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Published on: 18/09/2013

On 13 September 2013, the Ethiopian government launched its (multi-sectoral) Sector-Wide Approach (or SWAp) for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

This is a further step in the gradual development of the essential policies, guidelines, financing and coordinating mechanisms to deliver universal access to water and sanitation, and to sustain services, across the country. It is called the One WASH National Programme (OWNP) and was officially launched at an event at the Hilton in Addis Ababa (find related documents here). The programme will run until 2020 in two phases: from 2013-15 (2015 being a year with key national and global targets) and then from 2015-20.

There are many innovations in the OWNP, but one we are interested to look at critically is the inclusion of Self-supply. Self-supply and the Self-supply Acceleration Programme are now clearly defined as an approach and component part of the OWNP. Supporting "acceleration and scaling-up of Self-supply" is one the 'strategic intervention areas'. Self-supply is an implementation modality alongside Woreda-Managed Projects (WMP), Community-Managed Projects (CMP), NGO projects and multi-village schemes.

Self-supply is part of an effort to deliver "some for all, not all for some", and in particular is expected to contribute within the first phase of the programme (2013-15), with a focus on low-cost approaches.

This initiative responds in part to recommendations made in earlier research studies involving IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, the Ministry of Water and Energy, UNICEF, and other partners. The idea is that Self-supply - household-led provision – if properly supported, could make a significant and much better quality contribution to water supply. Ethiopia is one of the few low-income countries – Uganda is another – where Self-supply is now a recognised approach. The irony for Self-supply – a low-cost approach well suited to rural areas with scattered populations – is that it is more widely recognised in high-income countries. It serves about 15% of the population of the USA for example.

Self-supply is part of an effort to deliver "some for all, not all for some" and in particular is expected to contribute within the first phase of the programme (2013-15) focused on low-cost approaches. This is a major challenge as it will take time to deliver the enabling environment for supported Self-supply. This means implementing capacity building programmes with the government staff expected to lead efforts, across the private sector and building linkages with micro-finance and agricultural development programmes. It means putting in place guidelines, testing implementation approaches, and monitoring to support Self-supply. Promotion campaigns need to be rolled out, synchronized with efforts to improve the supply of well-digging and drilling services, rope pumps, treatment products and other supplies.The (low) capacity of the private sector to provide products and services required by the OWNP is identified in the OWNP document as a serious constraint for implementation and capacity building activities are planned. A new actor at the launch was the Water Contractors Association. Banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs) are identified to have a useful role in providing financial services to communities, particularly for CMP and self-supply activities.

However, discussions around the OWNP launch suggest that innovations in financing in the sector face some serious challenges. Ethiopia is home to the CMP approach, based on over 10 years of piloting and now in a nationwide scaling-up phase, which is widely cited as a good example for its use of MFIs to route money to communities to build their water schemes. This has added capacity to address the low utilisation of funds through traditional financing structures. Self-supply is also a major innovation in public financing of the sector. It means using public money to finance 'software' activities in order to leverage private (household) investment in water supplies (hardware). While more widely accepted in the WASH sector, these innovations are not yet fully-supported elsewhere in government particularly in the critical Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED). Yet together, Self-supply and CMP are expected to deliver 40% of the new supplies in rural water.

A specific target to be met by 2015 is included "42,529 household dug wells and community dug wells are expected to be constructed by households and communities through Self- supply". This is a challenge for champions of Self-supply. Can the approach now deliver? The target is overly precise, however. Household interventions cannot be planned and delivered like community projects. Households by definition are in control and decide when and where to invest. But 40,000-45,000 household or small-group wells does look like a sensible target to be achieved within a couple of years. Here there is some uncertainty about when OWNP efforts will really begin and the starting gun is fired. July 2014 has been mooted as a start date (Self-supply Acceleration could not then realistically be expected to deliver so much within only one year).

Just under 1% (0.8% to be precise) of the estimated USD1.1 billion needed for rural WASH is now to be earmarked for enhancing self-supply. While a small percentage, this looks reasonable and still represents a major planned investment at some USD 8.6 million of public and donor money for Self-supply Acceleration activities.

If sharing is taken into account (research has shown an average of 70 users per family well but this would be expected to go down as the number of water points increases), 40-45000 water points could potentially serve some 2.8-3.2 million people at a per capita cost of about 3 USD. However, only a portion of these would be likely to receive 'safe' water. Upgrading and improvement of quality will be vital from the outset and success or failure in moving families 'up the ladder' will make a major difference to results. Analysis of other Self-supply Acceleration programmes has suggested indicative costs of around 8 USD per capita.

Upgrading and improvement of quality will be vital from the outset and success or failure in moving families 'up the ladder' will make a major difference to results.

The ability to monitor Self-supply is a serious concern. An earlier major government-led implementation effort – the Family Well Campaign of 2004-2006 – which resulted in the construction of a remarkable 85,000 family wells in Oromia (and almost 10,000 community hand-dug wells) faltered largely because new family wells were not, according to the sector's monitoring efforts at the time, counted towards improving coverage. There seems a risk that this might happen again. Although, the use of family wells as the main household drinking water source was captured in a household-level question in the National WASH Inventory, this misses families that use multiple sources and provides no information on where the sub-standard family wells that need to be improved are located. It is also unlikely that household surveys (focused on sanitation and hygiene) will be repeated in the future with a likely reversion to collection of (communal) water-point data. Finding practical ways to monitor Self-supply sources, their improvement and using the results to estimate their contribution to coverage is essential.

Self-supply implementation is already being picked up. Regional focal persons are starting work in the relevant bureaux (alongside many other responsibilities). With CMP and school gardens, Self-supply is a key plank of one of UNICEF's largest projects in the country which ambitiously links WASH, nutrition and multiple uses of water. Making such links between water, health and education which are all partners of the SWAp but also agriculture who are not is important for Self-supply. The JICA-funded Rope Pump Promotion project is linking its efforts to Self-supply Acceleration. NGOs are also picking up the idea and experimenting including Catholic Relief Services and other Millennium Water Alliance members.

It has been a huge effort to get the OWNP launched and to get to this point. One concern that was now raised is whether the sector is ready to take the next steps and implement the programme. Financing gaps still need to be filled. Many people were asking questions about next steps and follow up. What is clear is that evolution of the OWNP is the critical issue to watch in the WASH sector over the next few years. And many people and organisations are lining up to support the initiative.

(Written by Inge Klaassen and John Butterworth).


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