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Team GB puts ‘sports policy’ into practice, but can DfID ‘team WASH’ do the same?

By Harold Lockwood

We all know how successful team GB was at the London Olympics with 29 golds and 65 medals overall (London medals). This was a fantastic achievement and the result of years of preparation and putting into practice a comprehensive sports policy for the UK. It wasn’t just investment in the athlete or their equipment, but this policy explicitly supported the entire ‘system’ of sports addressing many different aspects including training venues, coaching, nutrition and performance monitoring.

Now the UK’s Department for International Development has recently committed to doubling the number of people it intends to provide WASH services from the current 30 million to 60 million. This announcement made by the Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell, during the last Sanitation and Water for All high-level meeting in April (SWA.April 2012) and translates to some £350 million in new funding for WASH activities which is truly great and welcome news (DfID announcement).

The fact that the London Olympics cost the British tax payer some £11 billion probably says something about global priorities (the main stadium in Stratford apparently cost £430 million alone (Guardian Olympic costs), but hey let’s not be spoil sports about this – the Olympics made us all feel good and proud to be British – and instead let’s ask about how the new WASH money will be spent and not moan about how little it may actually represent in relative terms.

As well as being a generous donor, we know that DfID is a thoughtful one too, placing a high regard on evidence and sound policy research. It’s latest WASH Portfolio Review issued earlier this year highlights some critical challenges facing the sector, including the need for greater political support for the sector in developing countries nationally and globally, and the need to better address sustainability, in part through incentivising key partners to focus on this issue, rather than purely increasing access (DfID WASH portfolio review).

A good chunk of this new funding from DfID will be implemented in part through a number of channels, including a challenge fund for civil society or NGO implementing agencies to work directly with partners in countries to provide new WASH infrastructure – the pumps, pipes and latrines that represent ‘new’ access.

As a senior member of a learning initiative which also advocates for the delivery of sustainable services in rural water (Triple-S), I am interested to see how DfID will approach this new fund to make sure it does not just deliver civil works which work for a couple of years and then start to fall into disrepair.  We have used a tool called Qualitative Doucment Analysis – or QDA – as means to look at policy positions of a range of important development partners which work in the rural water arena globally (QDA). We examined and analysed policy documents from 11 aid organisations from 2009 or earlier to establish their stated approached to rural water provision and looked at 21 different themes that relate to sustainability. Our idea is that this will serve as a baseline and that we will re-visit these types of documents in a few years time to see if there have been changes or trends to reflect a change in global thinking around rural water.

I am really happy to say that in our analysis DfID came out number one, so yet another ‘gold medal’ win for GB in this Olympic year! DfID scored very strongly in areas such as harmonisation and alignment, support to institutional capacity and policy development and decentralisation within the sector; it scored less well on issues like monitoring and the promotion of alternatives to community management as service providers, such as local private operators (IWS.QDA results).

But from our long-term presence in certain countries, both under Triple-S (Ghana, Uganda and Burkina Faso) and many other countries, we know that there is often a ‘policy-to-practice gap’ (policy to practice gap.iisd) and what is stated in development partner policy documents sometimes does not materialise on the ground. Because of this we have also decided to carry out a similar QDA exercise, with the same 11 development partners, but this time looking at their ‘practice documents’, such as programme design, evaluations and contracting papers also for the pre-2009 time period and comparing this again somewhere in 2014.

So coming back to the new challenge fund for NGOs and other civil society groups, what I would like to see from DFID is a clear translation of their excellent policy into this very important practical investment channel. We need to address the shame of poor sustainability. We need to move from simply building civil works in repeated one-off cycles to delivering permanent water services – it is what we expect in the UK and what we should strive to provide in countries where UK aid is spent. We need to take a lead from developing country national governments and follow their own policies and align our aid in an effective way. Value for money is branded about a lot in these days of belt-tightening, but it is a loaded term. A hand pump which breaks down after 2 or 3 years is not value for money. Investing in the institutions and systems – public and private sector – that can ensure that same hand pump works for 20 years or more may cost more up front, but actually represents better value for money.

What does this mean for the fund? There will be a consultation process next week in London and I really hope that in this we will be discussing the kind of interventions that DFID and its partners can support beyond just building new projects – there is a lot of learning and good experience out there. Triple-S has brought a lot of this international learning together in one place, which we refer to as building blocks towards sustainable service delivery (Triple-S building blocks). A lot of other great resources are out there, including tools from organisations like WaterAid and their sustainability framework (WA framework) and Water For People with the Everyone Forever approach (EF).

What then in this Olympic year for the UK? The challenge that DfID puts its own great WASH policy into practice as successfully as team GB has done!

Harold Lockwood



One comment on “Team GB puts ‘sports policy’ into practice, but can DfID ‘team WASH’ do the same?

  1. […] that capacity and ensuring that elusive sustainability element, which is an observation that many of us in the UK WASH space have been saying for a […]

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