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'Sustainability': The Holy Grail

Published on: 02/09/2014

The room is packed and there is a lot of positive energy in the session on Innovations in Sustainability for Water and Sanitation Services at Stockholm World Water Week. 

"The challenge is to innovate but mostly to scale-up and to go for universal access," says Junaid Ahmad. He is the Senior Director for the World Bank Group's Water Global Practice and speaks at the World Water Week to a room packed with water experts from government, private sector, and non-profits from all over the world. "No more pilots. We need to improve the systems in which innovations happen. It's about sustainability," Ahmad says.

The largely optimistic atmosphere is nicely summarized by Piers Cross, former Global Manager of WSP: "Sustainability seems to be the holy grail." The room for this late afternoon session on "Innovations in Sustainability for Water and Sanitation Services" seats 160 people. But after 180 people with still more people coming in, the stewards have to send people away and close the door. It shows the enormous interest in making water services sustainable.

"There is a lot of momentum. We will continue to support you. And we will work hard to bring the private sector in," says Charlotte Petri-Gornitzka - Director-General of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in her welcoming speech at this session organized by Sanitation and Water for All (SWA).

Sustainability commitments by countries and donors at High Level Meeting of SWA

Sustainability is the key. This was also recognized by developing countries and donors at the High Level SWA meeting in April this year, recalls Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Darren Saywell, SWA Vice chair. There is a need for a shift from infrastructure to a focus on strengthening the service delivery system and developing a service philosophy.

IRC has been a frontrunner in this area and, as a close partner of SWA, is thrilled by this development. IRC's CEO Patrick Moriarty, who has over the years been a strong advocate on focusing on sustainability of services at scale, says about the session: "It was really exciting to be here and to hear such a distinguished group of senior sector experts talk with such warmth and conviction about concepts that five years ago we struggled to get on the table. Concepts like service delivery, sustainability, government leadership and public finance are of utmost importance to achieve our common goal as a sector: Everyone Forever."

After three speeches the conference room turns into a 'market place' where different organisations present their initiatives for sustainability. At one table IRC's Stef Smits talks about politics of professionalism and insights from The Community Water Plus research project in India.

At another table, Dick van Ginhoven of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS), also jokingly called 'Mr. Sustainable van Ginhoven' by the presenters referring to the Sustainability Clause, states: "I have to explain to Dutch tax payers that their money supports services that last."

And a bit further on, Benedict Kubabom, Director of Planning & Investments at the Community Water & Sanitation Agency (CWSA) in Ghana, and Vida Duti (IRC Ghana Director) explain how they are helping the country shift from counting rural water facilities to monitoring sustained water services. The new monitoring framework, developed and tested in collaboration with the IRC-led 'Triple-S' project has served as a decision support tool for a transition from focus on counting systems to monitoring services for sustainability in Ghana. With the poster (in the download) they explain the challenges scaling up the framework in 131 districts (8 out of the 10 regions) of Ghana, a massive exercise. 

There is clearly an increased awareness and plenty of efforts to improve the sustainability of investments in water and sanitation. In the words of Junaid Ahmed: "It's either sustainable service or nothing at all." This is the direction that the water sector needs to be heading in.

Did you miss the SWA hosted session? You can find the best captured moments on Storify