Sustainability of WASH facilities

In making WASH facilities sustainable, we mean that the concepts described above are taken into consideration to ensure that facilities function properly for long periods. WaterAid (2011) uses this definition:

Sustainability is about whether or not WASH services and good hygiene practices continue to work and deliver benefits over time. No time limit is set on those continued services, behaviour changes and outcomes. In other words, sustainability is about lastingbenefits achieved through the continued enjoyment of water supply and sanitation services and hygiene practices.

For numerous reasons, urban areas do not always get adequate access to WASH facilities. Where facilities are not functioning properly, even for a short period, the lives of communities are immediately and severely affected. The hygiene and sanitation conditions of individuals or families can rapidly worsen if WASH facilities are poor, exposing them to significant health risks. Lack of nearby clean water means communities have to use water from further away, which may become contaminated during transport and handling. This increases the risk of exposure to waterborne diseases. Figure 13.1 shows the familiar sight of water being carried because no water supply is available in the home.

Figure 13.1 Carrying water home.

Sustainable facilities, i.e. facilities that operate continuously and fully for a long time, are required to safeguard the safety and health of urban communities. Thus building WASH facilities alone is not enough. It is equally important to embed strong measures to ensure their sustainable operation during the full project cycle.

The project cycle is the term used to describe the life of a project. It consists of three stages, the planning stage, the construction stage and the post-construction stage. It is common to think that sustainability of facilities is only a concern during the last stage of the project, when communities will actually be using the facilities – but this is not correct. It is impractical and illogical to expect facilities to last for a long time if measures are not taken during the planning and construction stages to ensure that they can. Table 13.1 summarises the key factors to be considered at each stage of a project cycle to ensure sustainability.

Table 13.1 Key factors affecting sustainability of WASH facilities during the project cycle.

Planning stage Construction stage Post-construction stage
Participatory planning: Users must participate in planning so their opinions, interests and needs are addressed. Site selection: Location is crucial because it affects accessibility. Consultation is essential to find and agree on a suitable location. Management: Ensuring proper management of WASH facilities is essential. This needs an effective management body, with adequate capacity building and sound financial management.
Socially inclusive planning: WASH facilities should be planned with all sectors of the community in mind, including the poor, elderly, disabled and children. Construction management: Close supervision of quality of materials, timely progress of construction and completion in the proposed time and within budget. Operation and Maintenance: Establishing a system for timely, efficient and cost-effective maintenance is essential so that breakdowns are prevented.
Technology choice: Technologies used in providing WASH facilities should be easy for the community to understand, use and maintain. Functionality (review of designs): The design and engineering of the project must be appropriate and function correctly. Good governance and social accountability: Continued support to the community and management body is required to ensure financial sustainability, build strong local capacity to replicate or expand the facilities and ensure that existing facility can be replaced when the service period ends.

The sustainability of WASH facilities and services will be affected by how well the factors summarised in Table 13.1 are considered and acted upon. Summarise the key factors contributing to sustainable WASH service delivery in each of the three stages of the project cycle.

Show answer

The answers are as follows:

  • During the planning stage: Participatory planning, socially inclusive designs and technology choice.
  • During construction stage: Location (site selection), quality assurance (effective management during construction) and focus on functionality.
  • During post-construction stage: Management, operation and maintenance and governance.

In the next sections we will examine three important dimensions of sustainability in urban WASH services to be considered at all three stages of project implementation – namely sustainable behaviour, financial sustainability, and good governance and social accountability.

Last modified: Friday, 29 July 2016, 10:21 AM