Changing the way we change the world

Can failed water & sanitation projects cause harm? Quote from a recent evaluation

By Susan Davis, Executive Director

A recent AidSpeak blog asked “Is any harm being done?” It was about “amateur do-gooder, voluntourism” but much of it could apply to international development. I wanted to share this excerpt from the Madagascar WASH Sector Sustainability Check because it nicely summarizes the harm that can indeed be done by “slippage” (aka “the crisis of rural WASH ‘sustainability’ across the developing world” aka failure):

It is a fact that, in most developing countries, a significant proportion of rural water systems do not function within a relatively short period of being installed, that many rural sanitation facilities are not used either properly or at all, that declarations of total sanitation (communities free from open defecation) are too often superseded by a reversion to old habits, and that hygiene behaviours fade over time.

This crisis threatens progress across the rural WASH sector, and therefore is hampering economic and community development across swathes of countries in the global south. Whereas until recently the focus of the sector had almost uniformly been upon the provision of new water and sanitation infrastructure, and upon triggering new hygiene behaviours, it has now had to focus upon functionality as well as implementation, on looking after what has been provided, as well as providing more through scaled up implementation programmes.

The impact of such slippage can be seen in myriad ways:

  • The most obvious impact is that upon users whose systems have failed or are not used, or whose behaviours have reverted: the financial, health, education, dignity and gender safety related benefits that should be accruing to them slow down or cease altogether.
  • The confidence of users and their communities in the systems and processes which had been provided or promised fades and is more difficult to rekindle or replace.
  • The energy and enthusiasm of policy makers in government and of implementers in local government, NGOs or communities wane as their often herculean efforts are seen not to provide the outcomes that had been envisaged and/or promised.
  • Funders/donors and policy makers seek to look elsewhere to put their funds and energy as they perceive that their WASH investment and resources have been wasted.
  • The WASH sector is increasingly perceived as incompetent and a vicious circle of resource deprivation is likely to ensue, undermining the whole development effort.

What of the outcome? In the end morbidity/mortality increase provoking needless personal suffering, while individual, household, community and national development is stifled.(UNICEF & WaterAid, 2014)

‘Nuff said.

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