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Sustainability tools for hygiene, sanitation and water

This week, the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum brought together representatives from civil society, government, universities and the private sector eager to share ideas on how to make our investments and efforts in water sanitation and hygiene have sustainable results.

During the Forum, IRC’s Carmen da Silva Wells hopped between tracks and interviewed the Forum track leads to learn more about the different tools that are out there – resulting in three blogs, originally published on www.ircwash.org.

HYGIENE TRACK – From triggering behaviour change to sustaining it. Interview with Julia Rosenbaum

Photo by Felix Kalkman

Julia Rosenbaum introducing the hygiene track at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum. Photo: Felix Kalkman

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene will each be explored as separate ‘tracks’ at the Forum. I spoke to Julia Rosenbaum, who leads the Handwashing/Hygiene track and is Senior Behaviour Change Advisor for WASHplus, a five-year project funded by USAID and managed by FHI 360. At the Forum she will guide sector experts to take stock of what tools exist, and brainstorm the sort of tools that would be most helpful to support sustainable handwashing and household water safety. A panel discussion will bring in private sector expertise on behaviour change.

What do we mean when we talk about sustainability in handwashing and hygiene?
The hygiene track focuses on handwashing with soap and household drinking water treatment, safe handling and storage. On these issues, sustainability is all about sustaining consistent and correct practice – or sustained behaviour change. Individual behaviours are actually the bottom line for all sustainable WASH improvements.

In order to plan and implement hygiene interventions with lasting impacts we need to better understand what triggers behaviour change and motivates people to sustain hygienic behaviours.There is limited conclusive evidence on hygiene behaviour change, but we do know that people are motivated by other factors than health or fear of disease, the things WASH and health practitioners often focus on.

For water treatment, people’s estimation of their ability to do something different, costs related to the new behaviour and the taste of treated water are key drivers. Social aspects of behaviour change should not be underestimated either. Group norms and peer support such as regular house visits by community health workers to follow-up have all been shown to be influential in getting people to treat their water. Besides social factors, knowledge and the hardware, sustained behaviour change requires a long-term commitment and resources beyond the project duration.

The Triple-S tools mapping study found that more sustainability tools have been developed for water supply than for sanitation and hygiene. Despite an extensive search and engagement with relevant networks, you have found very few tools that address sustainability in handwashing and hygiene. What tools are there?

“Currently there are a few tools that monitor sustainability in handwashing and hygiene, but it is an area that is open for development! We hope the Forum will be an opportunity for sharing ideas and generating enthusiasm to take up the challenge to help develop such tools.”

It is critical to gather clear evidence of which elements support the consistent and correct practice of the behaviours over time. Beyond tools, a key challenge for the WASH sector as a whole is moving away from a project orientation: Interventions are donor driven and projects have a limited funding time frame, so funding to conduct any sort of sustainability assessment dries up before sustainability can be assessed.

Civil society, governments and the private sector all have a key role to play in supporting individuals and households to practice safe hygiene.The kick-off event organised by RAIN on working with governments underscored the importance of engaging government and ensuring that there are financial commitments towards sustaining change after projects end.

For more information about the hygiene tools presented read the Forum pre-read with inputs by Julia Rosenbaum. 

SANITATION TRACK – Turning money into sustainable sanitation services

Monday marked the start of the 5th WASH Sustainability Forum. Here’s my take on discussions on tools for making investments in sanitation have lasting results.

There’s a positive buzz here at the 5th Sustainability Forum. Plenary sessions recalled the steps leading up to this year’s focus on practical tools and approaches towards water, sanitation and hygiene services that last. And there was an important reminder on why we’re here: people deserve and demand a service that lasts not just a few years, but for generations. It’s imperative that we learn how to make our investments, money, time and effort, contribute to sustainable sanitation services.

Guy Norman (left) and Evariste Kouassi-Komlan introducing the sanitation track at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum. Photo by Felix Kalkman

Guy Norman (lWSUP) and Evariste Kouassi-Komlan (UNICEF) introducing the sanitation track at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum. Photo by Felix Kalkman

The messages tagged #wash2014 on Twitter give a flavour of the active engagement and creative thinking going on today. In each of the ‘tracks’ -water, sanitation and hygiene, there were presentations and group work on selected tools. And a fair where tools were showcased. I took part in the sanitation sessions and talked to session organisers Evariste Kouassi-Komlan of UNICEF and Guy Norman of WSUP.

What do we mean by sustainability for sanitation?

For the Forum, track leads chose a specific focus on maintaining operations, services and benefits of sanitation. This implies that any sanitation system should also be beneficial (or at least non-detrimental) in terms of impacts on health, environment social and economic impacts.

What tools for sustainable sanitation exist?

Evariste Kouassi-Komlan: “We started with the Triple-S tools mapping study, which identified some tools. Sanitation has fewer sustainability tools than water supply and there are fewer tools for urban and peri-urban sanitation. We also reviewed additional tools which were submitted to the Forum and from about 25 tools we selected four for examining here.”

Sanitation tools fall into three broad groups:

  • Sector Analysis Tools: which assess the WASH sector within a given jurisdiction (typically a country), often with a broad focus on sustainable service delivery.
  • Planning Tools: ranging from small NGO project interventions to city-level or national WASH programmes. These may focus on specific aspects of delivering sustainable services, like financial planning.
  • Sustainability Scoring Tools: designed to assess the likely sustainability of a given organisation, project or district.

