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Published on: 05/12/2018

Since late 2016, and at the encouragement of the local USAID/Ethiopia mission, the USAID Lowland WASH Activity (known as Lowland WASH) and the USAID Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS) have collaborated to improve rural water supplies for pastoralist communities in the drought-prone, lowland regions of Ethiopia.

The goals of the two projects vary but are complementary in promoting resilience. On the one hand, SWS emphasizes learning and seeks to identify and test locally-driven solutions to address the challenges of sustaining WASH service delivery, while on the other, Lowland WASH focuses more on infrastructure and increasing access to improved drinking water supply sources as well as improving water governance.

With the lowlands being a focus of major development efforts to replace emergency humanitarian interventions with more sustained development, but that being easier said than done, combining the strengths of both activities and seeking joint innovation and learning made good sense. Respective project leaders, including myself as the past Chief of Party for Lowland WASH and John Butterworth of IRC WASH (representing SWS), also saw this opportunity to maximize impacts and began to co-design activities more closely.

Early on, Lowland WASH and SWS identified a common concern that a lack of finance lies behind the problems of service delivery and sustainability in the lowlands. We initially collaborated in a pilot using Life-Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) tools to study financing of rural water supply services in the Afar and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' (SNNP) regions. Taking one pilot woreda in each region, our staff worked together on an inventory of all improved water systems in those woredas including assessing the status and value of the current water supply infrastructure; the costs to provide services at current levels; the sources of finance; and the financing gaps to sustain those services.

This first activity developed the bond between the two teams, helped to fuel integrated efforts, and confirmed the synergy to be gained between the two projects in terms of relative strengths and experience. The two project teams also recognized that investing in relationship building, working together first in a small activity before doing more, was strategic. Both learned how to interact and approach the common challenge together.

A valuable outcome from this initial collaboration was realizing the importance of using the lessons learned from the pilot work in the two select woredas and sharing those lessons and knowledge and experienced gained with other woreda, zonal, and regional water bureau staff. The two projects also began outreach to the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity as well as Oromia and Tigray regions.

Following the LCCA study, the two projects saw other collaboration opportunities. By committing to coordination, and open and transparent communications, we were able to work through how to complement field efforts and harmonize with USAID to optimize its investments of multiple projects and activities. The collaboration combined a group of international scholars and Ethiopian water specialists from the SWS with the WASH experts of Lowland WASH to collectively analyze and address complex water issues. The field-based implementation experience of Lowland WASH presented an on-the-ground based understanding of the real challenges, existing relationships with governmental local officials, and knowledge of the local water systems and communities. Lowland WASH was well situated to arrange the cost-effective logistical support requirements that was critical to the team's remote field activities. As a result, the projects were able to accomplish more together than apart:

Learning visit to Uganda on rural water scheme maintenance for Ethiopian water professionals: Sponsorship and organization of a hands-on and on-site demonstration and learning experience for the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy (MoWIE), Afar and SNNP Regional Water Bureaus and Woreda Water Office. Staff observed and learned how a variety of water service providers and associations in two regions of Uganda effectively used different business models to operate and maintain hand pump-based water schemes. This helped improve understanding of the preconditions behind higher functionality of water systems.

Development and customization of a water system asset inventory and management tool kit: Lowland WASH built on the asset inventory undertaken in the pilot LCCA woredas and adapted UNICEF and IRC-WASH experience in the Somali region (Somali Functionality Inventory) to lead development with Afar Water and Irrigation Bureau of a region-wide rural water asset monitoring system. Lowland WASH built on these lessons learned to move forward in first evaluating and then using data collection tools and online platform for selecting and populating water system asset inventory information. Working in partnership has enabled rapid progress towards using this platform for all motorized water schemes in the Afar region.

Sharing lessons learned with regional water bureaus and MoWIE to improve resiliency to drought and climate change: Both projects have recognized the value and cost effectiveness of applying lessons learned from their collaboration in SNNP, Somali, and Afar regions, and sharing these positive experiences and successes with other Ethiopian governmental water agencies. The teams have efficiently used training and workshop materials developed for one region and adapted them for other regions, thus reducing the preparation time and efforts required for the next outreach event. The same principle was applied for outreach for zonal and woreda water office staff. This iterative approach has ensured that workshops were constantly improved using lessons learned from the previously conducted workshops.

The collaboration between Lowland WASH and SWS has and continues to be a highly productive relationship, with numerous cost effective/cost sharing successes addressing needs in Ethiopia to improve the functionality of critical water schemes. Such collaborations should be encouraged by other development partners and pursued as the standard modus operandi for Ethiopia given the presence of multiple, cross cutting projects that share a common goal of improving resiliency against continued droughts and water shortages. I am grateful we were encouraged to do just that.

This blog note was prepared by Scott Short, Technical Advisor and former CoP of USAID Lowland WASH Activity, AECOM, and with input from John Butterworth, Country Director, IRC WASH, Ethiopia, a partner in the USAID SWS learning partnership.


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