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Published on: 26/05/2014

Imagine a game where each player could make up their own rules, where there were no referees and what constituted a goal was up to individual interpretation. It would be chaos on the field; teamwork would be impossible; success uncertain.

In the absence of clear standards and guidelines, district governments, NGOs and community organisations 'play by their own rules'

This is in effect the prevailing situation in many countries where, in the absence of clear standards and guidelines for establishing and operating water and sanitation services, district governments, NGOs and community organisations ‘play by their own rules’—putting in place a hodgepodge of technology choices, operating procedures and monitoring frameworks.

The result: gross inefficiencies, uneven levels of service and coverage, and ultimately services that cannot be sustained over the long haul. Even where standards and guidelines exist, if they are poorly communicated, difficult to follow, or weakly enforced, the result is the same.

To rectify this situation and bring greater harmonisation and efficiency to the multitude of actors involved in delivering water and sanitation services, Uganda and Ghana both launched sector guidance documents this Spring. The documents resulted from the multi-year collaboration with IRC under the Triple-S (Sustainable Services at Scale) project.

Diagnosing the problem

When IRC first began working in Uganda and Ghana under Triple-S, one of the first orders of business was analysing with stakeholders what was working and what wasn’t in the rural water sector. In both cases, standards and guidelines proved to be a weak point.

Less than 10% of district and sub-county staff knew about the Implementation Manual

Uganda had a District Implementation Manual to guide water and sanitation projects, which it had introduced in 2007, however poor distribution, an unfriendly format, and out-dated information prevented the manual from serving its purpose. A Triple-S assessment revealed that less than 10% of district and sub-county staff interviewed knew about the Manual.

The Ministry of Water and Environment spearheaded a revision and brought together representatives from the Ministry, technical support units, local governments and NGOs to ensure the Manual would meet the needs of different users. This April the newly revised version was launched and is being rolled out across the country, guided by a carefully thought-out marketing strategy.

In Ghana, strategy and operational documents were incomplete and had not been published, leaving sector actors a relatively free hand to follow their own approaches. The sector analysis conducted under Triple-S highlighted the gap and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) worked with IRC and sector stakeholders to rectify it. In March, CWSA unveiled the National Community Water and Sanitation Strategy (NCWSS), the Project Implementation Manual (PIM), the District Operational Manual (DOM), the Framework for Assessing and Monitoring Rural and Small Town Water Supply Services in Ghana and a companion How-To-Do Guide.

Encouraging harmonisation and coordination

One of the key challenges facing the water and sanitation sector today is the lack of coordination among stakeholders, observed Uganda’s Minister of State for Water, the Honourable Betty Bigombe, speaking at the launch of the revised District Implementation Manual. ‘Harmonisation and coordination requires all actors to recognise and adhere to common principles and approaches when supporting water and sanitation services,’ Minister Bigombe emphasised. ‘Uncoordinated approaches lead to fragmented strategies, which result in inefficient use of resources, duplication of roles and a total lack of alignment with government policies.’

Triple-S research identified harmonisation and coordination as one of 10 key building blocks for sustainable service delivery. By putting into place clear, well-communicated guidelines, both Uganda and Ghana are taking a major step towards creating stronger, harmonised sectors, where different actors can work together efficiently to extend services and where water and sanitation infrastructure can be maintained and supported by permanent institutions, regardless of who made the original investment.

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