Integrating water and sanitation with climate solutions makes sense for our water and health
Today, NRDC sent a letter to USAID, calling for measures to strengthen the integration of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) portion of its global Water and Development Strategy with its work around climate resilience and freshwater conservation. This is important because there are still more than 700 million people lacking an improved drinking water source and 2.5 billion people lacking improved sanitation. Our development assistance is not going as far as it needs to, with many projects failing after a short amount of time. Water and sanitation are a basic human right, and the lack of these critical services causes sickness, premature mortality, reduced economic productivity, and continued poverty.
USAID published its Water and Development Strategy last year, and more recently – in March of this year – published the accompanying Implementation Field Guide. The strategy and field guide are an important step forward for USAID’s work in addressing WASH and water for food issues, but still fall short in a number of areas including the lack of focus on ensuring that water availability for the WASH component of the strategy is truly sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change.
The Water and Development Strategy sets two overarching goals:
- Improve health outcomes through the provision of sustainable WASH, and
- Manage water for agriculture sustainably and more productively to enhance food security.
To achieve the first goal (which is the focus of this blog), USAID set three “intermediate results” – to increase first time and improved access to sustainable water supply, to increase first time and improved access to sustainable sanitation, and to increase adoption of key hygiene behaviors. (Water and Development Strategy, p. 7) The strategy also sets eight operating principles: Support host country ownership; Build in sustainability from the start; Apply integrated approaches to development; Leverage “solution holders” and partner strategically; Promote gender equality and female empowerment; Leverage science and technology; Measure and evaluate impact; Achieve resilience. (Water and Development Strategy, p. 18)
These are all important goals and principles: in fact, they hit many key buzzwords – sustainable WASH, integrated approaches to development, and resilience. Yet the strategy and the field guide don’t take the necessary steps to show practitioners how and why it is critical for long-term sustainability and resilience to integrate WASH projects with climate resilience and freshwater conservation. In fact, we have the knowledge about how to develop integrated projects: with funding from USAID, the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group was able to publish Freshwater Conservation and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Integration Guidelines in December, an incredibly helpful guide for practitioners.
The letter sent by NRDC today makes several recommendations about how to strengthen the strategy and implementation field guide:
- Encourage integration of WASH with conservation and climate resilience – important for long-term project sustainability – by incorporating sustainability of water supply into the WASH outcome indicators and principles, approaches and practices. One of the steps that the field guide takes is to outline metrics and outcome indicators for measuring success. For the WASH portion of the strategy, though, the outcome indicators are all focused on number of people gaining access to improved drinking water or sanitation, percentages of households practicing correct household water treatment technologies, etc. The sustainability component – particularly the water supply sustainability piece – is not a focus of these outcome indicators, but it should be, similar to the way it is for the water for food component of the strategy. Ultimately, this may require revisions to the intermediate results outlined for the WASH component of the strategy, to further highlight the importance of sustainability and access to water supply for achieving the goal of improving health outcomes through the provision of sustainable WASH.
- Ensure that the leaders in the implementation of USAID’s Global Climate Change and Development Strategy, and the Climate-Resilient Development Framework are incorporated into the Water Sector Council and Strategy Implementation Group. Another major piece of the field guide was outlining who will guide the implementation of the strategy. While much of the implementation work will happen at the mission and regional bureau level, there are two key bodies created for helping to guide this implementation: the Strategy Implementation Group, which is meant to provide the technical and thought leadership necessary for supporting implementation of the strategy, and the Water Sector Council, a higher level decision-making body that can make policy decisions and interpretations, and also review implementation progress. Both of these groups have broad membership, yet neither includes somebody from the Global Climate Change office who is working on implementation of the Global Climate Change and Development Strategy and the Climate-Resilient Development framework. Including such a person could help to enhance coordination and ensure integration opportunities are not missed out on.
- Require more monitoring and evaluation of WASH projects, which is critical for being able to resolve issues and learn from successes and failures to enable more successful projects in the future. An appropriate level of monitoring & follow-up is suggested in the Freshwater Conservation and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Integration Guidelines: “perform follow-up monitoring visits: (1) within one week of installation as a physical visit, or at least a phone call; (2) within the balance of Quarter 1 as either a phone call or physical visit, depending upon which took place within the first seek; and (3) within Quarters 2, 3, and 4 as either a physical visit or phone call. Years 2-10 will include at least two contacts per year, one of which will be a physical visit.”
- Finally, in the longer term, we recommend including watershed/water resources management as a major component of the Water and Development Strategy. The exclusion of watershed/water resources management from the strategy is problematic, as access to water depends on water availability over time. Watershed and water resources management and long-term water availability are not only key for sustainably achieving the existing strategic objectives, but also provide the link between water for food, water for health, water for energy, and more.
USAID has realized the importance of integrating WASH projects with freshwater conservation and climate resilience, but needs to take steps such as the ones outlined above and in NRDC’s letter to make integration commonplace and truly operationalized within the agency. This is an opportunity for USAID to become a true leader in this field, setting an example for fellow donor countries, foundations, NGOs, and other organizations working to solve the world's water issues.
New well in rural Ghana -- photo credit: water.org via Flickr.
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