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Blog, in collaboration with the Rural Water Supply Network, invites you to participate in a webinar series on tools for sustainability in the WASH sector.

Each of the two hour-long webinars will share the results of a landscaping study of sustainability-related tools for WASH that was carried out by Aguaconsult as part of the Sustainable Service at Scale (Triple-S) Initiative.

March 4th (9 am EST, 2 pm UTC) and March 18th (10 am EST, 2 pm UTC)

March 4th Presenters:
- Sam Godfrey, UNICEF
- Heather Skilling, USAID
- Agnes Montangero, HELVETAS
- Julia Boulenouar, Aguaconsult
March 18th Presenters:
- Andre Olschewski, SKAT
- Antonio Manuel Rodríguez Serrano, Water and Sanitation Program, World Bank
- Ryan Schweitzer, Aguaconsult

To register for the webinar series, click here.

Landscape of Tools for Ensuring WASH Sustainability Webinar Series
Ben Seidl, program director at World Water Relief

Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by Ben Seidl, program director at World Water Relief, an NGO launched in 2008 with the goal of bringing sustainable water purification solutions to people in developing nations. In his post, Ben discusses the push for better monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in the WASH sector and the challenges and opportunities that this trend presents for small NGOs. Ben emphasizes the importance of local engagement as the key to both effective M&E and, ultimately, project sustainability.

As the WASH sector continues to expand and strengthen its role in global health, the sector’s trends and objectives have become more data-oriented and results-focused. Mobile, field-level technology has enabled NGOs to undertake data processing and monitoring of water resources in real-time…a practice that was previously only afforded to large municipal utilities and corporations. While this technological leap has ushered in a new era of transparency and reporting, there are some fundamental building blocks of sustainability that are beyond data.

Human capital is still the true driver behind sustainability and M&E in the WASH sector. Local, dedicated stakeholders are the true source of long-term sustainability and accurate, reliable monitoring and evaluation. Without the involvement of these local community stakeholders, the sustainability of any WASH project will undoubtedly wither over time.

As Program Director for World Water Relief in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, my team and I are tasked with building a responsive and flexible monitoring program to ensure that our projects are creating measurable impact and consistent WASH service delivery. World Water Relief is an NGO with limited manpower and resources. Thus, we are faced with the challenge of producing high-quality WASH projects with a high level of feedback and sustainability on a shoestring budget.

Without the funds for advanced technology and data collection, we are tasked with finding alternative ways to ensure that our WASH projects are meeting these three criteria:

 I) Beneficiaries’ needs

 II) Industry and international standards

 III) Donor expectations

To address each of these criteria in a cost-effective way, we need to craft local, low-technology relationship networks to implement and feed our data and sustainability measures. As an organization of less than ten employees, we depend on the passion, dedication, and involvement of the stakeholders in the communities we work in to be the drivers behind our sustainability and M&E initiatives.

One such program we employ in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic is the Youth Water and Hygiene Club. This type of school-based youth programming has been championed by the WASH sector as an intervention capable of providing youth with leadership training, experiential learning, and an in-depth opportunity to learn and practice water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions firsthand. Our Youth Water and Hygiene Club has been both catalyzing for the participating youth and beneficial to the schools and communities they serve. Students are empowered to be active participants in improving and maintaining the World Water Relief WASH infrastructure in their respective schools and communities. This means helping to clean drinking water stations and hand washing stations, chlorinating potable water holding tanks, initiating trash and recycling collection, teaching WASH principles to student peers, and providing direct monitoring and feedback on WASH service delivery. 

The Dominican Republic Youth Water and Hygiene Club in action. Credit: World Water Relief

The Dominican Republic Youth Water and Hygiene Club in action. Credit: World Water Relief

The second benefit of a school-integrated program like this is that M&E is conducted on a daily basis at each WASH in Schools site. The Youth Water and Hygiene Clubs provide detailed and dedicated reporting on the status of their schools WASH projects. The World Water Relief program mangers in both the DR and Haiti are in daily communication with the club officers and have frequent regional meetings that feature 82 youth from 16 schools. These meetings provide an excellent opportunity for club leaders to learn from each other and for World Water Relief to continue empowering an inter-connected network of dedicated WASH youth.

