outbreak of Ebola and by the ongoing challenges of childbirth and increasing the enrolment of girls in schools.
- And perhaps the scariest findings in the report:
- “…most sector decisions are not evidence-based due to the widespread lack of capacity for monitoring, inconsistent or fragmented gathering of data and limited use of information management systems and analysis. . . ” and
- “…less than half of countries track progress in extending sanitation and drinking-water services to the poor.”
So what? What can I do about these findings?
I urge you to read the report or at least its highlights and digest some of its impressive country profile work. Second, use the report to help you identify gaps in your corner of the global WASH sector, mismatches between supply and demand, and opportunities for your organization to help rectify some of those imbalances and misalignments.
No, seriously, what can I do about it?
Since you asked, here are some concrete ideas:
Nonprofits and implementing agencies:
- Focus more on local government and community capacity-building; on the poorest of the poor (predominantly rural); on sanitation and hygiene as key components of an integrated WASH program; on enabling environments including policy advocacy; on sustainable financial models appropriate to local contexts; on monitoring and evaluation (particularly long after the ribbon-cutting ceremony); and on converting the high levels of political commitment we see in the GLAAS report to tangible country-level action.
- Work alongside or within government (national and local) systems in your program countries rather than in spite of the local government; support those governments’ efforts to develop and strengthen their own capacity to monitor and evaluate WASH efforts rather than imposing your own.
Private, corporate, and government funders:
- Think less about how many wells you can buy, and more about how to have a transformative impact in your program countries and communities. Start with a problem, and fund the appropriate solution set, not vice versa.
- Seek out and fund efforts as outlined above; ask your potential US and local grantees tough questions early in the proposal process about technical and financial sustainability and appropriateness. Are you helping to transform a community, or just creating/deepening dependencies?
- Support programs designed to leave behind capacity, not holes. Some of the best/promising initiatives we are following most closely now include:
o Water For People’s Everyone Forever campaign
o Water.org’s Watercredit
o WASH policy advocacy efforts at various levels, including the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership, End Water Poverty, and the WASH Advocacy Challenge.
- Focus less on the low hanging fruit (e.g. large drinking water projects in dense urban environments) and more on the most difficult people to reach as identified by the GLAAS report (e.g. small rural or per-urban integrated sanitation programs).
- Think beyond the household: fund WASH efforts in healthcare facilities and schools, in part to prevent the next Ebola or cholera outbreak from becoming an epidemic.
Bottom line: Make sure the right people across the globe read the 2014 GLAAS report. When more people read it, and act on its findings, the WASH sector will see both higher levels of political and financial commitments, and better designed, implemented, and targeted WASH programming.