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Transferring WASH mandates to the lower levels: developing soft skills without hard cash

Published on: 17/03/2016

On the third day of the regional learning event we reflected on the field visits and discussed what we learned.

One group presented the findings from a visit to a district where sanitation functions are being decentralised from the national and provincial levels to the districts.

In the morning of the third day of the regional learning event on sustainability organised by the Ministry of Rural Development and SNV Asia in Cambodia the findings and learnings from the four different field visits were presented and discussed. One team had the opportunity to visit a district that is part of an ongoing sanitation decentralisation pilot that has started last year. The pilot, initiated and funded by WSP, is implemented by SNV Cambodia and runs till June 2016. The group was impressed by the progress made and especially with the commitment of the district and commune authorities. However, the field visit also revealed that to date no funds have been transferred to the districts. The question that popped up during the discussions was what can be achieved with the new and strengthened capacities if no funds are available to put these into practice?

Field trip team photo

In the afternoon Virak Chan of WSP Cambodia provided additional insight into the decentralisation pilot by giving a presentation named: Rural sanitation decentralised service delivery – A delivery mechanism to bring sustainable sanitation services closer to communities. At the moment the mandate for rural sanitation is with the Ministry of Rural Development. It has to realise a 5% annual increase in sanitation coverage to achieve the government’s goal of universal access to sanitation by 2025. There are a number of challenges to reach and work at scale and the limited human resources at the national and sub-national levels is just one of them. Other challenges include the lack of a clear mandate on rural sanitation for sub-national administrations, shortage of funding, and lack of local ownership and accountability. Decentralisation is seen as a vehicle to help Cambodia reach its sector vision: 100% sanitation coverage by 2025.

Diagram showing trend for rural sanitation coverage in Cambodia

As part of the ongoing decentralisation drive, the "construction of household latrines, public latrines and hygiene promotion" are to be transferred to the sub-national administrations. The decentralisation of functions will in particular affect the work at district level. The districts will become responsible for providing direct operational support to and training of communities in sanitation promotion, implementation of financing mechanisms, private sector facilitation, and consolidation of monitoring information. Even within the short timeframe of the ongoing pilot, remarkable progress has been made. For example increased capacity of the Provincial Department of Rural Development to provide technical support to districts, increased capacity of district and communities to plan, manage, budget, coordinate, implement and monitor rural sanitation, and improvements in institutional coordination and communication in performing rural sanitation functions by district administrations.

One of the challenges that has not been resolved to date is the timely transfer of adequate government funds to the districts to take up their new mandate. New capacities and strong commitment alone will not be enough to contribute effectively to Cambodia's sector vision. There appear to be some challenges in getting the funds released, but may be a bigger challenge is the level of proposed funding. The Ministry of Rural Development has agreed to transfer US$ 350 to each pilot district this year. That is the average amount individual households spend to construct their preferred pour-flush toilet (see my previous blog). So how is this going to work? What are districts going to do when there are no development partners financing sanitation and hygiene projects in their district? How are capacities developed in the absence of projects or programmes that provide a real life classroom for practising and learning by doing? How much of Cambodia's dream is going to be realised in the absence of adequate human and financial resources?

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