The ultimate goal of WASH M&E initiatives is to provide insightful field-level information and analysis that drives accurate and timely project oversight. Ideally, WASH implementers are then able to relay these informative reports to donors and stakeholders in order to prove the efficacy of WASH projects around the world. The rapid progression of technology over the past decades has greatly enhanced the sector’s ability to create and share these important results. However, when we think about sustainability and evaluation, we must remember that data and observation can only take us so far. True sustainability still lies in the hands of the local users and stakeholders. 

A hygiene class in the DR led by teacher Yesenia Duval. Credit: World Water Relief

A hygiene class in the DR led by teacher Yesenia Duval. Credit: World Water Relief

As the WASH sector moves forward in its pursuit of real-time tracking and evaluation of project efficacy, we mustn’t lose sight of the ability and potential of end-user involvement. Data can inform and guide, but the root of sustainability is still built through long-term relationships, strong personal communication, and direct face-to-face participation.

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by André Olschewski, water, sanitation and environmental management specialist at the Skat Foundation, a non-profit based in Switzerland. The post builds from a piece that André wrote for in June that described the EU-funded WASHTech project and its Technology Applicability Framework (TAF), a decision-making tool that helps users determine if a particular WASH technology will be sustainable in a given context. Here, André introduces the counterpart to the TAF, the Technology Introduction Process (TIP), that guides practitioners in introducing a technology once a determination of sustainability has been made.

The Technology Applicability Framework (TAF) is a tool to assess the applicability of a WASH technology in a particular context and its potential to be adopted on a large scale. Under the WASHTech project, the TAF has been tested in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Uganda on 13 different WASH technologies including the ventilated improved pit latrine, urine diverting dry toilet, rope pump, India Mark 2 Handpump, and solar powered pumps for small piped schemes or sand dams. Since then, it has been successfully applied outside the WASHTech project in Tanzania and in Nicaragua, even without any direct training. Potential users have also expressed an interest to adapt and apply the TAF to other technologies such as water point mapping tools.

WASHTech has produced a short video explaining what the TAF is and how it works. Using the example of a solar powered pump in Ghana, the animated video summarizes how the TAF captures the issues around sustainable service provision. It also features interviews with users of the TAF (such as local government officials) who offer perspectives on the added value that the framework provides.


But what are the next steps if a technology has passed the TAF testing and if you want to introduce the WASH technology for services on a larger scale? To support actors in the WASH sector in planning and management of the introduction of a WASH technology, the WASHTech project has developed a generic guide for technology introduction, the Technology Introduction Process (TIP). The TIP -- as with the TAF -- follows the spirit of the African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

For too long, efforts to introduce WASH technologies have been led by a few actors, mostly national governments and development partners, or a few isolated innovators. This often happened without proper involvement of other actors, such as the users, local political leaders, or the private sector. Increasingly, approaches such as Self Supply or Community-Led Total Sanitation are being promoted. These put more focus on user investments and the capacity of the local private sector to supply products and provide services. However, due to the limited financial capacities of households, some WASH technologies and services will still be subsidized.

The TIP guide supports the WASH sector in developing a specific process to introduce a WASH technology. At the core of the TIP, the tasks of key actors involved are defined for three phases of the introduction process:

  • the invention phase, which includes the development and testing of the technology and the preparation for the launch;
  • the tipping point phase; and
  • the uptake and use phase.
Technology Introduction Process (TIP)

For each of the phases, the TIP provides a generic set of tasks that should be carried out by specific actors. During the testing, the TAF can be used to develop the introduction process further and to monitor the technology and its performance.

In all three WASHTech pilot countries, government institutions have used the TIP to develop country specific guidelines for technology introduction. To aid this process, we’ve provided the generic TIP matrix, as well as examples of specific matrices that have been developed for two different cost models -- the market based approach (e.g. for Self Supply) and for a model where capital investments are subsidized. All relevant actors have been involved in developing the specific guidelines. The guidelines reflect the country specific policies on WASH service provision, subsidies, and decentralisation.