Sanitation tools on today’s agenda were the country-level Service Delivery Assessment approach (SDA, also called Country Status Overview or MAPAS) and the related tool for analysis of Faecal Sludge Management in cities, the WASHCost costing and planning tool and the Sustainability Check, which gives a snapshot on sustainability of a given intervention. “The tools are interesting sources of learning both in terms of the findings and the methods used. For example the Service Delivery Assessment approach can be adapted in diverse other sanitation contexts beyond faecal sludge management in cities” said Guy Norman.


Each tool has advantages and disadvantages, there is no silver bullet for sustainability in sanitation. Participants reflected on which elements of the tools they found useful. The ‘shit mapping’ presented by Barbara Evans was found a powerful communication tool to visualise the problem of no/ poor faecal sludge management in a city. A website with diagrams for several cities was identified as a potential useful resource for moving cities forward on sanitation.

Session II of the Sanitation Track: WASHCost Calculator Photo by Felix Kalkman

Session II of the Sanitation Track: WASHCost Calculator
Photo by Felix Kalkman

For some, the WASHCost session was an eye-opener. Most organisations don’t know the cost of providing sustainable sanitation. The WASHCost tool can help determine these costs and inform discussions about who will finance what, for what level of service. These tools nudge us out of our comfort zone, getting us thinking about 10 years after project implementation and who will cover the costs of making sanitation services last.

Beyond a focus on specific tools and how to adapt them, discussions have started on developing more effective sanitation tools. How to move from tools developed by external NGOs, towards tools that can and will be used in a sustainable way by in-country governments and service providers? Cost and complexity of applying the tools and better alignment with country monitoring processes and systems needs more consideration. There is also a lot to learn about encouraging government leadership for tackling sustainability and applying the tools.

“What we need for achieving sustainability is not tools alone,” said Guy Norman concluding today’s sanitation sessions “We need to work on changing policy and planning.This is also about changing mind-sets from the dominant taps and toilets mentality and away from organisations’ attachment to their own brand.”

(For more about sustainable sanitation tools, see the Forum Pre-read with inputs from Evariste Kouassi-Komlan, Therese Dooley and Guy Norman, sanitation ‘track leads’ at the Forum) 

WATER TRACK – Is more better?

There are a range of sustainability tools for water. However tools alone do not automatically mean that services will improve, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.

More sustainability tools exist for water than for sanitation or hygiene. With a strong focus in the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum on practical tools and approaches, you might think this is a good thing. But is it?

“The number of tools actually indicates that we are working in a fragmented way. If we get caught in a discussion about who’s tool is the best, we miss the point which is that we want to get government ownership” said José Gesti Canuto, one of the water ‘track leads’ at the Forum.

Considerations regarding water sustainability tools include:

  • Comprehensiveness vs. ease of use, considering existing institutional capacities and systems
  • Clarity of purpose: big picture (broad assessments) vs zoomed in (identifying specific actions)
  • Complexity of applying the tool and the data it produces
  • Communication: ease of (and politics around) communicating data resulting from the tool and linking to national systems
  • Institutionalisation: without an institutional framework for follow-up a tool cannot be effective
  • Costs: mainly in time of staff to collect, and analyse data are not yet clear and the big question is who pays?
Group deliberations at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum. Photo by Felix Kalkman

Group deliberations at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum. Photo by Felix Kalkman

To increase the usefulness of tools and the likelihood that they can be taken up by governments, group deliberations recommended:

  • Keep it simple, create step-by-step tools that allow for incremental approaches to addressing problems and which can be handled by everyone, especially local government. And which can be ‘easily scaled’.
  • Build in flexibility, so that it can be used by different parties for sustainability at country and local level

There was a broader discussion on how can we use tools as a way to engage in discussion with government and the private sector. There is a lot to do, especially around mobilising government commitment to increase sector financing and operationalise national and global commitments such as in the Sanitation and Water for All global partnership- SWA.

‘How sustainable is sustainability?” asks Stef Smits “Getting a sustainability tool institutionalised in the sector is a long and messy process, but it’s critical for ensuring tools are not just a one-off effort. We need to get tools applied at the level that national and local governments can use them on a recurrent basis.”

Learning from failure

With all the excitement about tools, it is easy to forget the next step: we need to do better! Making sense of the data and the taking the necessary action. If your tool has 80 indicators, and 20 of them obtain a poor score, how do you t prioritize which ones to act upon and how?

This issue of ‘resolution’ or closing the monitoring and learning loop, was excellently raised by Susan Davis in her pecha kucha presentation on Tuesday. Clearly, tools are not a substitute for human engagement and sense making.

If we fail to get both the tools and their findings used, then we will not address the persistent failures of our sector. The tools, however good, should not be the starting point of our conversations. “Instead”, said José Gesti Canuto “We need to start by asking governments how can we help you in your mandate? We need to put more effort into strengthening country monitoring systems and government capacity to use the data for action.”

David Schaub Jones at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum. Photo by Felix Kalkman.

David Schaub Jones at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum. Photo by Felix Kalkman.

Tools can help in a process of engaging different actors in a discussion to better understand what the sustainability gaps are and to clarify who has what role in improving the current situation. But, as David Schaub Jones pointed out, NGOs should stop talking about sustainability tools and align with the language used by government.

Several participants suggested tools developers commit to making the tools, their costs and their underlying methodology available publicly. This would enable others to learn and ‘steal from the best’.

In the concluding session of the Forum, Guy Norman commented: “Tools are necessary, but they are not enough. We need to make radical changes in the way the development sector supports the development of wash services”.

The water sessions at the WASH Sustainability Forum first explored existing tools and then examined more generic design principles of such tools, and the critical next question: what is needed to move from tools to sustainable services?

For more information about the water tools presented read the Forum pre-read with inputs by water ‘track leads’ Stef Smits, Cecilia Scharp and José Gesti Canuto.  

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