Sustainability is a hot topic in the development sector at large. In the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, there have been a range of events, partnerships and websites dedicated to collectively recognising, understanding and addressing sustainability challenges. In March this year, for example, the Australian WASH sector hosted the ‘WASH for everyone, everywhere‘ conference in Brisbane exploring the topic in light of the post-2015 development agenda.
On June 30th and July 1st, over 160 professionals working on WASH for the world’s poorest will gather in Amsterdam for the fifth WASH Sustainability Forum. This is part of a series of international WASH sustainability events organised by a coalition of organisations. IRC, Aguaconsult, Global Water Challenge and WASH Advocates have been core driving members behind the WASH Sustainability Forum series. This year’s event is also supported by UNICEF, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program.
Exploring sustainability tools
According to Harold Lockwood of Aguaconsult, one of the organisations behind the fifth edition, there is a definite shift in mind-sets since the first one in 2010: “There is a collective recognition, as well as growing momentum and support around moving towards a service delivery approach. We seem to be at a tipping point, where discussions initially focused on why we need to focus on sustainability, but are now moving to the ‘how to’ part of the equation for different actors”.
The 5th WASH Sustainability Forum aims to move donors, civil society and governments towards application of sustainability principles and tools. One of the significant inputs to the event is a study of WASH sustainability tools conducted by Aguaconsult as part of Sustainable Services at Scale, or Triple-S, an IRC-led initiative. Triple-S Working Paper, ‘Mapping of WASH sustainability tools‘ contains the findings of the mapping, as well as the outcomes of online survey looking into demand for sustainability tools and a 2-part webinar series.
The good news is that there are plenty of tools out there for understanding, measuring, or predicting sustainability.The assessment included a review of over 220 tools, and the 25 tools with clear content and methodology for understanding, measuring, or predicting sustainability have been presented as 1-page practical summaries in the Working Paper. Altogether these 25 sustainability tools have been applied 92 times in 52 countries, with most addressing the technical, institutional, and management areas that affect sustainability.
There are also notable gaps, such as tools that can be applied across all stages of the service life-cycle, tools that address sanitation and hygiene interventions and that focus can be applied urban or peri-urban areas.
According to Ryan Schweitzer, Claire Grayson and Harold Lockwood, authors of the Working Paper, the emergence of cluster of similar sustainability assessment tools is a positive signal that a new paradigm is emerging in the sector. However, most tools are driven by external development partner organisations. Therefore, they conclude that much more effort needs to be made to align tools with country monitoring systems and country sector capacities and to use the data that these tools generate in order to improve services.
Word cloud from 4th WASH Sustainability Forum
This challenge of linking tools with national systems – and indeed showcasing some national government tools – will be one of the core topics at the Forum. Representatives from government, private sector, donors and NGOs will engage in a panel debate to talk about how to improve the application and alignment of tools so that investments in the sector deliver services that last.