Our online resource base provides access to all documents on TAF, TIP and reports on results such as technology briefs. All documents are in the public domain. TAF and TIP users are invited to upload their case studies and to share their experiences on the user interface. For more information please contact me at

The TAF and TIP were developed under the WASHTech project. The WASHTech consortium comprises: Skat Foundation – Switzerland; IRC International Water & Sanitation Centre – Netherlands; WaterAid - UK, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Uganda; Cranfield University – UK; Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA) – Burkina Faso; Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS) – Uganda; Training, Research and Networking for Development (TREND) – Ghana; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) – Ghana.

Eric Stowe, Founder of Splash

Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Eric Stowe, founder and executive director of Splash, a nonprofit that aims to change the lives of vulnerable children in impoverished urban areas through WASH interventions in orphanages, schools, children’s hospitals, street shelters, and rescue homes. Eric introduces the concept of killing one’s charity and why an exit strategy is important for organizations that want to succeed at their missions and have lasting impact.    

I have spent virtually every waking moment for the last six years building my international charity, Splash. As of this month, we implement WASH projects serving 250,000 children in seven countries every day — and we are fast on our way to doing so for more than one million children. In the coming months, we will achieve our largest goal yet: bringing clean water to every orphanage in China! 

Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of this work, of the phenomenal team undertaking it, and of the mounting progress we’ve made. I see significant growth in our future — operationally, financially, programmatically — and even greater impact for the thousands of children we serve. 

Yet, despite this significant progress, I want nothing more than to kill my charity. 

I know that may seem kind of blunt for someone who has worked in the nonprofit world my entire professional career and in the WASH sector for the better part of a decade. Yet I can state without hesitation that I am tired of the same ineffective international nonprofit model and I am desperate to see a change. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply love my job, but ultimately I want to kill the organization that provides it.  

For years, I have worked within and seen up close traditional international charities operating with the firm belief that they are THE solution to any problem they are tackling. I don’t agree. We’ve seen little proof in the long term that these conventional mentalities actually scale real and lasting solutions —  solutions that end the perpetual cycle of their work altogether. So when I look out at the landscape of the charitable sector, I have reservations about the rapid proliferation of new charities wanting to implement or fund projects internationally. 

When I first started Splash, in 2007, there were more than 12,000 U.S. charities working internationally. Six years later, there are nearly 17,000. Collectively, these nonprofits represent more than $30 billion dollars in total annual donations. 

$30 billion. That is a lot of money with the potential to achieve dramatic change of the systems, and significant impact on the challenges, we in the sector work with and on. And every year forward that amount is projected to increase as will the number of charities it supports. 

Now here is a critical question: how many of those organizations do you believe will go out of business, not because of poor stewardship, egregious acts, or lackluster fundraising, but because they actually accomplished their missions and can ethically and effectively close up shop? Can you name more than a handful that ever have? Conversely, how many do you believe will simply continue to grow or live on indefinitely with no end in sight? The latter is most assuredly the norm, yet the former is what every international charity claims is their long-range vision: to see a day when our work is no longer needed. 

If redundancy is the goal, shouldn’t we be planning for it, then? 

I started Splash believing charity at its best can solve any massive problem only by enabling the communities we serve to take over our work, do it better, more efficiently, and at greater scale in the future. Building on local strengths, facilitating locally appropriate funding streams, nurturing local community support, aligning local governmental investment and national policy, and co-creating the local businesses to serve as our replacements — all with the end goal of fundamentally erasing the necessity for our foreign charity’s presence — is not aspirational, nor is it isolated just to WASH projects. It is both an appropriate and realistic goal for virtually every organization working in the international sector: health, education, poverty, conservation, housing, and food; whether focused on kids or the elderly; working for men, women, boys, or girls. 

Really, what would it look like if even a fraction of the 17,000 U.S. international charities were planning for their exits as methodically and with as much precision as they were their next gala? 

