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Published on: 24/07/2018

By: Stef Smits (Senior Programme Officer, IRC) and Julia Boulenouar (Principal WASH consultant, Aguaconsult)

The Government of Rwanda seeks to achieve universal access to basic water services by 2024. In order to achieve that target, the Government is promoting what is called a 'District-Wide Approach' (DWA). In essence, this is a roadmap for strengthening the systems needed to ensure the delivery of WASH services for the entire district.

This roadmap consists of:
1. A number of assessments of the current status of WASH services
2. A WASH investment plan to get to universal and sustainable access
3. The implementation of such a plan

Rwanda is not alone in this effort. In Honduras, the Para Todos, Por Siempre (Everyone, Forever) members are working with the Government to develop PEMAS (Strategic WASH plans). IRC has supported districts in Ghana and Burkina Faso to develop similar master plans. The Agenda for Change Initiative calls for similar plans to be developed and implemented in other countries of action such as Malawi and Ethiopia.

Though the scope and content of these plans may differ from one place to another, we think that their essence can be summarised using a combination of infographics and graphs.

What's an investment plan?

An investment plan is both a process and output, which consists of matching an objective with financial resources. In our case, the objective is to achieve universal and sustainable access (or reaching 'everyone, forever' as we often call it) at a district level. The financial resources are the various sources of funding the district can mobilise to reach this objective. It combines a political or strategic process of decision-making with a technical process of assessments and projections of costs. Additionally, it should be a consultative process with sector stakeholders. It needs a vision and targets, data and information and people on board. Finally, an important feature of an investment plan is its duration. Investment plans are multi-annual and seek to outline how to get to a medium or long-term vision and the means to get there (technically and financially). In that sense, they often go further than the duration of a period of local government.

But, an investment plan is also an output in itself. It is a document, that acts as reference for investment decisions. The content of the document consists of two major parts:

Part one: the current and envisioned situation

The infographic below presents the first part of a WASH investment plan: contrasting the current WASH situation with a projection of the envisioned situation for a certain year (2024, in the case of Rwanda). The image on the left hand side shows the current situation, indicating both the existing infrastructure and the service levels it delivers. The right hand image shows the vision, displaying the population with access to different levels of service and the infrastructure that is needed to get to such service levels.

Infographic 1: current situation, vision and targets for the district

A number of remarks need to be made:

  • The difference between the current and envisioned situation is not simply about filling the gaps in access. It is also about setting service level targets in terms of the percentage of the population (and its location) that gains access to a specified service level by a certain date. It is always possible to get to safely managed services for everyone. As is made clear, countries need to establish ambitious and realistic targets. This may be choosing between basic and safely managed services.
  • Expressing the targets in terms of level of service rather than solely in terms of population with "access", implies that there is more of a focus on sustainable service provision.
  • Given the medium-term nature of these plans, the tentative planning of the infrastructure needed to achieve these service levels is important. This does not necessarily need to include detailed engineering designs for each and every single water supply scheme, but could include an order of magnitude indication of the number and location of the infrastructure to be developed.

Part 2: the costs and the sources of finance

The second part of the WASH investment plan consists of matching the costs needed to achieve the vision, resulting in a type of graph shown below:

Graph 1: Balancing costs and sources of finance for WASH over time

The plan should present a balance between all the life-cycle costs associated with WASH service delivery (Capital Expenditure – or CapEx – for the development of new infrastructure; Capital Maintenance Expenditure – or CapManEx – for the rehabilitation of existing and to-be-developed infrastructure; Operational and Minor Maintenance Expenditure – or OpEx – for the costs of operation and minor maintenance; and Direct Support for the costs associated with the various service authority functions of the district).

It should also include the sources of finance: tariffs obtained from users, taxes – both generated internally within the district and coming from national government and transfers coming from donors and NGOs. The graph above also makes it clear that the term WASH investment plan is not strictly an investment plan in the narrow sense of the word. Many of the expenses go beyond investment; they are the expenses needed for sustainable service delivery.

For that reason, a WASH investment plan needs to manage different time scales: provide some detailed information for those expenditures and sources of finance that are predictable; and orders of magnitude for expenses and sources of finance required for the medium and long-term.

Assessing each of these costs in relation to sources of finance is quite a task in itself, as appeared during our discussions in Rwanda. These require specific tools and methods, calculations and extrapolations. Also, there was a lot of discussion around the level of detail needed. Capital maintenance expenditure is particularly difficult to forecast. This is in part due to the probabilistic nature of this expenditure. Capital maintenance often comes as one-off bulky cost –for example, when a pump or intake structure needs to be replaced. When exactly will that happen? It is difficult to predict. Of course, if a component is now old and in a bad state, it will likely need replacing soon, but it is difficult to predict which exact component will need to be replaced.

If after reviewing the costs, sources and finance and it appears resources are too scarce and the vision too unrealistic, it will sometimes be necessary to revisit the vision and targets. Having robust data on services, costs and revenue are always a good start to this process.


Sure, there will be other elements of importance to be included in a WASH investment plan: a background to the geography and demographics of the district; the strategies that can be followed to achieve the vision; and the way in which progress in the plan is monitored. 

The essence of the plan is however, as follows:

  1. Understanding the current state of affairs
  2. Setting a clear vision
  3. Analysing what cost and resources are required to go from the current situation to some future vision and targets
  4. Determining how these are prioritised over time

Developing an investment plan is an ambitious, yet critical task for the districts to articulate their vision and to bring stakeholders at all levels on board to achieve it. We hope these graphs are useful to boil down WASH investment planning to its main essence and we encourage districts and those working with them to collect basic data on services, costs, finance and analyse it to know where they stand and where they want to be!


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

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