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Looking back at the Stockholm World Water Week 2013

Published on: 24/09/2013

The World Water Week showed that although there are positive efforts around building partnerships there is still a need for the sector to continue operating in exclusive and life changing ways that lead to lasting impact. Over the course of the week, efforts made by business, governments, charities, agencies and academics to come together to find ways of dealing with the water and sanitation crisis were vivid. IRC is no exception in joining efforts with others to tackle this crisis.

This year's event just like the past years did present lots of inspiration, and interesting points for reflection. The theme of this year's World Water Week conference is Water Cooperation - Building Partnerships. The IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre and it partners joined as many as 2,600 participants (over 200 collaborating organisations) gathered in Stockholm, working on various issues concerning water and sanitation, to discuss the advantages and challenges of starting new alliances. These included world leaders, governments and non-governmental organisations, researchers, United Nations entities, business and the media. The reflections on progress and proposed innovations shared, presented a very inspiring week putting sustainability and equity at the heart of the work that we do.

Collective action

IRC did take a message to the event in which the newly appointed IRC Director Dr. Patrick Moriarty called for renewed collective action to tackle failures in provision of water and sanitation services for the world's poorest.

At the start of the event, the second most senior official at the United Nations, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson gave an emotional plenary speech at the conference in Stockholm. In it he said, "We must break taboos, as was the case for the word 'toilets' a few years ago, it is time to incorporate 'open defecation' in the political language and in the diplomatic discourse".

More focus

Sanitation innovator and 2013 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, Peter Morgan also gave a delightful speech in which he emphasised how his work had been inspired by nature, and led to low-cost solutions that have changed the water and sanitation sector. He also expressed a concern that there is insufficient focus within the water and sanitation sector on maintenance and ongoing financing. Noting that, "Many currently existing solutions to provide clean water and sanitation are unaffordable, impractical and out of reach for the world's poorest people."


IRC showcased its work through a dedicated exhibition at which it highlighted its activities, provided demonstrations and engaged with participants on the progress of its programmes. The exhibition was also being used as space for media engagements and also as a place where participants were encouraged to leave their particulars for future communications from the organisation.

Sustainability meeting

One of the highlights of the event, was the Sustainability meeting that IRC organised together with the Dutch Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS). It was well attended by a cross section of donors, NGOs and Government, and therefore an excellent opportunity to put the limelight on DGIS' key decision to implement their sustainability clause. "Installing a pump is simple, to get it going forever is difficult", says Patrick Moriarty during the conversation on sustainability with key actors of the WASH sector. Nine main findings of the policy review by the Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB) and six lessons for policy were presented at this meeting. These were based on the principle "from infrastructure to sustainable impact". This is an important session for IRC as it touches upon two of our priority areas: sustainability and aid effectiveness.

Changing Relationships: ICT to Improve Water Governance

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is quickly changing relationships between stakeholders, facilitating the measurement and monitoring of interventions and enabling practitioners at a local level to use evidence to guide decision making and corrective actions. Despite this promising outlook, several challenges exist to use the full potential of ICT. Is there sufficient knowledge to apply the new technologies effectively? What has worked and how? Who has access to the information and are incentives in place for using information to improve services? What are the associated costs? Are we being diverted by the allure of emerging technologies from the real issues of data integrity and the improvement of services? All these concerns were addressed at the 'Changing Relationships: ICT to Improve Water Governance' session organised by IRC and it partners - Akvo Foundation; Rural Water Supply Network; UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI; Water and Sanitation for Africa; Water and Sanitation Program; Water For People; Water Integrity Network and WaterAid. Ton Schouten chaired and opened the session. The Keynote speakers, Jaehyang So, WSP, and Ned Breslin, Water For People shared experiences from their work, on what and how the WSP and WfP have done to scale up ICT technology.


Similarly, during World Water Week, Water For People, together with IRC and WSUP, agreed to collaborate by aligning current and future programming to achieve Everyone Forever. This means behaving as a network, sharing ideas, resources and skills across organisations to maximise effectiveness and accelerate impact.