There is a clear way forward that requires a disciplined way out, because charity is a means —it cannot be the end. 

I recently spoke at TEDxSeattle where I highlighted what I believe are the five appropriate steps for “How To Kill Your Charity.” I urge you to watch this talk and ask the question — can the nonprofit sector be more effective? I say yes.  


I welcome your comments below. You can also reach me on Twitter: @ericstowe. Please join the conversation, and learn more about how I plan to kill my charity.   

Roddenberry Foundation

The J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit genomic research organization in La Jolla, California, has announced a $5 million grant from the Roddenberry Foundation for the development of wastewater treatment technologies.

The grant will be used to fund the development of JCVI scientist Orianna Bretschger's BioElectrochemical Sanitation Technology (BEST), which uses microbial fuel cells (MFC) to treat wastewater and improve sanitation and water accessibility in the developing world. As the microbes in MFCs break down the organic matter in sewage and other types of wastewater, they produce electrons. The rapid movement of electrons across a fuel cell circuit generates electricity while accelerating the breakdown of the organic matter, resulting in fewer treatment byproducts such as sludge. The efforts of Bretschger's team already have led to the successful treatment of municipal wastewater and sewage sludge at a 100-gallon per-day scale, the amount of wastewater produced by a small household on a daily basis.

"Dr. Bretschger's MFC sustainable wastewater treatment project is exactly the type of innovative, field-changing research that fits our mission," said Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, president of the Roddenberry Foundation and son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. "Her use of microbes to convert human waste into clean water and electricity is another step toward making disease a thing of the past. Her work also moves us closer to a future where all humankind's most basics needs are not just met but abundantly supplied. In the world of Star Trek, technology offers a catalyst to the natural world in making amazing things possible."

Source: “Roddenberry Foundation Gives $5 Million to J. Craig Venter Institute for Sustainable Wastewater Treatment Technology Development.” J. Craig Venter Institute Press Release 7/10/13.

For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on 

Editor’s Note: This blog was authored by Susan Davis, executive director of Improve International, an organization focused on promoting and facilitating independent evaluations of WASH programs to help the sector improve. Susan discusses how a “services monitoring” approach can help improve and maintain WASH services. A version of this post originally appeared here.

Waiting for water in Rwanda. Credit: Susan M. Davis

Waiting for water in Rwanda. Credit: Susan M. Davis

Last month I went to the Sustainable WASH Forum and Donor Dialogues in D.C. 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 others (myself included) 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 services monitoring important?

  • 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 people without adequate sanitation[iv] 4.1 billion lack access to improved sanitation[v]
  • 35-50% water and sanitation systems that fail within a few years of construction[vi]
  • 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 services 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 and sanitation projects? (In fact, USAID’s recently published Water and Development Strategy indicates that USAID “will seek investments in longer-term monitoring and evaluation of its water activities in order to assess sustainability beyond the typical USAID Program Cycle and to enable reasonable support to issues that arise subsequent to post-completion of project implementation.”) These funds could be used to ensure services 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 services 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 services monitoring each year.
  • The funds could be used to monitor a sample of past programs funded by the donors. For example, programs that are 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 services monitoring happens, but should not 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 services 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.

Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by Brett Walton, a Seattle-based reporter for Circle of Blue. He writes the Federal Water Tap, a weekly breakdown of U.S. policy. A version of this article originally appeared here and is re-posted with permission.

Open sewers in Delhi.

The open sewer of Vasant Kunj B5 (left) — one of Delhi’s hundreds of slum villages, this one home to 5,000 people — is a trench dug out of the dirt that runs between lean-to homes made from old grain bags and a few bricks. Nearby, the 10,000 residents of Dwarka Sector 16 (right) worked with a local NGO to line their open sewer with concrete. Credit: Aubrey Ann Parker / Circle of Blue

Official United Nations figures claim that 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. But new research from the University of North Carolina puts the total at more than 4.1 billion people.

As world leaders and grassroots groups discuss how to reduce poverty and improve lives, debates over precise definitions and accurate measurements are taking on a new urgency. The agenda-setting Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, but already new definitions for water, sanitation, and hygiene seek to influence the post-MDG global development agenda.

