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Long-term planning essential for sustainable WASH services

Published on: 29/05/2019

Planning is the WASH systems building block that involves budgeting and the determination of costs and financing details. Planning for WASH systems requires strategic (long-term) and annual (activities and routine costs) planning as well as project planning for infrastructure development.

Despite decades of investment in infrastructure-based solutions, WASH services in Uganda and most lower-income countries remain unreliable and of low standard. The services are in many cases poorly planned and inadequately funded for long-term and regular maintenance. Sometimes infrastructure is installed that does not match the needs of users or is too costly and complicated to operate.

Planning is the WASH systems building block that involves budgeting and the determination of costs and financing details. Planning for WASH systems requires strategic (long-term) and annual (activities and routine costs) planning as well as project planning for infrastructure development.

IRC's 2017 baseline study of WASH systems at the national level and in Kabarole District found that the district has separate plans for water and sanitation. There are annual work plans linked to the District WASH Master Plan 2016-2030. They cover capital investment and maintenance costs, as well as direct support. The assessment of the framework, capacity, and completeness of planning and budgeting for service delivery received a moderate score of 3 out of 5.

Developing a long-term district WASH master plan

Politics used to have a commanding role in resource allocation decisions related to WASH services in Kabarole District. In a scenario that played out repeatedly, a politician would demand or lobby to have a facility such as a borehole drilled in his or her constituency. For as long as the local government had no basis to determine priorities objectively, politicians exploited the loophole by dictating how and where to direct resources, almost always to their own advantage. But all that began to change as many years of practice, and learning, inspired new ways of thinking about WASH service delivery. In 2017, a multi-stakeholder consensus started off the process of developing the Kabarole District WASH master plan. It was no longer business as usual. Unlike in the past when sectors operated in silos and resources and roles were duplicated, the master plan process turned a new page. It marshalled all sectors and local government units to work in tandem to devise a strategy for confronting the WASH service challenges and needs of the district. In this integrated approach, health, community development, education, environment, planning, works, finance, administration, all gathered around the table to focus on a common plan for WASH.

As an elected leader, Aaron Byakutaga is all too familiar with the pressure that the coveted political capital that comes with an elective office can exert on its occupant. In his position as secretary for works and technical services for Kabarole District, he is central in policy decisions and programmes on infrastructure development. His docket, the equivalent of a local government cabinet position under Uganda's system of decentralisation, is responsible for WASH services. And with that responsibility comes the burden of deciding how to allocate and where to invest the district's resources earmarked for WASH. In the past, those decisions were seldom immune from politics.

In 2017, Kabarole District took a step back to reflect on the state of WASH. Presently, as was the case then, the financing and implementation of WASH in the district are dependent on conditional grants from the central government and projects funded by development partners. Yet, WASH funding and projects by donors are not consistent. Without the capacity to generate enough resources of its own to meet its WASH needs, the district has limited autonomy in decisions about WASH investments. Accordingly, planning for and delivery of WASH services are based on annual indicative planning figures determined by the Ministry of Water and Environment. Under these circumstances, WASH planning is not based on achieving full coverage in line with the needs of the population, but on what the district can do with the available resources. The district's primary sources of revenue are local taxes, grants from the central government, and donor funds. Yet all these sources have been steadily dwindling over the last several years. The steepest decline occurred in 2017 when then Bunyangabu County was carved out of Kabarole and granted district status.

Between 2012 and 2017, district revenue tumbled from 1.6 billion to 277 million shillings. Grants from the central government make up the lion's share of the district's revenue. But these too are expected to diminish appreciably. As the government splits the pie into ever smaller pieces to allocate among an ever growing number of newly created local administrative units, Kabarole is feeling the pinch. As revenue has declined, so has the district's expenditure. This has compelled the leadership to search for alternative sources, including the private sector, to finance its budget. There is also an ongoing effort to set up a common resource mobilisation platform to pursue an inter-sectoral approach to fundraising. In fact, the master plan has a chapter on fundraising that lays out the strategy for this purpose. According to the District WASH Master Plan, the estimated cost for water services is US$ 24,148,569 whereas the cost for sanitation services is US$ 48,187,105.

The district expects to finance the master plan through five main avenues:

• District water and sanitation coordination grants from central government;
• Locally generated revenue;
• Funding by development partners;
• Tariffs collected from users and community capital contributions used to finance routine maintenance; and
• Periodic fundraising drives for finance specific parts of the master plan.

Kabarole District realised that to break this cycle and take control of its WASH destiny, it had to chart a new course and to approach things differently. That is how the idea of developing the district WASH master plan was conceived and gained currency. According to Byakutaga, it was crucial to undertake comprehensive WASH planning. One of the primary benefits was to depoliticise decision making about resource allocation. In that sense, the master plan marked a shift from subjective to evidence-based policy making.

The development of the master plan was from the word go designed to be an inclusive and participatory process. Relevant stakeholders at the district, regional, and national levels all had their say: the water office, the planning unit, the health and education departments, civil society organisations, representatives of religious institutions, politicians, the private sector, and the Ministry of Water and Environment through Technical Support Unit 6. The process started in 2017 with a series of multi-stakeholder meetings. The medium- and long-term interventions to ensure universal access to WASH services by 2030 were articulated during these meetings. The development of the master plan also had to be aligned with national planning policies and processes. The district set in motion a rigorous process intended to deliver a robust plan. The context in which WASH services are delivered, managed, and supported at the district and national levels was analysed, as was the sustainability of the WASH service delivery system. Within the district context, the analysis explored the capacity for WASH service delivery, the operational and financial issues, as well as the opportunities, success factors, and challenges.

