Sustainability in WASH
You were introduced to the topic of sustainability in Study Session 3 where it was identified as one of the benefits of a sector-wide approach. It was defined as a concept referring to projects that gave due consideration to all factors (economic, social and environmental) and therefore were successful and long-lasting. For WASH, it is about whether or not water and sanitation services and good hygiene practices continue to work and deliver benefits over time (WaterAid, 2011). The emphasis is on lasting benefits rather than short-term advantages.
Sustainability is among the most critical aspects of service provision in the WASH sector. Whatever technology is applied or approaches are used, if the service delivery is not sustainable, all the investment made will be lost. WASH actors need to consider the sustainability of their project from the planning phase onwards.
Achieving sustainability of WASH schemes has been difficult for a number of inter-related reasons, which include:
- limited capacity (in the sense of knowledge, skills and material resources) of communities, local government institutions and other service providers to manage the systems once they are in place
- inadequate financial revenues (income) to cover the full operation and maintenance costs
- historical fragmented approach to service delivery by different actors in the WASH sector (WaterAid, 2011).
This last point is the main reason why the approach and principles of the OWNP should make a difference to sustainability. By harmonising and integrating the activities of the different actors in the ‘One Plan’ sector-wide approach, the historical fragmentation should be avoided.
The problems caused by being unable to sustain a water scheme are obvious. If the scheme fails, the community no longer has access to safe water. It is also problematic for the organisations who paid for the scheme in the first place. Any money spent on services which fail quickly is money ill-spent. However, in addition to financial concerns, the donors also have a responsibility to ensure continuing and appropriate support for ongoing management of the projects. All WASH sector actors, whether government or non-government, should be accountable to the communities who will use the services and manage the facilities. The implementation of WASH programme works needs to be aligned with building the capacity of the local stakeholders, especially local government, so that the sustainability of projects can be ensured after the other stakeholders have moved on.
The chances of a project being sustainable in the long term are greatly improved if a number of conditions are met. WaterAid (2011) summarises these conditions as a need for:
- real and continuing demand from the user communities, demonstrated by consistent use of improved water and sanitation services, and improved hygiene behaviour
- enough income at least to cover the recurrent costs for rural WASH and full cost recovery principles for urban WASH – this requires justifiable tariff settings that also consider the poorest and marginalised groups of the community who are often excluded
- a properly functioning management and maintenance system. This needs trained people with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, with appropriate institutions and organisations to support them, as well as tools, supply chains, transport and other equipment
- effective technical support and an enabling environment, especially for community-level structures and institutions
- due attention given to the local natural resources and environment that may affect the system, for example, awareness of the possible risk of flooding (Figure 8.4).