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Published on: 30/06/2014

There's a positive buzz here at the 5th Sustainability Forum. Plenary sessions recalled the steps leading up to this year's focus on practical tools and approaches towards water, sanitation and hygiene services that last. And there was an important reminder on why we're here: people deserve and demand a service that lasts not just a few years, but for generations. It's imperative that we learn how to make our investments, money, time and effort, contribute to sustainable sanitation services.

The messages tagged #wash2014 on Twitter give a flavour of the active engagement and creative thinking going on today. In each of the 'tracks' -water, sanitation and hygiene, there were presentations and group work on selected tools. And a fair where tools were showcased. I took part in the sanitation sessions and talked to session organisers Evariste Kouassi-Komlan of UNICEF and Guy Norman of WSUP. 

What do we mean by sustainability for sanitation?

For the Forum, track leads chose a specific focus on maintaining operations, services and benefits of sanitation. This implies that any sanitation system should also be beneficial (or at least non-detrimental) in terms of impacts on health, environment social and economic impacts.

What tools for sustainable sanitation exist?

Sustainability requires us to think, plan, finance and monitor differently. Tools are useful, but none is a silver bullet for sustainability.

Evariste Kouassi-Komlan: "We started with the Triple-S tools mapping study, which identified some tools. Sanitation has fewer sustainability tools than water supply and there are fewer tools for urban and peri-urban sanitation. We also reviewed additional tools which were submitted to the Forum and from about 25 tools we selected four for examining here."

Sanitation tools fall into three broad groups:

  • Sector Analysis Tools: which assess the WASH sector within a given jurisdiction (typically a country), often with a broad focus on sustainable service delivery.
  • Planning Tools: ranging from small NGO project interventions to city-level or national WASH programmes. These may focus on specific aspects of delivering sustainable services, like financial planning.
  • Sustainability Scoring Tools: designed to assess the likely sustainability of a given organisation, project or district.

Sanitation tools on today's agenda were the country-level Service Delivery Assessment approach (SDA, also called Country Status Overview or MAPAS) and the related tool for analysis of Faecal Sludge Management in cities, the WASHCost costing and planning tool and the Sustainability Check, which gives a snapshot on sustainability of a given intervention. "The tools are interesting sources of learning both in terms of the findings and the methods used. For example the Service Delivery Assessment approach can be adapted in diverse other sanitation contexts beyond faecal sludge management in cities" said Guy Norman.


Each tool has advantages and disadvantages, there is no silver bullet for sustainability in sanitation. Participants reflected on which elements of the tools they found useful. The 'shit mapping' presented by Barbara Evans was found a powerful communication tool to visualise the problem of no/ poor faecal sludge management in a city. A website with diagrams for several cities was identified as a potential useful resource for moving cities forward on sanitation.  

For some, the WASHCost session was an eye-opener. Most organisations don't know the cost of providing sustainable sanitation. The WASHCost tool can help determine these costs and inform discussions about who will finance what, for what level of service. These tools nudge us out of our comfort zone, getting us thinking about 10 years after project implementation and who will cover the costs of making sanitation services last.

Beyond a focus on specific tools and how to adapt them, discussions have started on developing more effective sanitation tools. How to move from tools developed by external NGOs, towards tools that can and will be used in a sustainable way by in-country governments and service providers? Cost and complexity of applying the tools and better alignment with country monitoring processes and systems needs more consideration. There is also a lot to learn about encouraging government leadership for tackling sustainability and applying the tools.

"What we need for achieving sustainability is not tools alone," said Guy Norman concluding today's sanitation sessions "We need to work on changing policy and planning.This is also about changing mind-sets from the dominant taps and toilets mentality and away from organisations' attachment to their own brand."

 (For more about sustainable sanitation tools, see the Forum Pre-read with inputs from Evariste Kouassi-Komlan, Therese Dooley and Guy Norman, sanitation 'track leads' at the Forum) 




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