By Stef Smits
Over the past year, there has been quite a bit of buzz in the WASH sector on the sustainability clause that DGIS seeks to include in its contacts with implementers. The pros and cons of this have been widely debated . A key component of the clauses is to have sustainability checks as a way to verify whether sustainability criteria are being met. One of the sessions at the “Monitoring Sustainable WASH Service Delivery Symposium” focused on this kind of approaches, looking back at past experience and at the future outlook for them. Particular emphasis was given to the experiences of two bilateral donors who have been leading the way in this: USAID and DGIS, as well as their partners.
Two practical applications were presented of the sustainability check: by the UNICEF-led One Million Initiative programme in Mozambique and of the USAID-Rotary programme in the Dominican Republic, Ghana and the Philippines. Both followed a similar approach: scoring the probability of sustainability of WASH services developed in a particular programme. In this, not only the services themselves were scored, but also the enabling conditions at district and even national level. What was emphasized is that these are really audits of a sample of facilities and the districts where work was done, to see whether a programme actually delivers on sustainability. The results are in part used to provide accountability to the donor (DGIS and USAID respectively), but above all to trigger improvements in the programmes, there where weaknesses were identified. Also differences were identified between the countries. The main one is that in the Mozambique case, the programme was jointly carried out between UNICEF and the Government of Mozambique, so the Government fully owned the approach and had contributed to its development. In the case of the USAID-Rotary programme, it was more focused on WASH services developed by this NGO and government was not really involved. A common point of improvement for both checks is a better inclusion of equity aspects, as transpired in the discussions.
After these presentations, both USAID and DGIS explained how such check fit into their broader approach to sustainability. Heather Skilling highlighted that a new water and development strategy is under development in USAID, which provides a strong emphasis on sustainability. Concretely, it means a commitment of USAID to monitor the sustainability of their programmes, beyond the duration of the project life-time. They are planning to use sustainability checks – probably after a series of modifications and improvements – as a tool for this. Pim van der Male (DGIS) provided a number of drivers for the increased focus on sustainability of WASH programmes supported by DGIS. One of them is the IOB evaluation, which highlighted positive results in extending coverage but also showed sustainability problems. A second driver is a political one: Dutch parliament adopted a resolution to include more explicit sustainability criteria in future funding, and it is following the compliance with aid effectiveness principles carefully. In response to this evaluation and political discussions, DGIS has responded to Parliament that it is planning to include a sustainability clause in its future funding agreements, starting with multilateral programmes. Through such a clause, the implementing partner commits itself to monitor the sustainability of services for a period of 10 years after project completion and correct any failures that arise. Part of the clause is a sustainability compact, which describes the roles and responsibilities of the implementing partner, the partner government and others in ensuring sustainability. It thus provides the institutional framework for guaranteeing sustainability but also is a ways of assessing any sustainability risks. The actual checking of compliance with the clause would be done through a type of sustainability check, similar to what has been done in Mozambique – though possibly with alterations. The take-home message of this discussion was that a sustainability check needs to be seen in relation to the broader commitments to sustainability, such as through a clause or compact. And it is encouraging to see that USAID and DGIS, as two of the biggest bilateral donors in the WASH sector, show such a commitment and are willing to include such checks in their programmes.