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It's not the hardware - but the service that matters

Published on: 03/11/2016

After eight years of working in Ghana, IRC has achieved a paradigm shift in monitoring and delivery of WASH services.

Based on an interview with Jeremiah Atengdem.

Jeremiah Atengdem

In the week of 5-9 September 2016 stakeholder meetings were held in two of Ghana's regions: Northern (in Tamale) and Upper East (in Bolgatanga). The objectives of the meeting were to disseminate baseline findings on functionality of water services; identify gaps in rural and small town water services provision; explore and track use of data by District Assemblies; showcase the achievements in advancing ICT technology; explore emerging issues and discuss opportunities to leverage the existing funding sources and partnerships. The participation of District Assemblies in the meetings in both Tamale and Bolgatanga was very high.

The issues raised at the stakeholder meetings were very crucial for informing the monitoring process and road map, particularly with regard to the use of data and how to take the data collection process beyond the SMARTerWASH project. In the Tamale meeting, the District Assemblies were very committed to the process, and ready to take ownership of the model and use the data for planning and implementation of WASH service delivery. The District Assemblies have, however, been challenged to identify and attract partners who can use the data for planning, budgeting and for implementing remedial action.

The baseline study by the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) has prompted a conversation on a new way of monitoring water services as opposed to counting of facilities. The paradigm shift seems to be taking root from the responses registered at the stakeholder meetings. There is an appreciation that the era of just focusing on physical infrastructure is behind us, and the new era demands that attention should not be just on the infrastructure but much more on the end product– safe water service provision.

It is important that District Assemblies keep the dialogue going and sustain the positive outcomes generated by the project, and partners such as CWSA and IRC have a key support role in this process. This is a milestone for IRC who has over the past 8 years been working hard to facilitate this paradigm shift in sector thinking around monitoring and delivery of WASH services

Use of data at different levels

Assessing the piped schemes and the management as part of the baseline study raised issues of concern as the number of facilities on the ground did not match with what was documented as planned and implemented. Harmonisation and coordination in the planning and delivery of WASH services is an issue, and the Assemblies do not seem to be in full control of what is happening in the districts. When they discover problems they quickly try to reign in the organisations that provided unreliable facilities. These organisations do not have a governance and management structure and they deviate from the national guidelines. The Assemblies try to correct the situation and give advice to communities on how to improve the situation.

The baseline study also revealed situations where environmental conditions have affected the delivery of WASH services. Some facilities are non-functional due to a prolonged dry season.

One of the participants said the data threw out the hard reality that exists.

The districts did not know what the situation was on the ground – it was assumed that all people are well catered for and that there were sufficient facilities. But the data showed that there are huge gaps in the services provided. This was a wake-up call for people to realise that there is a lot of work to be done. This will bring into focus the way people work to support service delivery – it will affect the way they plan, budget; the way districts monitor because they clearly realise the need to step up monitoring and do more resource-based monitoring.

It also calls on the districts to provide more support to the water service providers – using the data collected by CWSA under the SMARTerWASH initiative allows them to more effectively use and maximise their resources.

At CWSA level it's not only working with the District Assemblies to collect the data, but there is a need to go beyond that and to work with them to implement remedial actions. Only then will the 'monitoring loop' will be completed.

The District Assemblies need to be supported and helped to turn data into action to ensure that eventually we are able to reduce downtime and provide water indefinitely.

Next steps

The CWSA CEO, Mr Clement Bugase has stated that they will find resources internally to ensure that they are able to undertake continued monitoring to update the baseline data that has been collected. CWSA believes that 'charity begins at home' and they must demonstrate their commitment in order to attract support from other stakeholders.

The SMARTerWASH project has covered 119 districts in six of Ghana's 10 regions, while under other initiatives baseline data has been collected in 11 districts in two additional regions. In order to institutionalise the process nationwide, CWSA strongly believes that additional resources are required to cover the remaining districts.

National coverage also entails completion of the baseline exercise for all the districts, reaching 216 districts in total. With a national coverage, justification can be made for a performance based grant that is available to District Assemblies with some indicator measuring.

The process will require a comprehensive strategy for collecting data, including timelines and resource envelops for the rollout plan by the District Assemblies. Once the leadership is committed that will resonate with the rest of the staff in the agency.