The Sustainability Index Tool (SIT): one of USAID’s responses to reducing WASH system failure

Heather Skilling, Water and Sanitation Specialist at USAID

27 Aug, 2014 in Events

Like many development partners, USAID has invested in the creation of a “sustainability tool.” Our tool, called the Sustainability Index Tool or SIT, was created together with our partner Rotary International to help ensure that the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services we support are sustained.

USAID has a dual interest in ensuring that the WASH services we support are reliably available to the people who depend on them and that the development investments supported by U.S. citizens are efficient and effective. It has become increasingly clear to the development community and stakeholders that WASH services frequently fail whether through a lack of parts, a lack of finance or a lack of capacity. These service failures leave people vulnerable to health risks and/or necessitate reinvestment.

The SIT provides a methodology for assessing activities or investments against five factors critical to ensuring the sustainability of service: institutional, management, financial, technical and environmental. The SIT can be applied in urban and rural contexts at any levels of service delivery and can be used to assess water, sanitation or hygiene activities. The SIT delivers a score that can be used to identify likely areas of sustainability risk and helps stakeholders to pinpoint areas of concern for existing activities or future programming.

The SIT is only a tool. It is only part of USAID’s response to the challenge of building sustainable services. Our commitment to sustainability is based on the understanding that the real value of our work lies with building the host country capacity necessary to provide service to citizens in perpetuity.

In 2011, President Obama signed a Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, the first of its kind by a U.S. administration. The Directive made clear that sustainable development is a long-term proposition, and progress depends on the choices of political leaders and the quality of institutions in developing countries. Where leaders govern responsibly, set in place good policies, and make investments conducive to development, sustainable outcomes can be achieved. Where those conditions are absent, it is difficult to engineer sustained progress, no matter how good USAID’s intentions or the extent of engagement.

In support of the Directive, USAID adopted an ambitious reform agenda called USAID Forward which puts an emphasis on partnerships and local solutions. To operationalize these commitments, USAID has adopted new practices and approaches including a Local Systems Framework which defines clear and practical steps toward realizing a vision of development that is locally owned, locally led and locally sustained. Another is the Agency’s mandatory Sustainability Analysis which is part of our program design process and which systematically examines the enabling environment for our investments.

These approaches help to make a tool like the SIT meaningful, by focusing attention on the ability of the country, not the donor, to continually plan, invest, deliver and monitor services. We hope and expect that the SITwill be one more tool for governments to employ as a way to meet the expectations of their citizens. We invite SWA partners to use the SIT, made available through this link.