Last month, the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, challenged official statistics from the United Nations on the number of people without proper toilet facilities: UNC put the figure at 4.1 billion people, compared with 2.5 billion claimed by the United Nations. Both figures assessed conditions in 2010.

The discrepancy between the two sets of sanitation figures comes from different accounting methods. The United Nations measures hardware — the toilet, in this case — and how well it protects the user from immediate contact with the waste. The UNC researchers, on the other hand, approached the question from a public health angle: they also considered hardware, but in a broader sense, by asking whether or not the sewage is treated.

“We looked at public health and the environment beyond just the user,” Rachel Baum told Circle of Blue. Baum is a co-author on the paper, which was published online in January in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Baum and her colleagues wondered, “Is sanitation protecting the wider community?”

More often than not, they found, the answer is no. In 2010, some 4.1 billion people — six out of every 10 people on the planet — did not use toilet facilities that ultimately treat the sewage before it is returned to the environment. (The researchers pulled sewage treatment data from the United Nations Statistics Division, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the European Commission’s Eurostat, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.) 

Delhi water trucks.

Across the street from the entrance to Vasant Kunj B5, young men work the many hoses of a blue water tanker to fill plastic jugs to the brim. Credit: J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

This is the second time in less than a year that the Water Institute has challenged WASH statistics from the United Nations. In March 2012, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 1.8 billion people drink unsafe water — a figure that is more than double the 780 million people who lack access to an improved water source, according to the United Nations Joint Monitoring Program’s 2012 update.

Again, the discrepancies come from the way in which the data is collected: the United Nations defines access to drinking water in terms of infrastructure — in other words, the taps, pipes, and wells used to deliver water — rather than water quality, as measured by the Water Institute.

Shaping Things To Come

Having set the agenda since 2000, there are eight Millennium Development Goals that will expire in 2015. WASH issues are included in the MDG to “ensure environmental sustainability.”

Last year, the United Nations declared that, according to its metrics, the world had achieved the MDG for drinking water in 2010. The sanitation target is not likely to be achieved, according to an August 2012 update. Both goals sought to halve the proportion of people without access to improved drinking water and sanitation from a 1990 baseline.

The definitions — and the discrepancies between the definitions — of access and quality matter. The United Nations is now discussing which items will comprise the global development program after 2015, when the eight Millennium Development Goals expire.

At stake in the next round of goal-setting is a place in the global-aid pecking order and a chance at the rivers of cash that flow toward the top priorities. Development aid for drinking water and sanitation reached $US 7.8 billion in 2010, and loans to the sector added an additional $US 4.4 billion that year, according to the United Nations.

John Oldfield, the CEO of WASH Advocates, said that priorities are already changing, with less money spent on drilling wells and installing pumps; instead, more cash is being allocated to building maintenance and financial skills within the communities that will manage the water and sanitation projects after the donor leaves.

But John Sauer, head of communications for the Denver-based nonprofit Water for People, said he did not know if the UNC study would lead to a big shift in how money is spent. The broader issue, he told Circle of Blue, is that sanitation coverage is expanding much too slowly, and the progress that has been made is not well monitored, to see if it is sustainable.

Better Outcomes This Time Around

Everyone with a stake in the new order is offering recommendations during the run up to 2015.

On February 21, the United Nations and a handful of its partner organizations issued a press release arguing that the new development goals for water and sanitation should focus on people on the margins: children, women, and those who live in slums or with disabilities.

“The post-2015 agenda must not move forward without clear objectives towards the elimination of discrimination and inequalities in access to water, sanitation, and hygiene,” according to the statement.

Yet, it is still early in the negotiations, and the players are jockeying for position.

“We can’t say at this point what the U.N. will recommend,” Pragati Pascale, communications officer for the United Nations, told Circle of Blue. “There are a lot of discussions going on, trying to hear from many voices.”

