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Do the Math, Make it Last: IRC Launches WASHCost Calculator

Published on: 20/03/2014

How often do you start something, and forget about it? This has been the harsh reality in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector for many years. Pumps break down, water stops flowing, money is wasted. To combat this short-term planning, IRC developed an elegant and simple tool: the WASHCost Calculator that will be launched on March 22 at World Water Day in Delhi, India.

The WASHCost Calculator is an online tool that you would probably expect from a corporate company. Instead it was developed by think and do tank IRC; a non-profit organisation that works with governments, service providers and international organisations to deliver services that are built to last.

Nicolas Dickinson is the project director of the Calculator. Dickinson: "The first thing a water utility company does when they provide someone with a service, is to calculate what it is going to cost and how these costs will be covered. Strangely enough, WASH organisations working in developing countries have largely been focusing on infrastructure, instead of providing services." That's why the WASHCost Calculator was developed together with experienced product design firms in San Francisco and London. On March 22 at World Water Day, Dickinson will together with CEO of IRC Patrick Moriarty proudly present the innovative tool in Delhi, India.

How does it work?

You can consider the WASHCost Calculator as an Easy-to-understand-entrance to the issue of sustainability. Professionals can use it on their laptop, smart phone or tablet. The tool helps users take into account everything from construction, finance, and installation, to maintenance, repairs and eventual replacement. It can compare data across organisations and is dynamically updated, growing smarter with each additional project. Dickinson: "The Calculator raises issues such as who owns the infrastructure or who is responsible for replacement. It helps you think about how you are going to maintain the service before you're trying to build it." You can start using the tool at

Why was it developed?

The idea of a calculator was born in 2007 within the IRC project WASHCost: a US$ 14.5 million, five-year project. Dickinson: "WASHCost was tackling the problem of how to keep services running. It gathered information about the costs of providing WASH services in Andhra Pradesh (India), Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mozambique, and shared that information with the sector. WASHCost revolutionized the way we collect and use information. In doing this, we thought of a Calculator that could easily make this data available and comparable for different users."

Who can use the Calculator?

Dickinson: "It's meant for everyone who is interested in service delivery. This concerns non-profit organisations, donors, and governments, but it is clearly also interesting for private businesses since we're talking about cost figures. The information that is gathered is the sort of information that they would struggle to get access to. This 'whole sector approach' is a new way of thinking about development."

Is it the solution?

The Calculator may be a very practical solution to a long-term problem, but it's only one part of the puzzle. Dickinson: "It will not solve the underlying problem that the mentality has been more on infrastructure than on services. Everybody in the chain has a different role, and they have to work together. The Calculator addresses a part of that problem. But the mentality in the sector should change, from short-term planning to actual service delivery."

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