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Published on: 04/09/2012

“If Multiple-Use Services (MUS) is such a good idea, why is it difficult scale-up?“

This question was raised during the MUS seminar at the Stockholm World Water Week. According to Barbara van Koppen (IWMI), finding an answer to these questions requires an analysis of limitations in the public sector in supporting MUS. For example, the public sector has its narrowly defined institutional mandate, with corresponding financing earmarks, limiting the possibility to expand WASH services to a more MUS oriented approach. The same applies to the irrigation sector.

The MUS Group, together with some of its members and partners (IRC, IWMI, Winrock, RiPPLE, CINARA, World Vision, USAID and Virginia Tech University) convened a session at the Stockholm World Water Week on ‘Scaling Pathways for Multiple-Use Services, for Food Security and Health’. This seminar was meant to help identify a set of scaling pathways for MUS to reach the tipping point. The seminar started with a remarkable introductory video on MUS - "Keeping the Water Flowing: Multiple-Use Water Services". Five speakers then presented the background and conceptual framework for MUS and evidence for the costs and benefits of MUS and MUS practice. For all presentations please click on this link

After the question posed by Barbara van Koppen, a panel discussion was held to further explore these questions on institutional barriers to adopting MUS and the challenges faced in scaling up and later a panel debated on MUS.

Panel members

  • Honorable Minister Stanislas Kamanzi, Minister of Natural Resources of Rwanda;
  • Ato Abiti, Director Research & Development, Ministry of Water and Energy of Ethiopia;
  • Jeremy Bird, incoming Director General of IWMI (International Water Management Institute);
  • Abraham Asmare from the World Vision East Africa Regional WASH Learning Center; and
  • Sharon Murray from USAID.


In the panel discussion, it was stated that the work done on MUS is compelling: there are clear concepts, but also working models that can be implemented, complemented with guidelines as well as evidence on some of the costs and benefits. However, more needs to be done in terms of branding and messaging that work. For example, it was suggested not only to mention the incremental costs-benefit ratio of MUS, but also the fact that investing in MUS costs less than when parallel investments were done. Also more clarity is needed on what “good” MUS is. This requires rigorous common definitions, that also allow quality control.

A second recommendation that transpired from the panel discussion is to work with the existing sectoral boundaries and silos. They are today’s reality and they will not change in the foreseeable future. We better work from within these silos and try and find space for MUS there. But it also means more research is needed on studying the institutional limitations for MUS.

Thirdly, more in-depth work is needed to identify multiple finance sources. Not all incremental costs can or should be paid by public institutions. If this is to scale up also cost sharing with others, including user contributions or the private sector, are needed.

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