IRC was also represented in two Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) related meetings at the Stockholm Water Week. One on Elevating Political Momentum for Sanitation and Water at which Jane Nabunnya presented "What can Civil Society do to pressurise Political Action on Sanitation and Water?". This meeting did emphasise that there is an urgent need to shift from merely reciting our understanding of sanitation and water and what we have done, to clarifying what we want, and market that to the donors and governments. We should market our work and the change we want to create. At the other SWA Civil Society Organisation (CSO) side meeting, Uganda's CSO SWA updates were shared. These focused on the 2014 SWA process and High Level Meeting; it was recommended that for SWA to ensure political will on the road towards 2014, it should be made into a big issue that politicians cannot ignore. It was also advised to work with government to develop focused and measurable commitments and also that monitoring of the commitments should be aligned with existing monitoring and review processes in the country.

Updates on other activities at the World Water Week

The beta version of the WASHCost Calculator, a new online tool to help practitioners perform budget calculations and sustainability checks by assessing life-cycle costs for WASH programmes, was launched at a meeting on life-cycle costing tools. At this meeting, AtWhatCost tool from Water For People and the Sanitation investment tracker were also presented.

Additionally, a demonstration and user testing of the tool was carried out by IRC staff at the IRC exhibition. The basic version of the tool for water and sanitation was tested with 50 people. The tester group consisted of people from local authorities (national to district level), international NGOs, universities and private sector. At these tests lots of interest was expressed by participants, particularly for the idea of a cost database and analyzing the gaps in expenditure. The calculator does help for planning purposes, as it gives a first idea on the total costs for providing a service over a period of 10 years, but it is also useful as a learning tool – to learn more about LCCA. The video was very useful as an introduction to the tool.

A session with Mayors from Bolivia, Ghana and Uganda who spoke about Everyone Forever and achieving sustainable WASH coverage in their districts and how it could serve as a catalyst for other districts within their countries.

The Management and Support Thematic Group (MSTG) of the RWSN, coordinated by IRC, took the opportunity of the Stockholm World Water Week to organise a half day event in the morning of Thursday 5 September 2013. The meeting brought together 30 sector professionals from development partners, private sector, government and civil society, who talked about the theme of professionalisation of rural and small town water supply and what could be done to stimulate and facilitate professionalism. After the key note prepared by the Rural Water and Sanitation Network Secretariat and the reply to the key note by IRC, short cases were presented by WSP, Vergnet, SNV and CWSA, on successes and challenges related to professionalisation. The meeting was chaired by Eng. Aaron Kabirizi, commissioner from the Ministry of Water & Environment, Uganda. The participants agreed that professionalism of water supply is key, regardless of the management model (community management, public-private partnership). This implies clarity on roles and responsibilities of different actors involved in water supply (including on who is responsible and pays for what related to spare part supply, asset renewal), availability of appropriate levels of human and financial resources, and clear and effective regulatory arrangements.

The Women leaders in WASH panel discussion highlighted the role of women leaders in WASH, they shared challenges and mitigation strategies, and identified strategies and opportunities that can be utilized to strengthen or improve the role of women leaders in WASH.

Personal stories, experiences and information on WASH situations in different country contexts were at the heart of the discussions. These were told by Water For People's Kate Fogelberg, IRC's Vida Duti, IRC's Jane Nabunnya Mulumba and Alice Bouman (WP) President of the Women for Water Partnership.

Watch an interview with Water For People's Kate Fogelberg: "Women's involvement in water and sanitation - A smart thing to do".


Generally, Stockholm was also a great way to introduce IRC's new Director to the sector, where he received lots of warm good wishes, as well as several expressions of interest in further/deeper partnership.

The World Water Week showed that although there are positive efforts around building partnerships there is still a need for the sector to continue operating in exclusive and life changing ways that lead to lasting impact. Over the course of the week, efforts made by business, governments, charities, agencies and academics to come together to find ways of dealing with the water and sanitation crisis were vivid. IRC is no exception in joining efforts with others to tackle this crisis. As stated by IRC's new Director, Patrick Moriarty, "We must encourage collective action to tackle head-on the unacceptable failures of the status quo for the world's poorest people. I look forward to working with colleagues in the WASH sector and beyond to make this happen. IRC believes that government has a leading role in ensuring there is the right enabling environment to provide water, sanitation and hygiene services, through leadership but also public finance, supported by private sector investment and innovation".

With the closing of the 2013 World Water Week, the sights are already set on 2014. Next year's theme is "Water and Energy – Making the Link".

Read the IRCWASH storify page for some of the tweets about IRC and its partners' sessions during the World Water Week 2013 event which captured the essence of the discussion.

Vera van der Grift, September 2013

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