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Published on: 24/11/2013

Triple-S (Sustainable Services at Scale) was a six-year, multi-country learning initiative to improve water supply to the rural poor.

The initiative was operating in Ghana and Uganda from 2009 - 2014. Lessons learned from work in countries feeds up to the international level where Triple-S was promoting a re-appraisal of how development assistance to the rural water supply sector is designed and implemented.

Why target rural water supply?
Of the billion people still without access to a reliable, nearby source of safe water, nine out of ten live in rural areas.

Why focus on sustainability?
From 1990 to 2006 coverage rates in 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa increased by just 10%, and the absolute numbers of unserved have gone up by 37 million. This despite investments by governments, donors, and NGOs to meet the MDG target on water supply and sanitation.

To make matters worse, many of those who supposedly count as having been 'served' actually have systems that are not working properly or that have failed completely. The 2007 study by the Rural Water Supply Network found 36% of hand pumps across 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa were not functional. This level of failure represents a waste of between $1.2 and 1.5 billion in investments. More recent studies across different countries and technologies confirm a repeated pattern of failure.

How do we change the picture?
It is not so much a matter of financial resources or technological solutions, as it is the approach to deploying resources and solutions.

  • We need to shift our aim from building systems to building services – with attention to long-term sustainability and post-construction support, such as training for staff, availability of spare parts and supply chains and markets for rural water supply goods and services.
  • We need to shift our focus from projects for 'communities' at village level to services for populations within larger administrative units such as districts, which are much more effective for scaling up.
  • We need to improve coordination and harmonisation within government-led processes, so that everyone is following the same rules and working towards the same goals.

What was Triple-S doing?
Triple-S was promoting these shifts by working with partners on the ground in Ghana and Uganda and at the International level.

At the country level, Triple-S worked with local partners to:

  • Diagnose the problem – to see what's working and what's not in terms of policies and practices.
  • Develop, test and implement new solutions at the district level.
  • Scale-up successful models .
  • Strengthen sector learning and knowledge management.

At the international level, activities include:

  • Capturing and sharing positive examples and learning from organisations and governments that are making the shift to more sustainable approaches, including partners in Ghana and Uganda.
  • Developing and promoting tools and concepts for sustainable service delivery.
  • Working with donors, international financial institutions, NGOs and development partners to incorporate sustainability concerns into rural water sector programmes and improve harmonisation and alignment.

What makes Triple-S different?
Systemic but realistic approach: Creating water services that last requires coordinated changes at multiple levels. Triple-S has developed concepts and tools to help us see the big picture of what kind of change is needed, such as the principles framework and the service delivery approach , but also to look realistically at how and where change is possible, taking a step-by-step approach using building blocks .

Focus on learning: The Triple-S approach goes beyond just fixing current problems to build a stronger rural water sector that can learn and adapt to new challenges.

Emphasis on legacy: Conventional methods of technical assistance have limits in terms of ownership, and once the project ends so too do the benefits. Triple-S did not operate like a 'project' rather it attempted to catalyse a movement, working with existing platforms and initiatives and building on processes, energy and interest that is already there.

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