February 17 marked the wrap-up of a five-week public consultation on water and sanitation goals, an initiative sponsored by the United Nations and civil society groups. And coming up in May, a star-studded panel — chaired by the leaders of Indonesia, Liberia, and the United Kingdom — will present its assessment of the MDG successes, failures, and inadequacies.

Baum said she hopes that last month’s UNC sanitation study brings more attention to what effective sanitation really is. Meanwhile, Oldfield told Circle of Blue that these types of studies can result in stronger definitions of the problem, in addition to better outcomes.

“This paper will enable stronger policies and it will inform the consultative process,” Oldfield said. “Universal coverage for sanitation is the goal, and this will help us define what exactly we mean by ‘universal coverage.’”

Dr. Snehalatha Mekala, WASHCost India

Editor’s Note: We pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector as part of our “5 Questions for…” series. In this post, Dr. Snehalatha Mekala, former country coordinator for WASHCost India, shares her insights into life-cycle costing, working with communities to collect WASH data, and other learnings from the WASHCost India project in response to our questions.

1.  What is the number one most critical issue facing the WASH sector today?

A critical issue standing in the way of successful community-based management of WASH services is the lack of technical, human, financial, and other resources in local communities to properly manage the water supply systems — even when governments do hand these over for community management. This lack of adequate operation and maintenance (including capital maintenance) reduces the life spans of these systems, and as a result doubles the investments required. This not only increases the costs of water service delivery (essential also for sanitation and hygiene) — especially in countries that can hardly afford to make such investment — but also affects the poor and the marginalized disproportionately.

The belief that local communities can manage on their own has only been validated by a few exceptions — islands of success created by NGOs or pilot projects, which have not been sustained when scaled up. Local communities do require timely and long-term support, both technically and financially, if they are to manage the WASH issues on their own.

2. Tell us about one collaboration or partnership your organization undertook and the lessons learned from that experience.

As part of the WASHCost India project, we adopted a learning alliance approach where key sector stakeholders — especially policy decision-makers at the Water Supply and Sanitation Department in India’s Andhra Pradesh State  — were involved in designing and implementing a five-year  research project that aimed to embed research results for lasting policy influence. Since these key stakeholders provided the data on investments made and the research findings on services delivered, it was relatively easy for them to realize that skewed investments do not deliver equitable services. What I mean by skewed investments is the higher percentage of investments on hardware versus the lower percentage on O&M and direct support (i.e., costs for awareness generation and capacity building). Furthermore, investments were skewed towards providing infrastructure to benefit rich households with less of a focus on poor households. It was also relatively easier for stakeholders to understand the need to adopt a Life Cycle Costing Approach (LCCA) for resources allocation — with each cost component getting appropriate allocations so that the water supply systems delivered services as per design. We thus learnt that:

  • Ownership by the key stakeholders in the research process (from design to results) is critical
  • Quick dissemination of findings is essential
  • Perhaps most importantly, this process requires time and champions
  • Impact is slow but percolates into the system more effectively than the conventional research process of simply ‘presenting findings’ to decision-makers  

3. How do you work with local communities to promote project ownership and sustainability?

It was a challenge in the WASHCost project to collect village-level data on costs and services, especially without written records. But the work in pilot villages to collect data through maps, graphs, and participatory methods (e.g., focus group discussions) — and to discuss possible solutions using geo-referenced maps — helped greatly. Villagers understood, perhaps for the first time, the importance of collecting data and using data to understand the relationship between the costs and services, and how using data can help them understand their village-level problems and possible solutions. Collecting cost and service data and discussing O&M-related WASH issues triggered community action in some villages to address these issues (although in some other villages there was only a passive reception!). Thus, while the process continued, it certainly built a sense of ownership and we hope it will be sustained.

4. Tell us about an emerging technology or solution that excites you and that you think will make a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5-10 years?

Mapping water points and monitoring the functionality and service delivery of these systems by using smart phones are really exiting and can bring lots of improvement to the sector. The piloting done in the WASHCost project using these technologies to develop water security plans provided many insights into how many bore wells were drilled in the last ten years, how deep they were, and what impact they had on drinking water availability. I do accept, however, that while water point mapping and functionality mapping with advanced technological devices and gadgets are helpful, there has to be a support system to address queries and doubts and to resolve emerging problems quickly.

