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Published on: 11/06/2009

Mrutyunjaya Sahoo, Principal Secretary for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation, said he had been shocked at figures WASHCost had presented from a preliminary survey, suggesting that far more was being spent on renewing failed water services than had previously been thought.

True costs

The India team had carried out the study to test out its methodologies, going to a small number of villages and trying to analyse what had been spent over the past 30 years on water and sanitation. In one village, it had come up with figures 6-7 times higher than the estimates for the state in a recent World Bank study.

Mr Sahoo said: “The discovery of the cost of water and sanitation services was so mind-boggling that it had not been captured even in the World Bank study of the Andhra Pradesh project cost. I am still trying to figure out why it is so. If that cost is really true, and I think that there must be some truth in it, then I think in India, even in this poor country, we are spending a very good amount of money without realising it for providing water and sanitation services to the rural areas.

“What I expect from this project is to throw more intense light by testing it out on a larger canvas across the state and then possibly we can be sure what we are doing; where we are and what kind of course correction might be possible.”

The water situation in India

Mr Sahoo was opening a WASHCost research meeting on 8 June 209 at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) in Hyderabad, the state capital. The leading researchers for the project from teams in Burkina Faso, Ghana, India and Mozambique have come together to fine tune their methodology for the study. Larger scale research will be carried out over the four countries over the next year.


Mr Sahoo pointed out that 60 years ago drinking water was an individual and community responsibility, but increasing population and pressure for water from agriculture and industry meant that back yard wells dried up and communities lost control of their own destinies. In Hyderabad the the Hussain Sagar lake was then a source of drinking water for the city. “It is no longer so and probably if by mistake one gets into the water one would die not of asphyxiation but of poisoning it is so polluted.” Water was increasingly being abstracted from ever further distances to try to meet the population's needs.

While cities in the USA and Canada store water reserves that could last several years, Indian cities would run out of water if even one monsoon failed. Moreover, maintenance and repairs of systems were never sufficiently allowed for in budgeting plans, so that systems had to be maintained through “unplanned” funding.

“Unless we address in this country these kind of things, our talk about water security or talk about sustainability, our talk about our stopping the migration from availability to a non availability situation will be a perennial quest. Somehow or another we need to address that and I hope some aspect of this research will go into studying that. I do expect from this project a lot in terms of long term sustainable land management cost… Let us see how we can take it forward from there… to see how we can integrate the new infrastructure and maintenance and create an effective service delivery.”

Costing information

Catarina Fonseca, Director of WASHCost, said that disaggregating life cycle unit costs of water supply, sanitation and hygiene, would make it possible to plan and budget more cost effective services that hopefully would last longer. This was a critical meeting to test methodology and see if amendments were needed and to work closely with the project's learning alliance. “This is not just about collecting costs, but about making this information useful for government and for other organisations working in the sector.”

Rachel Cardone, programme manager for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the donor that is supporting WASHCost, said: “From the foundation's perspective, costing information is critical for the sustainability of water and sanitation services. The fact that the WASHCost project is developing disaggregated unit costs and the way that it is approaching it in a collaborative and learning alliance approach is really encouraging and very exciting for us. [WASHCost] has relevance and will have repercussions in terms of the knowledge gained not just in developing countries but potentially globally, in industrialised as well as developing countries.”



Country representatives from India, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mozambique spoke of their hopes for the research and for how it was needed to close the gap to meet the Millennium Development Goals and to prevent services slipping back once coverage was achieved.

Professor Ratna Reddy, lead researcher for WASHCost India, said that despite US$ 27 billion investments over the past 60 years India had not managed to achieve full coverage or sustainable services. “One of the main problems is slippage. Every year we are almost there – 95% or 97% - but it goes down by 20% again. One of the main objectives of the WASHCost action research project in close collaboration with the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation and other rural water departments in the state is sustaining the service delivery.”

Dr Kwabena Nyarko, country director of Ghana WASHCost, said that there were a lot of expectations riding on the project. “The challenge to meet the MDGs is enormous and the investment requirement is in billions of dollars, but that does not address all the needs because there is a problem that if you provide facilities to meet that target it is possible to have slippage, that is that the services may deteriorate. So for WASHCost one of the key things is to determine beyond the investment requirement how do we ensure sustainability. This is the key objective.”

The opening was attended by learning alliance members from Government WASH departments and by CESS staff, as well as by members of the research meeting, and the media.

Peter McIntyre, 9 June 2009

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