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Bottom’s up; country monitoring as the bedrock

Published on: 12/05/2015

While reviewing experiences with the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS), it is clear that there is a need to strengthen systematic, comprehensive, country-led processes which feed global monitoring.

In support of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, emphasis has been on creating regional and global monitoring products. Rather than supporting the establishment of national level monitoring systems as the bedrock which support national sector planning processes and provide these monitoring results upwards to inform global monitoring platforms such as GLAAS.

On request of the Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS), IRC reviewed experiences and perspectives on GLAAS. We carried out a desk study of existing literature, a quantitative and qualitative analysis of citations of the GLAAS report 2012 and 2014 in scholarly documents and interviewed selected WASH advisors at the Netherlands Embassies in the so called Dutch Water programme countries. The review supported the participation of DGIS in the 'GLAAS Assessment and Future Directions Meeting' which was organized in March by the World Health Organization in East Kilbride, United Kingdom. This blog presents some of our findings.

Contributions of GLAAS

Since the first pilot report in 2008, the GLAAS report has been produced every 2 years by the World Health Organization. GLAAS provides a global update on the policy frameworks, institutional arrangements, human resource base, and international and national finance streams in support of sanitation and drinking-water. The objective of the GLAAS report is to provide policy makers at all levels with a reliable, easily accessible, comprehensive and global analysis of the evidence to make informed decisions in sanitation and drinking-water. In addition to the global report, regional and country assessments are also made.
For example the GLAAS report feeds into the bi-annual of the Sanitation and Water for All – High Level Meetings. At these meetings Ministers of Finance and Ministers of Water of developing countries discuss with the donor community the developments in the sanitation and water sector. With the aim of putting sanitation and water higher on the development agenda and create sustainable access to sanitation and water for all.

'"GLAAS has made a contribution to better understanding of factors influencing water and sanitation service delivery."

GLAAS is the only authoritative global report on WASH "inputs" such as the enabling environment, policy frameworks and their application, financing streams, and human resources (WHO, 2012 and Smits, 2014). As such, it provides a valuable snapshot on the efforts and approaches being applied by countries and external support agencies to improve and sustain access to WASH services (WHO, 2012). Equally, it highlights bottlenecks to increasing access to water and sanitation services and to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goal water and sanitation target. GLAAS plays an important role in involving non-water sectors, like finance, that indirectly, but significantly influence delivery of WASH services.

Many countries have some kind of review process to reflect on the trends with respect to some of the factors driving national progress in sanitation and drinking-water. However there is no report that puts this into a global context, covering all factors comprehensively while looking at the issues from the perspectives of developing countries, industrialized countries and the international donor community and the Millennium Development Goal targets (WHO and UN-Water, 2009). The GLAAS report has aimed since its first report in 2008 to provide this global overview and be a reference for all stakeholders and a key tool for policy and decision-makers at all levels.

"The GLAAS report helps to advocate on water and sanitation to high-level policy-makers and the media (WHO, 2012)."

The contribution of GLAAS as well as other global monitoring efforts (such as the Joint Monitoring Programme) is recognized for its significant contribution to better understanding of WASH service delivery (Smits, 2013). GLAAS provides an opportunity to see how a country is doing in relation with others in terms of water and sanitation. It is useful to create a common understanding regarding the country's status and capacity to reach established country water and sanitation targets. The report helps to advocate on water and sanitation to high-level policy-makers and the media (WHO, 2012).

While the value of the GLAAS report at national level is recognised as a valuable reference document, particularly as an input for debate and flagging trends. The GLAAS report (i.e. country specific information) is seldom used as a source for national planning purposes. The country information included in GLAAS is not always in line with the nationally used definitions and parameters or with national sector priorities. Stakeholders indicated to prefer the use of data from existing country sources to inform country level planning and decision-making.

"To improve GLAAS there needs to be better alignment with existing data collection and monitoring efforts at country level.''

