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Published on: 01/07/2014

A starting point and not an afterthought

Why do we leave something as important as sustainability to the end? Are we too busy doing other things? Is the concept of sustainability too abstract so that we do not know what to do and where to start? Is it because we do not have the capacity and the appropriate competences to work on it?

Will there be sufficient time to put all the sustainability related conditions in place? Will it require a lot of extra work? Will it put a lot of stress on our limited resources?

So instead of making sustainability an afterthought only to be considered when we have time, sustainability should be the overall guiding principle.

What became clear during discussions in the SHAW programme was that it will not necessarily require a lot of additional work. What it takes is that most of the regular programme activities are implemented in a different manner.  Not more but smarter! Most if not all of the conditions defined in the sustainability framework require strong local leadership. This means that local authorities have the political will, are committed and have the capacities to take the lead. Hence, programmes should be implemented in such a way that that is achieved over and above the desire to realise the more tangible programme results such as number of people with access to an improved sanitation facility.

So instead of making sustainability an afterthought only to be considered when we have time, sustainability should be the overall guiding principle. IRC believes that to deliver services that last forever it requires that government takes a leadership role and that we need to create WASH sectors that are capable of delivering sustainable WASH services to everyone. A sustainability framework, such as developed for the SHAW programme, should be put be in place even before any programme activities commence to help realise this dream. The framework will help to determine what needs to be done (focus) and how it needs to be done (approach).

SHAW programme

This blog is based on IRC’s work in supporting the implementation of the Sanitation, Hygiene and Water (SHAW) programme in East Indonesia. The five year SHAW programme – co-financed by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands – is implemented by five Indonesian NGOs under the overall responsibility of Simavi. To be able to scale up the Government of Indonesia’s community-based total sanitation (STBM) policy, a lot of efforts have gone into a number of parallel trajectories to design and roll out a uniform and consistent intervention strategy and approach, to develop a range of supporting tools and instruments, and to build the capacities of the five implementing partners. A lot of this work was initiated during the sharing and learning events organised every four months by the programme.

Sustainability has been a topic right from the onset of the programme. The need for buy-in, strong commitment and involvement by the local authorities in all aspects of the programme was paramount right from day one. Capacity building of public and private sector actors is an integral part of the programme to ensure that the programme is implemented efficiently and effectively but also to sustain the programme results and to replicate and scale up the approach in other areas. However, even if the programme document is sound and the initial intentions are good this does not mean that sustainability is at the forefront of everybody’s thoughts.

For four out of the five implementing partners the complexity of the programme was overwhelming and a huge challenge to implement as this was the first time that they were responsible for implementing a sanitation and hygiene programme at this scale reaching some 1.4 million people. During the initial stages the programme was implemented on a trial and error basis as most of the approaches had to be developed from scratch. Organisational capacities of the implementing partners were often insufficient and it took time to develop these. As a consequence of the fact that the partners were struggling to implement the programme and focused on realising the programme targets, little or no time was left to work on some of the aspects related to sustainability.

FIETS sustainability framework

During the February 2014 sharing and learning workshop the concept of sustainability was further clarified. The partners agreed on a simple definition of sustainability within the context of the SHAW programme. Furthermore steps were taken to determine what conditions need to be in place by the end of the programme so that the programme results can be sustained without the presence and support of the partners. For that purpose a simple sustainability framework was developed that defines the specific conditions that need to be in place at the different levels, namely at community, sub-district and district level. The SHAW sustainability framework is guided by the following Dutch WASH Alliance’s five FIETS sustainability elements or dimensions. 

The five FIETS sustainability elements or dimensions. Source: website from the Dutch WASH Alliance:

The SHAW sustainability framework consists of a total of 15 conditions that ideally should be in place by the end of the programme. These are related for example to budgets being in place for continued monitoring and follow up and clear roles and responsibilities, but also capacity and commitment on the part of local authorities.

During the June 2014 sharing and learning workshop the draft sustainability framework was reviewed and finalised on the basis of field experiences. The framework and its specific requirements will help the partners to determine the content of their exit strategies.

Further information on the SHAW programme and the SHAW sustainability framework can be obtained by contacting the following individuals:



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