Progressing Aid Effectiveness in the WASH sector

Clare Battle, Policy Anlayst, Aid Effectiveness & Sector Strengthening, WaterAid

17 Jul, 2014 in


As negotiations for a new set of post-2015 global development goals move forward, there is growing recognition that any framework for eradicating poverty must include universal access to water and sanitation.

International commitment to a vision of universal access to WASH by a target date of 2030, as part of a big push to end extreme poverty by the same date, would amount to an historic opportunity. But achieving the step change in progress needed to meet this goal would not only require significant increases in sector investment; it will also require a different way of doing business.

Reaching everyone, everywhere with access to water and sanitation will be dependent on the existence of strengthened WASH sectors that are capable of delivering sustainable services that reach everyone. And building such systems requires partners to work together to strengthen sector performance in a number of different areas - such as planning, financing, monitoring and coordination.

Governments, donors, the private sector and civil society will all have a vital role to play in ensuring sector resources are put to good use in strengthening these country processes. One area of particular importance is the effectiveness of development aid. Effective aid enhances the capacity of governments in recipient countries to extend and sustain WASH services, and is a crucial component of efforts to achieve permanent universal access. However, evidence suggests that aid to the WASH sector is not currently as effective as it could be; fragmentation remains a challenge, and donor commitment to strengthening national institutions and addressing national priorities is sometimes trumped by a desire to maximise short-term impact. The urgent need for the sector to improve its understanding of how aid can optimise progress, and to foster mutual accountability for sector performance, was highlighted at the SWA High Level Meeting in Washington DC earlier this year.

As a member of SWA and its Country Processes Task Team, WaterAid is working with other SWA partners to increase our understanding of current practice in the provision of aid to the WASH sector, and to develop a bold roadmap to make aid to the sector more effective.

new report, released last week, highlights the findings of our work over the past 12 months. Conducted for WaterAid by the Overseas Development Institute, the report draws on previous work both within and beyond the WASH sector, and looks at how the health and education sectors have tackled the challenge of strengthening mutual accountability for sector performance. It also incorporates the findings of case studies in Ethiopia and Timor Leste, to provide examples of current practice in the WASH sector.

It is clear that the core concepts and principles of ‘aid effectiveness’ are relevant to the WASH sector. Issues such as ownership, focus on results, accountability and transparency, and alignment and harmonisation have a very real impact on the extent to which development resources are translated into the improvements in sector performance needed to reach the poorest and most marginalised with access to WASH services.

These findings will resonate with the experiences of individuals and organisations from across the SWA partnership. But to bring about change, there is a need to go one step further; we need a framework for action. This is why the report also proposes a series of common practice and performance measures that capture the most important facets of effective WASH aid, and explores the types of institutional arrangements that could be used to monitor practice in these areas. By doing so, it provides the first step towards a global framework that can introduce greater scrutiny and mutual accountability into development cooperation in the WASH sector.

We are looking forward to combing our own finding’s with the valuable work currently being undertaken by other SWA partners such as WSP and IRC, and will continue to work with the CPTT to strengthen the evidence base on aid effectiveness in the WASH sector. But embedding mutual accountability for effective development cooperation in the WASH sector will require a collective effort from all SWA partners, across all of the Partnership’s constituencies, not just the CPTT. We therefore hope others will join us in further testing and refining the proposed framework, so that together we can develop a basis for strengthened mutual accountability between donors and recipients of WASH aid.

Only in this way will we be able to catalyse the step-change in sector performance necessary to realise our ambition of sanitation and water for all.


SWA/Kris Tripplaar