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Taxes, the missing piece of the puzzle

Public finance – money derived from taxation- is an essential part of the puzzle of how to finance the Sustainable Development Goal for water and cover the life-cycle costs  of service delivery.

On November 12th IRC organised an event on the role of public finance for reaching scale and sustainable services. How can aid and domestic revenue catalyse private investment in the sector? What can governments, donors and civil society do to improve the way taxes are used? The blog  More bang for your bucks  draws lessons from a health insurance scheme, Private Public Partnerships and other experience shared at the event.

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Sustaining rural water supply using the principles of collective Impact

Collective impact is the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem. Samantha King describes in a blog post how IRC and its partners in Ghana are applying many of the principles of collective impact in the process and actions to address the water service delivery challenges.

Read the full post on the FSG – Reimagining Social Change website, by following this link.

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Framework of service delivery indicators for assessing and monitoring rural and small town water supply services in Ghana

The rural water and sanitation sub sector of Ghana is on a positive trajectory towards establishing an inventory of rural and small-towns water systems across the country and a continuous service monitoring process that will enable the sector to measure and report on access, functionality and sustainability of service levels.

See more at: http://sanitationandwaterforall.org/partner_perspective/framework-of-service-delivery-indicators-for-assessing-and-monitoring-rural-and-small-town-water-supply-services-in-ghana#sthash.ezmj88M8.dpuf

Blog post for the SWA blog series for 2014 World Water Week in Stockholm, by Vida Duti – IRC Country Director in Ghana


No more fairy tales

In the third of three blog posts, CEO of IRC Patrick Moriarty explains why “government leadership” is critical to tackle inequality, poverty and to create sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services – and why we need to stop believing in fairy tales be they about self-supporting communities or scrappy social entrepreneurs.

This blog was originally published on www.ircwash.org on 16 July 2014.

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The elephant in the room

“The 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of true WASH service delivery is entirely within our reach,” argues CEO of IRC Patrick Moriarty in this second of three blog posts. “We’re ready. What’s to stop us? Two big scary words: Government and Money.”

This blog was originally published on www.ircwash.org on 8 July 2014.

The heart of the keynote that I gave at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum (as explained in the first blog of this series) revolved around the twin issues of government leadership and government money – which I defined as an elephant in the room – and Harold Lockwood translated into an 800 pound gorilla – for the benefit of transatlantic guests.

I think we can say that the water, sanitation and hygiene sector is ready – possibly for the first time ever – to seriously engage with its aim of achieving universal coverage with services that last for more than 2 billion people. We’re fired up about service delivery, we’ve got the tools and attitudes we need. What’s to stop us? In two words: government leadership and money – or the lack of both. Continue Reading »


Tools for life

In the first of three blog posts, IRC CEO Patrick Moriarty addresses the next big challenge: the critical role of public finance and government leadership.

This blog was originally published on www.ircwash.org on 1 July 2014.

I’ve hugely enjoyed meeting friends, old and new, at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum. This is the fifth sustainability Forum, the fourth that I’ve attended. With a nice manageable group of committed and passionate people from the full range of sector actors, it’s a nice barometer of how we’re doing on sustainability. Which I’d have to say is rather well.

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Cautiously optimistic

What will it take to create WASH sectors that work? 

By Patrick Moriarty, Harold Lockwood, and Sarah Carriger

Over the past few months in a series of posts we’ve been advocating for a change in the goal of the WASH sector – from increasing coverage to delivering a service over the long haul; from simply building infrastructure to building infrastructure and managing it into the future to provide services worthy of the name.

And we’ve been calling for a change in approach — from piecemeal projects to strengthening the whole system that delivers services.

We’ve shown how we’ve gone about supporting this type of change in Ghana together with the Community Water and Sanitation Agency, and we’ll continue posting examples from other countries where we’re working.

For now, in the final post in this series, we’d like to talk more about what committing to this change calls for from governments and their partners in development – and to highlight what we see as some positive signs of progress. Continue Reading »

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Questioning water quality

One of the main conditions for providing potable water services is that the service provider must be able to guarantee that the water is safe for consumption. But what happens when you live in an area where such services are not within reach? Can you be sure that the water that is available is safe for human use?

Find out more about a recent study on water quality challenges in rural areas of Burkina Faso carried out by IRC Burkina Faso, as part of the USAID/ WA-WASH programme.

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Managing improved water sources at scale

Maintenance of handpumps in Burkina Faso is a matter of scale, says IRC’s Christelle Pezon. 

IRC, Eau-Vive, and Burkina Faso’s General Directorate of Water Resources are working together to improve access to water services in Burkina Faso, as part of the West Africa Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Initiative (WA-WASH) programme of USAID. Private operator Faso Hydro estimates that it is possible to improve the service provided by hand-pumps at the current tariffs, but the scale at which hand pumps are managed must increase.

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Changing the game

For decades the water sector has been driven by providing first time access. Now that system must provide permanent water services and it can’t, without a fundamental change. Triple-S has worked over the past years to understand and strengthen the building blocks  that are critical in determining whether water and sanitation services will last- or investments will simply be wasted.
In preparation of a ‘post aid era’ where developing countries are increasingly self-reliant, country leadership and sector capacities are crucial game changers. In his blog  End of Aid Ton Schouten argued that development aid should focus on improving a country’s rural water sector to deliver services without on-going external support. This also means a shift away from uncoordinated projects by non governmental organisations working in parallel projects. And regulation and an environment that enables private sector involvement in the sector.
IRc event
On September 17th, IRC invited a group of stakeholders from the Dutch WASH sector to discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of shrinking development budgets and a greater focus on the private sector as motor for development. These short video interviews and blog give a flavour of the discussions at IRC’s ‘Aid and Trade’ event.
We would like to hear your views! Are countries ready for to shift from aid to trade?  If not what will it take to get them there? What roles do NGOs and the private sector have to play, and how does this complement the role of governments? How can funds be used most effectively?
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The WASH Sector School of ‘Hard Knocks’ – learning from experience for dealing with the future

By Deirdre Casella and Carmen da Silva Wells 

The capacity to continuously learn and adapt is critical for dealing with complex challenges and future uncertainties. In this first blog in a series about ‘a learning and adaptive sector’, we discuss why learning is central to achieving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services for life.