5. There are lots of great WASH resources, ranging from striking data visualizations to good, old-fashioned reports. What’s caught your eye lately (besides WASHfunders, of course)?  

The IMIS database, created by the Indian government’s Ministry of Water and Sanitation to monitor and report on the drinking water and sanitation across the entire country of 1 billion people, is certainly an impressive achievement (even if the reliability of the data will need cross-verification in some cases). The India Water Portal  and the India Sanitation Portal  are of great use for people working on these issues as they cover all relevant national news on water and sanitation, from legislations and the latest research reports to tested solutions and case studies from the field. The WaterSoft system developed by the National Informatics Centre for the Department of Rural Water Supply in the state of Andhra Pradesh is also a stupendous achievement, containing detailed cost and technical information on the water supply infrastructure in all 76,000 villages across the entire state (which is 275,000 sq. km — larger than Ghana).

Editor’s Note: In this guest post, charity: water announces the receipt of Google’s Global Impact Award. The $5 million award will enable charity: water to develop and pilot a remote sensor technology to determine which water points are working and which need repairs in real time. A version of this post originally appeared here.

Woman in India pumping water from water point. Credit: charity: water

Woman in India pumping water from water point. Credit: charity: water

We’re proud to announce that charity: water is a recipient of a Global Impact Award from Google.

The first projects we ever built were six wells in a refugee camp in Uganda. We wanted to prove to our donors that their money was spent exactly how we said it would be, and where it went.

So we walked into an electronics store and bought a handheld GPS device for $100. We took it to Uganda, went to each project and plotted six points on Google Maps™. Then we made the information public on our web site along with the photos for everyone to see. We’ve been doing that ever since.

Fast forward six years later, and we’ve now funded over 6,994 water projects in 20 countries that will serve more than 2.5 million people. And although we’ve continued to map every single water project, we don’t think knowing their location is good enough anymore. We want to know whether each one of them is working right now, in real time.

Today, we’re excited to announce that we’re launching a $5 million pilot project with Google to develop remote sensor technology that will tell us whether water is flowing at any of our projects, at any given time, anywhere in the world. Google has funded this entire initiative through the new Global Impact Awards. This award will help charity: water further advance transparency and sustainability in the water sector.

Although our staff and local partners visit our programs frequently, it’s simply not possible to visit every project often enough to ensure that water is flowing all the time. Thanks to this Global Impact Award from Google, we’ll be able to go from hoping that projects function over time, to knowing that they are.

charity: water's sensors will transmit real-time data to determine whether or not a water point is working. Credit: charity water

charity: water's sensors will transmit real-time data to determine whether or not a water point is working. Credit: charity water

Over the next few years, we’ll develop and install 4,000 low-cost remote sensors in our existing and new water projects in several countries. These sensors will transmit real-time data to us and our partners, and eventually to you, the donor.

But just knowing the status of projects isn’t good enough. If a breakdown occurs, there needs to be a system in place to ensure that it gets fixed quickly. That’s why an important part of this pilot will be to continue training and establishing local mechanic programs all over the world who can dispatch to communities within their reach and make repairs. This will create new jobs and small business entrepreneurs in places where they don’t exist today.

We know the data will uncover new challenges, but we’re excited and committed to meet them head on. We’ve used Google Maps™ to innovate over the last six years, and today we’re incredibly excited to work with Google on remote sensor technology, this time to further increase transparency for our donors, and to deliver water more reliably than ever before, to the people who need it most.