There is as lack of alignment of global and national monitoring (Cross and Brocklehurst, 2013). Much of the emphasis has been on creating regional and global monitoring products, rather than on using national level monitoring as the bedrock which supports national processes, such as planning and systematic review, and providing these results upwards to global monitoring platforms. Increased demand on countries for engagement in regional and global monitoring efforts adds to the reporting burden and puts an additional pressure on the often already limited in-country capacities for monitoring and learning in developing countries.

Implementation of GLAAS at country level does often, content-wise as well as process-wise, not concord with existing sector monitoring and planning schemes. For instance, the GLAAS data collection process very seldom coincides with the planning for the joint sector country review meetings. Only a very limited number of the interviewees part of the IRC review of GLAAS for DGIS mentioned the use of the GLAAS report in preparation for and reporting on the Sanitation and Water for All – High Level Meeting commitments. Different time schedules for GLAAS and Sanitation and Water for All country processes were stated to be the main bottleneck in ensuring better leverage between both processes.

''There is an urgent need to build or strengthen national capacities for sector performance monitoring."

Alignment with national planning and monitoring processes assumes a certain existing capacity at country level to systematically collect, assess and use evidence in national planning processes. This is however an unrealistic assumption as according to GLAAS sector decisions are not evidence based due to the widespread lack of capacity for monitoring, inconsistent or fragmented gathering of data and limited use of information management systems and analysis (WHO and UN-Water, 2014).

The central question is whether and how GLAAS can contribute to the establishment or strengthening of the needed capacities for nationally driven and inclusive sector review process that informs national sector decision taking and planning in a systematic manner.

The central question is whether and how GLAAS can contribute to the establishment or strengthening of the needed capacities for nationally driven and inclusive sector review process that informs national sector decision taking and planning in a systematic manner. Some see a strong potential of GLAAS in triggering and supporting the development of such capacities. Others interviewed by IRC are much more skeptical.

We believe that the discussion on whether and how GLAAS can play a role in supporting countries in establishing or strengthening their nationally led sector performance monitoring systems is a crucial one, needing full priority in the discussions on GLAAS' strategic direction for the coming years.

"Let's learn from the field."

As one of the interviewed WASH advisors at the Netherlands Embassies phrased it; "The question shouldn't be if GLAAS is mainly for global purposes or be primarily demand driven for national purposes- the question should rather be how can we combine both purposes? What can we learn from the field to make GLAAS more relevant at country level?'

However, from the desk research undertaken by IRC in reviewing experiences with and the use of GLAAS, we haven't come about any document that systematizes the in-country GLAAS experiences in a structured manner. We therefore believe that the debate and decision taking on GLAAS' future direction should be informed by the results of an in-depth review that documents experiences and lessons learned on building national sector capacities for a continuous and nationally led sector performance review process. This needs to be one of the first steps in putting national capacities for WASH sector monitoring much more in the forefront of GLAAS' future agenda.

This blog has been produced by Jeske Verhoeven and Erma Uytewaal of IRC.

References and further reading

Cross, P., Brocklehurst, C., 2013. Building coherence in global-regional-national monitoring: keynote paper for Topic 6 for for "Monitoring Sustainable WASH Service Delivery Symposium" 9 to 11 April 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Hague, The Netherlands: IRC. Available at:

World Health Organization (WHO), 2012. UN-Water GLAAS 2012 Evaluation Meeting. Final Report. Available at:

World Health Organization (WHO), UN-Water, 2014. UN-Water global analysis and assessment of sanitation and drinking-water (GLAAS) 2014 – report. Investing in water and sanitation: increasing access, reducing inequalities. Available at:

World Health Organization (WHO) and UN-Water, 2009. The Power of Evidence. The UN-Water GLAAS Strategy 2010-2015. Available at:

Smits, S., Schouten, T., Lockwood, H. & Fonseca, C., 2013. Background paper for "Monitoring Sustainable WASH Service Delivery Symposium" 9 to 11 April 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Hague, The Netherlands: IRC. Available at:


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