Getting everyone on board

But first things had to come first. Getting everybody sold on a long-term plan would have been impossible without collective commitment to a common cause and goal. On 22 March 2017, a stakeholders' visioning meeting was convened to help nurture that very spirit. The meeting took stock of the district's WASH status and the distance it had to travel to achieve universal access to WASH as defined by Sustainable Development Goal 6. This was the first time that the political, technical, opinion, religious, and private sector leaders and representatives came together to focus on the issue of WASH. The district chairperson demanded that the gathering come up with solutions for the 28% of the district's population that had no access to safe water and the 18% that had no access to basic sanitation.

The workshop offered an opportunity and platform to share ideas about the Kabarole everybody envisioned. The findings of the study conducted to ascertain the gaps in WASH service delivery were reviewed and validated during the workshop. This was crucial as it gave people's aspirations a concrete bearing in the facts and reality. The workshop also aided in building consensus about the road map for universal access to WASH services in the district. As Hon. Byakutaga knows too well, the District WASH Master Plan would be dead on arrival without the endorsement of politicians. A follow-up workshop was thus organised to share the road map for the plan with the district political leaders and to harness their buy-in and commitment to its realisation.

The body at the centre of developing the master plan was the District WASH Task Team (DWTT) established in March 2016. The purpose of forming the DWTT was to provide a platform for focused reflection and articulation of strategies and recommendations to steer the district towards the attainment of universal access to WASH by 2030. The DWTT started with 16 members – five elected district councillors; two religious leaders; two civil society representatives; two officials of the Ministry of Water and Environment; one media practitioner; two technical leaders; and two private sector representatives. But after it was inaugurated on 9 May 2017, the team was expanded to 25 members to accommodate sub-county representatives.

After undergoing its orientation, the team soon got busy. Preparation included meetings to learn about the Sustainable Development Goals. Through a series of planning meetings, it set out the vision, laid out the priority needs, defined the outcomes, designed the strategies, elaborated the implementation arrangements, and devised the funding mechanisms for achieving universal access to WASH services in Kabarole District. These meetings were facilitated by the District Water Office with support from the planning unit and IRC Uganda. The deliberations and reflections during the DWTT meetings were critical in spelling out precisely what "universal access" meant in the context of Kabarole District and the actions that were necessary for its attainment.

Hard copies of the Kabarole master plan

Evidence was a critical factor in ensuring a credible and robust master plan. In July 2017, data was collected from all hand pumps, piped water networks, and sanitation facilities to establish the status of WASH services at the time. Data was also collected about the management, reliability, and sustainability of water sources. The data was used to assess the functionality of water and sanitation infrastructure, the levels of service, and performance of service providers. The data was collected by staff of the District Water Office, extension personnel, and members of the HPMA using the Akvo Flow platform. IRC bankrolled the exercise. Based on this data, IRC supported the DLG to develop the WASH District Investment Plan which provided for the estimated cost of covering the WASH gap that had been identified. Other evidence such as the context analysis and service monitoring was valuable as it informed and guided the DWTT deliberations.

The DWTT met in July 2018 to validate the draft District WASH Master Plan and make final inputs. The master plan was aligned with the national water sector investment plan and is now the basis of the annual and five-year district development planning for WASH. Accordingly, the district planner was co-opted as a member of the DWTT to keep WASH matters on the radar. The pro-active task team approach challenged the business-as-usual sector committee approach to planning. The DWTT not only meets more regularly but is also more engaged and up-to-date with WASH issues.

Replication

There are efforts to replicate nationally the lessons learnt from the making of the Kabarole District WASH Master Plan, the first of its kind in Uganda. Water For People supported the Ministry of Water and Environment by funding a training-of-trainers on how to roll out the master plan process across the country. The master plan is aligned with the government's planning process and incorporates the objectives of the district investment plan as well. The District Water Office intends to leverage the master plan process by going beyond seeing it just as a tool for resource mobilisation, but also as a basis for technical planning such determining the technology requirements for WASH service delivery.

The legislative process for adopting the WASH master plan started when it was presented to the district executive committee. The committee then adopted and passed it on to the district council, which in turn committed it to the technical service committee for review before presentation to the District Council. The plan was passed by the Council, which it is now obliged to fund and implement.

Useful learning:

• Long-term planning is essential to deliver services in a sustainable manner.
• Achieving universal access to WASH in line with SDG 6 is possible but only if there is a comprehensive plan to which all stakeholders are focused and committed.
• Political leadership is critical in ensuring that all parties play their part in efforts to attain universal WASH coverage.

Challenges of implementing the WASH Master Plan:

• The funding needed to cover the identified service gap is massive, which may discourage stakeholders.
• WASH status is not stable and therefore difficult to foresee and plan for accurately.
• Service users' needs may change over time.
• The DLG does not have control over the flow of financial resources from the central government and development partners.

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