Skip to main content

Published on: 05/08/2013

Harmonisation and coordination  is a key building block in delivering water services that last. In the last decade, alignment of governments, development partners and civil society organisations to a common policy and development plan has been high on the Water and Sanitation agenda at national and international level.

Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have also become an important partner in delivering water and sanitation services. The Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network (UWASNET), has 200 registered members that are active in the sector. In the financial year 2011/2012, sixty percent of the members reported on their activities and investments in the sector.

According to the UWASNET NGO performance report, investments made by NGOs were equivalent of 10% of the Water and Sanitation sub sector spending for the year. The Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) strongly recognizes their contribution to the Water and Sanitation sub sector and has mandated UWASNET to Coordinate their activities and align them to sector policies. At the local government level, District Water and Sanitation Coordination committees were set up to harmonize the activities of district local governments, NGOs and the private sector. Despite these efforts, coordination of actors in the sector is still a big challenge especially at the local government level.

Dialogue on harmonization and coordination

The Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE), in partnership with UWASNET, organised a dialogue to discuss harmonisation and coordination between Government and NGOs in June. The representatives of the 21 NGOs that participated in the dialogue drew concern to the ‘crowding’ of NGOs in areas already served and neglecting underserved areas. There was consensus that a number of NGOs target the easy to reach areas that already have already have high coverage figures. Majority of NGOs represented at the dialogue were working in districts where over 80% of the people where in areas considered covered (living with 1 kilometer of improved water source).

Although additional investments in these areas reduce the walking distance to improved water sources, they do not contribute to change in coverage. In the end, resources that would have benefited underserved areas are not accounted for in sector performance indicators. Participants noted that regular updating of NGO profiles in districts was important to provide updated information on who works where and on what. They also proposed that a committee be constituted to work with UWASNET to develop guidelines for NGOs for selection and entry in districts. UWASNET also unveiled its plans to develop a system for mapping NGOs and tracking how outputs from their work contribute to sector performance indicators.


The increasing competition for declining donor funds has pushed NGOs to develop unique and innovative approaches to deliver WASH services. Despite the benefits that come with innovation, district local governments are sometimes overwhelmed with models and approaches that different NGOs bring and often do not have the capacity (time and resources) to analyze and coordinate the different approaches. In the dialogue, the number of approaches shared was almost equivalent to number of NGOs represented.

On a positive note, learning platforms and thematic working groups have been active in driving actions prioritized in the Joint Water and Environment sector review process and in sharing information on emerging innovations in the sector although information on innovations remains scattered in different institutions and is often not well synthesized to influence sector planning and review processes.

In a bid to improve knowledge management in the sector, participants at the dialogue proposed to establish a single knowledge management platform or a resource center that synthesizes issues from the different thematic working groups to fuel the tracking of innovations. In addition to this, Technical Support Units (TSUs) of MWE, together with UWASNET, were tasked to establish mechanisms for disseminating lessons from learning forums to thematic working groups. UWASNET and TSUs were urged to take advantage of advancements in information and communication technology to improve flow of information and interface between NGOs and Districts, for example the use of online meeting platforms and depository of documents.

In addition to all the resolutions made, it was noted that a deliberate effort needs to be made to promote joint resource mobilization and partnerships on specific themes based on comparative advantages between NGOs and government. NGOs lobbied for contracts from government highlighting their comparative cost advantage in implementing projects since their working protocols are devoid of long bureaucratic processes. They added that emphasis should be put on WASH innovations that promote public investments and cost recovery due to the declining sector investment. To crown up the meeting, participants requested that dialogues between MWE and NGOs are institutionalized through UWASNET to promote synergy and efficient use and allocation while addressing the priority areas in the sector.

Appropriate infrastructure to succeed

The resolutions made in the meeting provide a good opportunity to improve coordination of NGOs. MWE has the appropriate institutional framework to make this happen and has clearly identified the sector priorities as articulated in the Joint Water and Environment Sector Support Programme  (2013 – 2018). The ministry has also aligned Development Partner support and empowered UWASNET to coordinate and act as an NGO ‘watch dog’.

In addition to this, a Strategic framework also exists to guide cooperation between local Governments and NGOs for water and sanitation. With this entire institutional ‘Infrastructure’ in place, the Water and Sanitation sub sector in Uganda has no option but to succeed in effective sector planning and coordination.

Peter Magara, Triple-S Uganda

Back to
the top