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New insights into the sustainability of rural water supplies

Published on: 13/09/2017

Stockholm World Water Week discusses World Bank publications on universal metrics.

The chair of a water committee in El Salvador checks water quality

The World Bank has launched three important new publications on sustainability and monitoring of rural water services. Aguaconsult and IRC contributed to all three.

The first two, a working paper and accompanying policy brief, are based on a review of the sustainability of rural water services in 16 countries*. They identify good practices and challenges toward building sector capacity and strengthening sustainable service delivery models. Conclusions and policy recommendations are centred around the five “building blocks” of the analytical framework used for the study: institutional capacity, financing, asset management, water resources management, and monitoring and regulatory oversight.

Analytical framework to understand sustainability of rural water

Figure 1: Analytical framework for the study, indicating five building blocks applied at different institutional levels in the sector and for different service delivery models (World Bank, 2017)

One of the building blocks for sustainability of rural water service delivery is monitoring. However, the study found that different countries use different indicators, limiting comparison of sustainability data across countries. Therefore the World Bank commissioned another study aimed to propose universal sustainability metrics. Based on an analysis of  the frameworks and indicators used in some 20 national monitoring systems and 20 donor monitoring frameworks, the World Bank developed a Rural Water Metrics Framework with 24 indicators. This framework is included in the Bank's third publication.

The three publications were discussed during the World Water Week in Stockholm. Susana Smets of the World Bank and IRC’s Stef Smits presented the findings of the publications at a session on the search for universal sustainability metrics for rural water services, alongside various other presentations on indicator frameworks. In my talk with Stef after the session, he mentioned: "What for me stood out is that the development and adoption of indicators is a sensitive process. Donors and NGOs may have their own indicator frameworks, and may resist making changes in them. Likewise, national governments will need to go through a process of getting ownership over indicators that they deem important. At the same time, one should avoid reinventing the wheel. Many of the frameworks we reviewed have very similar indicators in them. So, I would say that the framework developed by the World Bank should act as a reference. Countries that don't have a monitoring system yet, can use that reference as a starting point. And countries where there is already a monitoring system, can use the reference to check whether their indicator sets are complete or whether (minor) adjustments are needed in some of them. And the message for donors is that when they support countries in developing monitoring systems, they use these references as a basis". 

The other element that came across in the panel discussion is the fact that the quality of monitoring depends both on the quality of the indicators and on the quality of the process. If there is a good indicator framework, but no funding to do the monitoring or provide follow-up support, of course not much will happen. Good questions were therefore asked about the costs of monitoring and the costs of follow-up. This is an issue that requires more attention in the sector.

* Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil (state of Ceará), China (provinces of Zhejiang and Shaanxi), Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, India (states of Punjab and Uttarakhand), Indonesia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Morocco, Nepal, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Vietnam