If our intent is to change people’s lives, water must flow forever, toilets must safely separate humans from faeces and good hygiene behaviours must be upheld. Yet, there is ample evidence that many water systems in the global South work poorly or break down altogether and that toilets fill up, break or are simply never used despite decades of efforts.

Clearly, we need to do things better and differently. A first step is understanding better what causes service failure.

Common challenges in our sector are:

  • weak government leadership
  • fragmented approaches and one-off projects
  • diverging priorities, often driven by external aid agendas
  • a focus on delivering new hardware rather than on operating and maintaining what is already there
  • lack of political commitment and related chronic under-funding by government, particularly of management related aspects of service delivery

(See Lockwood and Moriarty, 2014, in their blog Changing the whole system to provide services that last)

Wider societal change processes add an extra layer of complexity to water, sanitation and hygiene service provision:

  • changing population dynamics such as rural to urban migration, population growth, changes in median population age
  • changes in long-term climate conditions and in availability of water sources
  • technical innovations
  • macro- and micro-level economic booms or recessions
  • ‘emergency’ or crisis circumstances – conflict, extreme weather, earthquakes, etc

The combined impact of the above is that some degree of future uncertainty is inevitable. The water, sanitation and hygiene sector(s) can be understood as ‘complex adaptive systems’. This is not to suggest that the sector should not plan for sustainable services. Quite the opposite.

With a vision for services for everyone, everywhere, plans, strategies and budgets can be created that can be adapted along the way in response to changing circumstances, while keeping the ultimate aim in sight. We need to recognise the reality of uncertainty in our efforts to provide services and foster capabilities related to observation, learning, resolving problems and adapting approaches or models.

Looking beyond our sector we see similar challenges and solutions.For example, Professor Richard de Neufville of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) speaks about ‘Flexibility in Engineering Design’ and proposes that planning and designing infrastructure (in his case flood control works and skyscrapers) requires a mindset of planning for unknown futures: Accept the inevitability that the current design will not stand up to the unknown future requirements and be prepared to respond accordingly.

While we cannot predict the future, we can keep our long term vision in sight, identify various plausible future scenarios and be prepared with a varied series of plans at the ready for adapting and implementing when the time comes for us to make a change in course toward achieving the long-term vision.

De Neufville places the human actions of observing, visioning, planning, decision taking, sense making and adapting at the centre of how we design and operate infrastructure in order to make it work according to what people need – now and in the future.

A learning and adaptive sector

Multi-stakeholder learning platform in Uganda visits primary school

Multi-stakeholder learning platform in Uganda visits primary school. Photo by C. da Silva Wells

Learning in its broadest sense is at the core of providing public services in an equitable and sustainable manner – for life; the life of the service user, the life of the infrastructure, for future lives and livelihoods. Learning and adapting has been identified as one of the building blocks of a service delivery approach. Learning is the process of incorporating evidence and lessons learned into ongoing practices to increase effectiveness and sustainability. Learning includes documenting and sharing good practices.

In the blog series calling for a new and bold way of thinking*, Patrick Moriarty and Harold Lockwood point out that learning is of central importance for a shift towards service delivery and for on-going sector health, but it is very difficult for people to get their heads around. Change throughout the sector takes time and lots of ‘baby steps’, but we are cautiously optimistic.

IRC facilitates and catalyses such experiential learning and collaborative change through action research, monitoring and learning alliances, which bring together multiple stakeholders throughout the sector. Like for example in Ghana and Uganda, where we are working closely with government and other implementers and experimenting with improvements to service delivery.

Last month’s WASH sustainability Forum in Amsterdam showed an increasing awareness that there are no silver bullets, but that we need to move away from ‘business as usual’. System wide change means multiple solutions must be implemented across all levels of the WASH sector.

Ad hoc training will not suffice. The sector needs to move beyond improving existing measures, towards building capacities of sector professionals to take stock, to question, challenge and change old assumptions and paradigms. Continuous improvement requires a commitment to ongoing monitoring, innovating, learning and the willingness to adapt course. This in turn requires not-too-rigid institutions and policies that enable sector actors to experiment, give feedback and be prepared to respond in the face of uncertainty.

The ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’, adapted from Kolb, 1984

The ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’, adapted from Kolb, 1984

A ‘learning and adaptive sector’ encompasses a range of capabilities: to identify, observe and understand what drives or hinders progress towards sustainable services, and to take action based on this.

In our next blogs we will explore the concepts underpinning IRC’s approach to learning and change through the system that delivers water sanitation and hygiene services and some practical examples of recent work fostering learning for improved services.

The image of the experiential learning cycle below depicts the necessary link between implementation, monitoring, reflection and improvement based on evidence. It represents a simplified cycle of track, assess (make sense of), learn (seek and test suitable solutions) and adapt that is at the heart of this notion of a learning and adaptive sector.



* The series consists of four blogs:

Changing the whole system to provide water, sanitation and hygiene services that last

Everyone together for everyone forever: changing the whole system in practice

Long, expensive & messy: the realities of sector change

Cautiously optimistic