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Published on: 06/09/2016

Rural water supply, Sahel Region, Burkina Faso. Photo: IRC

Earlier this year, the ministers for Water from Burkina Faso and Niger presented their respective sector governance frameworks to meet SDG 6, the Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation. IRC Burkina Faso and COWI (a Danish consulting firm) provided technical support to the governments of both countries to design these frameworks. I believe the recommendations for water sector governance will be relevant for other similar countries.

Burkina Faso and Niger are both very poor, landlocked, Saheli countries prone to water scarcity. Neither country met the water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) making achieving SDG 6 (universal access to water and sanitation) a big challenge for their respective governments. Fortunately, performance in urban areas has been satisfactory; so we are optimistic that learning from the success in urban areas will help in reaching SDG 6 in rural areas in both countries.  

Lessons from the urban sector in both countries showed how important having the right service delivery models, water resources management models, institutional arrangements, capacity development and accountability mechanisms are for sector effectiveness. All these factors contribute to what we call water sector governance.

Strategic changes in water governance

IRC and COWI's job as technical advisers to governments was to identify the changes needed to improve water sector governance in order to meet SDG 6 mainly in rural areas. Achieving universal access to water and sanitation in Burkina Faso and Niger requires four strategic changes in water sector governance:

Four strategic changes in water sector coverage figure

  1. Moving from the infrastructure focused strategy that prevailed for rural water to a service delivery approach with professional service providers and strong service delivery models that proved successful in urban areas. So far efforts in rural water have been limited to building new facilities without any effective model for operation and maintenance. This left about 80% of the rural population with poor and unreliable services.
  2. Moving from a demand responsive approach to a human rights-based approach means enabling citizens to voice their concerns about service quality and hold both service authorities (local and/or national government) and service providers legally accountable for their actions. In Ouagadougou, for example, increasing citizen’s pressure and complaints since 2014 has led to significant investments from government to improve the reliability of water services as well as an improved responsiveness from utilities regarding service quality.
  3. Strengthening countries’ capacities and governments’ leadership: unfortunately, the MDG results showed that sector capacities have deteriorated due to lack of investment. In parallel, government leadership has been weakened due to institutional instability and donor fragmentation. The new governance framework gives high priority to capacity building and institutional strengthening specifically for the Ministry of Water and related agencies at national and regional levels as well as for the communes. This means that investment strategies need to include people's participation and national systems that support service delivery, and their capacities.
  4. Ensuring sustainable financing: implementing the WASH-related MDGs in Burkina Faso has relied for 85% on external donor grants without any vision for increasing the country’s contribution. For us it's clear that achieving and maintaining universal access to WASH services will require sustainable financing models combining both local resources and international loans or other repayable funds.

These four areas of strategic focus have guided the formulation of national SDG 6 programmes:

  • In Burkina Faso: 1) provision of drinking water services; 2) provision of sanitation and hygiene services; 3) integrated water resources management (IWRM); 4) major water infrastructure investment; 5) sector governance (the backbone for the whole package).
  • In Niger, the government went for one national water programme comprising of five sub-programmes: 1) provision of drinking water services; 2) provision of sanitation and hygiene services; 3) IWRM; 4) water for pastoral areas; 5) sector governance (the backbone for the whole package).

Joint learning

From these experiences I would like to share some final thoughts: The strategic improvements identified for water governance in Burkina Faso and Niger are certainly applicable to other developing countries wishing to achieve SDG 6, namely: a service delivery approach for WASH; a human rights-based approach for both WASH and IWRM; capacity building and institutional strengthening;and, to make it all possible, sustainable financing. It sounds simple but unless there are policies and plans for these improvements, SDG 6 will not be achieved. A 15-year plan with ambitious goals is very different from planning year by year with whatever money is available. This also means aligning donor financing mechanisms with national priorities will be critical to make sure that programmes are realised.

Implementing these strategic changes in the sector will require high political commitment and high citizen pressure. Otherwise there is a real risk of continuing previous approaches and missing the SDG targets. Enabling regular learning and sharing platforms on water sector governance for achieving SDG 6 in poor countries will be essential. Therefore the African joint learning initiative in the WASH sector proposed by IRC and supported by AMCOW, UNICEF, WSSCC, pS-Eau and other key sector players is expected to be concretised soon, with a focus on water sector governance issues as one of its priorities.

What exactly does a learning initiative look like you might ask? What we have been discussing includes for instance continent-wide and multi-stakeholder coordinated action-research, workshops, seminars and other knowledge generating, stocktaking and sharing activities focusing on specific issues such as effective service delivery models for rural water or sanitation, sustainable financing solutions for the sector and successful civil society advocacy.  It’s all about creating spaces for real dialogue and sometimes difficult discussions.


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