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Eyes on the prize: aiming for 2030

Published on: 30/06/2021

Annual Report 2020

IRC's Annual report 2020

In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw exciting achievements in the fourth year of our 2017-30 Strategic Framework.

We saw significant progress in our partner districts. At least 137,000 people now have enhanced access to services in six of our partner districts, while 171 schools and 55 health care facilities have upgraded water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. The combined population of our partner districts is now 2.78 million people. In all of these districts, we saw strong political commitment and local government leadership.

People, systems and change

Since 2017, through collective action with our partners, we have accelerated access to safe WASH in our partner districts. As a hub for collective action we help local leaders to coordinate partners around achieving a shared 2030 vision. We facilitate relationships, provide expertise and monitoring, help share learning and ensure continuous communication among partners.

Our evidence shows that aligning people around a long-term master plan helps drive profound WASH systems change. Local government partners increased their WASH budgets in 2020 and new partners and funders are joining to help fill the gaps.

Service monitoring rounds in partner districts in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda have shown that at least 30,000 people now have a safely managed water supply and at least 100,000 people a basic household supply since our collective engagement started.

With growing proof of concept, we're sharing the lessons of district-level change. National government planning agencies in Ghana and Uganda have expressed an interest in adopting master planning as a way to bring people together around a shared vision and goals. In Burkina Faso the national public water utility, ONEA, has become a supporter of master plans too, and is contributing to their development in five new districts.

There are no easy answers or shortcuts to systems strengthening and improving service delivery. It takes time to make change happen, but there are ways of accelerating progress and we are starting to see that SDG 6 is within reach. Systems strengthening through collective action can get us there.

COVID-19: a health response is a WASH response

COVID-19 posed unprecedented challenges for our organisation and for WASH. For us, it led to reduced income as the ability to travel and meet with current and potential donors was sharply constrained. For the sector, understandable but un-costed promises of 'free water' by governments put utilities and businesses under strain. 

But our continued shift towards decentralisation and our focus on systems strengthening for resilient services helped quick and effective adaptation. Strong partnerships and platforms established at all levels, and the dedication of our staff in supporting those most affected by the pandemic, helped us rise to the challenges.

The wider partnerships created in our partner districts helped local governments and partners to respond effectively to COVID-19, replanning available resources to focus on spreading health messages, providing emergency support and strengthening the skills of health facility staff.

We were part of national level task forces and helped develop government response plans.

The emphasis on preventing the transmission of the virus gave hygiene unparalleled prominence. Handwashing with soap is key to controlling COVID-19 and many other respiratory diseases. Indeed, the pandemic reminded us that a health response is truly a WASH response. Through our influencing activities, our campaigns, our conferences and webinars in 2020, we emphasised how, now, more than ever, we need to ensure strong WASH systems that transform lives and how we must all pull together to make this happen.

Our communications infrastructure and collaborative platforms helped us to continue most of our work virtually as learning alliances moved to online environments. We jointly organised a series of webinars in India with WaterAid, UNICEF, Aga Khan Foundation and WHO, for Global Handwashing Day, which attracted 13,000 participants.

We also noticed reduced barriers to communications, with our WASH colleagues all over the globe taking the stage on district, national and global platforms.

What's next?

The challenge in 2021 will be to build on the energy and prominence that WASH gained due to COVID-19, and to use this to build forward with better quality and more sustainability. We cannot do this alone, and will seek to form new alliances with experts in health, climate, environment, economic development and social activism.

Read more 2020 highlights from our focus countries and programmes in our 2020 Annual Report

IRC at a glance 2020