Harold Lockwood, Director of Aguaconsult

Editor’s Note: We pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector as part of our “5 Questions for…” series. In this post, Harold Lockwood, director of Aguaconsult, shares his thoughts on the changing nature of aid, project ownership as a flawed concept, and more in response to our questions. Find him on Twitter: @haroldlockwood

If you are interested in participating in this series, send us an e-mail at:

1. What is the number one most critical issue facing the WASH sector today?

Undoubtedly this is the challenge of changing the way we work. For decades ‘aid’ to the sector — most especially the rural sub-sector — has been delivered largely through the provision of infrastructure in short-term, cyclical interventions which solve an immediate problem, but leave many others unanswered. NGOs, charities, foundations, and even large donor grant programs and loans have delivered a lot of hand pumps, tapstands, and toilets, but have been much less successful at delivering permanent water or sanitation services. If national WASH sectors in the South are to truly move forward, our support must address the entire ‘eco-system’ of service delivery. This is particularly true as the donor world becomes more complex, as lower income countries move to be lower-middle income countries, and as expectations for services rise — as they rightly should. The challenge of ‘tomorrow’ for many in the developing economies is going to be household level piped supplies, not yesterday’s point source handpumps, and we should be ready to meet this.

2. Tell us about one collaboration or partnership your organization undertook and the lessons learned from that experience.

As part of the sustainable services at scale initiative in Ghana managed by IRC of the Netherlands, we have been working with the government’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) to address some of these systemic weaknesses and gaps in the rural water sector. This has involved intensive work to better understand the structural problems behind poor functionality of water supply systems and really attacking some of the most pressing solutions: a new legal instrument for CWSA, improved policy and implementation guidelines, better monitoring, and a truly comprehensive vision of what rural (water) services should provide. This has meant working with a range of institutions and organizations, including donors, many with vested interests in the current arrangements. After three years of intensive work at national, regional, and district levels, we are starting to see a growing consensus and demand for real change which is very encouraging.

The lessons I take from this experience are that this is a process that takes time; there are no quick fixes. Secondly, sector dynamics are often messy, but if the space can be created to reflect on what is going wrong and where the solutions might lie, it is possible to bring diverse stakeholders with competing agendas on board. Finally, we know that this process is not cheap, but compared to the relatively huge scale of resources being channeled into sector investments, it is affordable and absolutely necessary.

3. How do you work with local communities to promote project ownership and sustainability?

I believe that ‘project ownership’ by communities is a flawed concept. Much of what has been promoted as ‘community management’ by projects in the past has often been based on a very shaky understanding of national sector policy and legislation. It assumes firstly that communities are legally able to take on the ‘project’ assets (the pumps, concrete, and tapstands, latrines, etc.), but this is often not the case, is unclear, or is contested. Secondly there is the assumption that (rural) communities have the wherewithal, capacity, and desire to manage their own systems. Twenty years of experience have shown us that this works for some, but that for many communities these two assumptions are wildly optimistic and deeply flawed.

Sustainability of services can only be ensured by having competent operators (community, public, or private — I am agnostic on the modality, but it must be relevant to the context), good long-term support and monitoring, clear legislation, and financing frameworks to address regular short-term and longer-term capital maintenance costs. This is where we need to put our efforts.

4. Tell us about an emerging technology or solution that excites you and that you think will make a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5-10 years?

Unfortunately I am a bit of a Luddite and still have a ‘dumb phone’, but even I can see that telemetry, in aspects such as system monitoring with data flows either by SMS or internet enabled phone systems, is a game changer. These technologies can result in reduced travel and costs and empower users to monitor their own services and demand improvements. I am, however, concerned that all the noise and fuss created by these very clever technologies can at times detract from some of the fundamental principles behind their use — who has access to this information? How is it used? And, ultimately, will it result in improved performance and better, more sustainable services? We should not lose sight of these issues in all the techno-hype and flashy maps.

5. There are lots of great WASH resources, ranging from striking data visualizations to good, old-fashioned reports. What’s caught your eye lately (besides WASHfunders, of course)?  

What I like are several interesting sites, including the newly revised Sustainable WASH, which includes a great resource database, Water For People’s Everyone Forever campaign, as well as our own site at Water Services That Last. But beyond these new places, we shouldn’t forget some of the Golden Oldies like USAID’s old Environmental Health Project and the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program, both of which have a lot of great in-depth reports and analysis. We should always try to avoid reinventing the wheel!

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