The WASHCost project (www.washcost.info) is carrying out action research into the life-cycle costs of provision of rural WASH services in Burkina Faso, Ghana, India (Andhra Pradesh) and Mozambique. WASHCost collects and analyses information on the disaggregated costs of providing rural services, and in parallel advocates for the effective use of this information in decision making about service delivery. The project’s objective is to enable more cost effective provision of sustainable services to rural populations and especially the poor. To support identification of the most likely pathways to wide ruse of cost information, and thus to achieving the projects objectives, initial mapping work was carried out in the four countries to understand the main sector drivers, and particularly the flow of decision making, planning and budgeting for rural WASH service provision.
This note is based on a WASHCost working paper that synthesises the findings of these mapping studies. In looking at the WASH sectors across the four countries, a number of common trends can be identified. An important difference between the countries is that while in India universal coverage in water services is (rightly or wrongly) assumed to have been achieved leading to a concentration on sustainability; in the African countries sustainability (avoiding slippage) is only just starting to come onto the agenda, and the focus is primarily on delivering new services. Using cost information in decision making ‘Real’ decision making continues to happen at national level, and within projects. For WASHCost to achieve its objectives, it must be possible to clearly identify (existing or potential) planning or decision making processes into which cost information can be fed. Currently, in all four countries these processes are at best partial: cost is not currently a major driver in to decision making in the sector. What cost information exists, is typically limited to the formulation of national level strategies, plans and projects which are seldom strongly linked to financial flows. Indeed, the disconnect between planning and budgeting by sector ministries and national financing frameworks (such as Medium Term Expenditure Frameworks) is striking. This is true at the national level and even more so at the sub-national. Although frameworks and activities for decentralised planning exist in all countries, only in India are these linked to significant financial flows. In practice, much decentralised planning is a largely paper exercise. In the African countries, new services tend to be delivered by projects, and hence planning takes place at the level of, and specific to, the project. Awareness of costs is limited to capital investment Awareness of unit costs at all levels is typically limited to capital investment (often in a highly aggregated form). National figures provide per-capita costs for implementing different types of scheme. Information or awareness about other aspects of unit costs is very limited; how much is spent on the operation and maintenance of typical schemes or how much it costs to provide support services? Costs for major rehabilitation and replacement are
even less discussed, and can be considered as something of an intentional blind spot in the sector – everyone knows they are there, but no one (governments or donor) really wants to address the matter. The findings of the rapid assessments show both challenges and opportunities to WASH cost. Challenges, because the WASH sectors in all four countries are in a state of great change, with blurred and sometimes contradictory areas of governance responsibility; nascent planning processes; and, in donor dependent countries, only gradual movement towards greater harmonisation. This means that it can be difficult to identify a single clear entry point for, or potential owner of, WASH cost information. That said, after decades of stagnation, real progress and real opportunities exist within the processes of harmonization and decentralization. To achieve its objectives, WASH Cost needs to actively engage with these processes, and use an intelligent mix of advocacy and action research to develop in parallel both the demand for
cost information, and the tools by which this can be made useful. [authors abstract]