Good governance and social accountability
WASH facilities and services are provided as a result of decisions made by those with leadership roles. These decisions include approval of plans, allocation of necessary resources for construction and enforcement of standards during construction and service periods. Such leaders also create and support management bodies for WASH facilities, establish tariff rates and manage revenues from WASH services. Decisions made by those who assume responsibility at different levels affect the sustainability of WASH services enormously.
As you learned in Study Session 1, governance refers to the interrelated parts of government systems through which decisions about services, in our case WASH services, are made and implemented. Governance can help improve WASH situations by providing resources and facilitating an appropriate environment for sustainable management. However governance can also negatively influence sustainability if poor decisions are made, or if there is a lack of transparency. If good decisions are made but poorly implemented or not explained clearly, this can also have a negative effect on the sustainability of WASH services.
You learned in Study Session 5 that social accountability refers to the requirement that leaders, decision makers and service providers have a responsibility to address the needs and priorities of service receivers, i.e. communities and users. The intensity of social accountability awareness in a town will be a major factor in determining the sustainability of WASH facilities and services. Strong social accountability ensures that resources are allocated to address the most pressing needs of a community and are utilised effectively for the intended purpose.
Good governance and social accountability go hand-in-hand. Good governance ensures the right decisions are made and are implemented as planned. Strong social accountability ensures that the decision making and implementation process is executed in a responsible manner.
Lack of good governance and/or absence of social accountability in local structures soon impacts on sustainability of WASH facilities and services. For instance, assume a decision is reached to raise the tariff for water consumption in a given service area of a water supply network. The community will naturally resist an increase in price. However, they may still be willing to pay the extra if they are confident that the management body came to a fair decision (good governance) and that all the revenue will be used to ensure a continuous supply of water in their taps (social accountability). However, if there is a history of resource abuse by the management body, the community will strongly resist an increase in charge and may refuse to pay at all. They will question the decision to raise the tariff, and they will object once the decision is implemented. The negative impact on sustainable service in such circumstances is clear.
The lack of equity in WASH service provision is one of the key challenges in urban areas. In this study session, you have learned about a number of reasons contributing to this, including both social and economic factors. The decision-making process also contributes to how information on equity is collected, analysed and used to reach appropriate decisions that serve the rights and meet the needs of under-served sectors of the population, particularly vulnerable groups, such as disabled people who are likely to find it particularly difficult to access WASH services, as shown in Figure 13.6.
The level of accountability among the leaders, experts and stakeholders in implementing decisions ultimately determines the level of service that can be attained from the WASH facility and whether it will be sustained over long periods of time.