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Published on: 23/01/2019

Ghana - water pipes. Photo: Petra Brussee/IRC

How can we make water, sanitation and hygiene services sustainable (and does our approach work)? WaterAid commissioned an external evaluation of a Sector Strengthening approach to sustainable services. PMER Advisor Marianne Kristensen discusses the results of the evaluation.

At WaterAid we support governments and service providers in strengthening the systems and capabilities needed to deliver sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.

While this is not a new approach for us, it has been driven forward with renewed energy under our 2015 Global Strategy as a response to the ambitious Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets. We recognise that a step change in behaviours and ways of working in the WASH sector is necessary to accelerate progress towards reaching everyone, everywhere by 2030:

"The evidence from countries that do best in delivering rapid improvements in sustainable WASH services is that having robust policies, coordinated institutions, strong leadership and, above all, effective performance monitoring systems is vital. So, building integrated and effective programming and advocacy work that aims to strengthen those capabilities is central to WaterAid realising its mission to achieve universal access to sustainable WASH services" (Henry Northover, Global Policy Director, WaterAid).

Achieving this step change while improving the way we work together is essential if we are to meet the ambitious SDG 6 targets within 12 years. Civil society organisations need to test and evaluate new approaches and ways of working with government and service providers. 

External evaluation

To this end, WaterAid commissioned an external evaluation (January to June 2018) to assess how our approach to Sector Strengthening for Sustainable Services is understood and put into practice by WaterAid’s Country Programmes, and identify the key enablers and barriers.

The evaluation found that WaterAid's "approach is relevant to addressing WASH sector issues at global, national and local levels and is an appropriate response to meet the goal of universal WASH access by 2030". A number of our Country Programmes are showing promising results by demonstrating effective service delivery models with government partners while strengthening key building blocks as a means for government authorities to manage existing and further expand service delivery through better policies and procedures. For example: 

  • WaterAid Ethiopia’s focus on strengthening municipal WASH service delivery by developing human, system and resource capacities of municipal utilities has secured both buy-in and financial commitments from two regional governments interested in scaling up the capacity development approach used.
  • WaterAid Nicaragua is establishing a national SMART WASH Centre to showcase appropriate and affordable technologies (particularly targeting isolated, remote and dispersed populations), supported by a comprehensive capacity development package to promote a life-cycle approach to construction and implementation.
  • WaterAid Malawi’s support to private waste and water service providers is ensuring their legalisation and regulations as well as showing signs of improving their cost recovery and financial sustainability.


While these examples demonstrate both sustainability and scalability, the evaluation also provided a number of concrete recommendations on how we can further improve our work. These include:

  • Clearly defining and framing our approach to ensure that supporting governments and service providers to strengthen their systems and capabilities is embedded in everything we do across all WaterAid Country Programmes. This was identified as particularly important to ensure that our programming and projects are designed with this at the core.
  • Continuing to influence donors and international stakeholders to provide funding to strengthening systems and capacities instead of solely focusing on service provision numbers
  • Strengthening our internal capacity and identifying external capacity support in all aspects of the systems and capacity needed to support governments and service providers.

Read the full report >

Strengthening systems

Now that we have identified areas for improvement, it is time to act. We are committed to addressing the recommendations through a set of clearly defined actions, so that we can play our role in supporting governments and service providers to strengthen the systems and capabilities required to deliver sustainable WASH services to communities across the world.

But we cannot do it alone. Building an effective WASH sector requires all stakeholders to cooperate in support of a government-led accelerated plan. The plans themselves need to be based on strong inter-sectoral coordination and stable, well-financed institutions with strong regulations and performance monitoring, in order to foster a culture of flexibility, learning and adaption.

Unfortunately, current incentives by donors and governments that prioritise numerical outputs do not always encourage such ways of working. However, by defining and adopting more effective behaviours as part of a mutual commitment to sector strengthening, and ensuring these are reflected in funding and programming decisions, governments and development partners can together realise the ambition of the SDGs.


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