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World Water Day: A PubHub Reading List

March 22, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examine racial/ethnic disparities in higher education.)

To help mark World Water Day, we searched PubHub for reports that discuss efforts to improve access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in the developing world -- efforts that in turn are linked to progress in the areas of health, education, and economic growth.

While the 2015 Millennium Development Goal target for halving the proportion of people who do not have access to safe drinking water has been met, according to a recent report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, the target for halving the proportion of those without access to basic sanitation has not. Moreover, the aggregate figures mask significant regional variations in the progress achieved to date. The two reports highlighted below explore the complex challenges of implementing and sustaining effective WASH-related interventions.

Wateraid_offtrackofftarget220 Off-Track, Off-Target: Why Investment in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Is Not Reaching Those Who Need It Most (68 pages, PDF), a report from WaterAid, notes that in sub-Saharan Africa the target for access to sanitation is so off-track that at current rates it will not be met for two centuries: "In developing countries, spending on water, sanitation and hygiene services is minimal compared to health and education, and the share of aid flows going to water and sanitation has fallen over the last 15 years." Not only does inadequate investment in WASH initiatives undermine progress in the areas of health and education, it also exacerbates already stark inequities in access to services between rich and poor, rural and urban areas, and for women-led households and other marginalized groups.

What are the reasons behind the slow progress toward WASH-related goals in the region? The report's authors lay the blame at the feet of multiple actors and causes:

Political priorities lead governments to favour other sectors, improve places already served, or exclude poor and marginalised groups. Inadequate information hampers policy-making and planning, and lack of transparency is an obstacle to good monitoring and scrutiny. Aid is not well coordinated, is only loosely targeted according to need, and its effectiveness is constrained by red tape and lack of alignment with government systems. The sustainability of services rarely receives the attention it requires. These factors in turn undermine weak capability to capture, absorb and spend funds effectively, and lead to a vicious cycle of low investment and poor performance....

The report calls on national governments, donors, and civil society to break the WASH-related "cycle of low investment and poor performance" by:

  • strengthening sector leadership;
  • making equity and sustainability the focus of service delivery;
  • substantially increasing funding, including government spending of at least 1 percent of GDP on sanitation programs and donor investments of $10 billion per year in the form of targeted grants (not loans);
  • targeting resources better on the basis of need;
  • using resources more effectively through increased flexibility on the terms of funding as well as coordination and alignment; and
  • improving transparency and financial reporting.

Fsg_washadvocacy220And what can we in the United States do to help improve access to clean water and basic sanitation in the developing world?  U.S. WASH Advocacy: Landscape Report (18 pages, PDF), a report from FSG, notes that while the U.S. government contributed more than $800 million to WASH-related initiatives in 2009, many past interventions have fallen short of their promise. In order to promote efficient, targeted use of funds, more effective advocacy efforts, and improved practice in the field, the authors recommend focusing on five interdependent goals:

  • increase the sustainability and effectiveness of WASH programs and services;
  • direct U.S. government and multilateral aid to populations most in need (sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia);
  • maintain current U.S. government funding for WASH-related initiatives;
  • push for greater funding from non-U.S. government donors (i.e., corporations, foundations, multilaterals, the general public), and highlight sanitation as a sub-strategy of broader WASH-related efforts; and
  • boost the quality of, demand for, and access to data across the WASH field.

According to the report's authors, a successful advocacy campaign targeting USAID, the State Department, Congress, the executive branch, multilateral agencies, foundations, and corporations would require a robust evidence base and experienced high-profile leadership. The report also recommends different approaches for each donor group:

Foundations -- Many foundations that fund in related areas (e.g., global health, environment, women's rights) do not prioritize WASH issues. There may be opportunities for high-level conversations and awareness-raising to increase the number of U.S. foundations that see WASH funding as a priority investment.

Corporations -- As more corporations come to see the alignment between WASH issues and their core business, WASH advocates should be proactive in engaging corporations as partners in WASH-related advocacy and interventions. The Global Water Challenge has done some work in this area, but with deeper cross-sector collaboration, corporations can become exponentially larger contributors to WASH issues in terms of their financial resources, as well as their products, services, and global reach.

Multilaterals -- While multilaterals likewise face funding constraints in today's slow-growth environment, even modest increases in development bank aid have the potential to create large impacts in the WASH field and should be pursued as a critical element of an overall WASH strategy.

The Public -- While awareness of WASH issues among the public is low and the infrastructure for raising funds inadequate, "clean water" is a highly resonant message when paired with effective marketing. The field should encourage and build on the efforts of organizations like charity: water and water.org to build public awareness of and support for WASH issues.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates, Conrad N. Hilton, and Howard G. Buffett foundations, the report's recommendations include strengthening leadership in the field, building and engaging broad coalitions, greater support for advocacy efforts, and improving data collection and dissemination.

If we are to meet the MDG target for access to basic sanitation and continue making progress on other WASH-related issues, governments, NGOs, donors, and local communities need to work together to target resources to regions with the highest need. This won’t happen overnight, but the steady increase in WASH-related support by U.S. foundations would suggest that we are moving in the right direction.

If you're interested in WASH-related issues and would like to learn more, take a look at these reports:

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse more than 170 reports related to water, sanitation, hygiene, and other global health issues.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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