Published on: 25/10/2022
Well, congratulations on making it through the first two days!
Besides what we have discussed in the plenary sessions here together, there have been 25 parallel sessions to enable us to dive deeper into the agenda at hand. Since it is not possible to participate in all those sessions, in this presentation I will try to synthesise some of the key insights that have emerged.
We started yesterday with a welcome by the Honourable Minister for Sanitation and Water Resources of Ghana, and an opening statement by His Excellency the Vice President. We have been inspired by the high-level commitments from Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda and others. We have seen compelling progress and innovative initiatives to accelerate access, faster than ever, towards extending safely manged services, as well as pushing to ensure that no one is left behind.
However, we also faced the stark reality, that in most of our countries, we will not achieve the goals set out in the Africa Water Vision, 22 years ago. And as the Vice President mentioned, most countries are likely not to meet the targets of SDG6. We are off track.
In theme 1, we looked at the technical side of the problem. Through the examples you have presented, and contributed, we have taken stock of the state of the art in service delivery. A recurring theme was to look at how professionalisation of both rural and urban services is offering a genuine pathway to tackling the crisis at scale.
Nowadays, we’re talking about 21st century service delivery. This means services that bring safe water to homes, schools, and health care facilities 24 hours a day. We recognised that the professionalisation of service delivery models must look beyond payment options, operation and maintenance; it requires upgrading our standards through the entire life cycle... planning, budgeting, costing, financing, monitoring and more.
In theme 2, we delved deeper into the tangible ways to increase the political and financial commitment to systems strengthening. In the facilitated dialogues which included politicians, we probed at the reasons why we have struggled in the past and identified ways that we can better position ourselves to find common ground with leaders and investors. As one participant said, as a politician, I think Votes, People, Infrastructure. Tell me the story of systems strengthening and how it will have impact in these three areas.
And as we heard several times from our finance experts, money is often there but it’s not being used, or not being used effectively, so rather than just working to mobilise resources, we need to take a critical look at the current financial flows, where money is getting stuck, and understand the systemic issues, as well as possible incentives, that will bring both financiers and private utility investors to the table.
The title for theme 3 in this event was changed from a standard title like ‘monitoring’’ to ‘’Improving evidence-informed decision making and accountability’’. This was not to sound fancy. It is because we know that though we miss data for various aspects, too much data is sitting unused, un-analysed, and is not providing the information that both technical and political people need in their daily jobs, and during key moments of making decisions. In order for monitoring to work, it has to be up-to-date and continuous, something that is difficult for under-resourced local government offices to do. While new technology is making this easier, we have also learned lessons from how professional service providers, like some of those we have heard from this morning, have expertise in this area. In the drive for efficiency and performance, data is part of their daily work. For monitoring bigger picture goals, like national progress, we need to work more effectively with national bureaus of statistics in our countries to help hold us to account using representative and unbiased data.
Theme 4 got into the details of ensuring water, sanitation, and hygiene services in health care centres, schools, and public places at scale. The sessions covered cross-cutting topics, where health centres have in some cases been centres for innovation in terms of onsite chlorine production for disinfection, and for developing integrated systems for appropriate waste management. By recognising the importance of getting buy-in from health care workers, from teachers, and businesses, the extra-household WASH theme has made clear that strong WASH systems emerge when we understand and facilitate the effective interactions of people and technology.
Theme 5 took systems thinking to the next level. Especially in contexts that are uncertain, or fragile, the systems at play are deeply layered. The formal systems addressed in ministerial reports are living amongst alternative systems of crisis management, humanitarian response, or volatile politics. We talked about how systems strengthening is possible in these contexts. At times, social cohesion is the fundamental building block for systems strengthening, even when true peace cannot be immediately achieved. By creating meaningful bridges for the actors and initiatives that are striving for human rights and peace and being willing to push for innovation in how programmes are designed and run. All of this becomes possible when we have more data, and better data, so we can support and invest in promising solutions and adaptations when they emerge.
We have agreed on where we need to be. We set out for this event with the desire to look critically at why we haven’t got there yet, and to identify promising solutions and to implement them. We need to pull together as actors representing different perspectives in the systems to help chart a new course. We cannot simply start planning without first looking back to learn from the past. As one dignitary from Malawi said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail’’.
As last words of the synthesis, I would like to remind you of one recommendation that the Honourable Minister of Water and Energy from Ethiopia made yesterday. Let’s all take the great ideas and the energy generated at this symposium, and discuss them in our respective countries, organisations and institutions! Let’s strive to turn them into concrete actions for changing the systems that we’re interacting with.
All systems Go Africa!