There is quite a bit going on in the world of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) right now. Not only did World Water Day recently highlight the importance of managing and recycling wastewater, two big things happened in the area of political will. One, the 2017 GLAAS (UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water ) report highlighted the fact that although funding is increasing in the sector, 80% of countries report inadequate funding for the sector. Two, the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) High Level Meetings (HLM) of ministers recently met to discuss how to build solid WASH sectors, with effective institutions, capacity, planning, policy, and financing.
In terms of institutions and capacity, I would urge anyone to read the recent IDS Bulletin on decentralization and service delivery. While discussions of service delivery governance can get quite academic, there are numerous articles in here that speak to practical, concrete issues that face institutions that facilitate WASH service delivery. Specifically, I would suggest reading the two papers on metropolitan and municipal district authorities (MMDAs) in Ghana- one on taxation and clientelism and the other on staff quality.
Finances, as you might expect, are just as critical as strong institutions. When I speak of finance, I am talking about more than just donor and government funding, including the taxes and tariffs that support effective operation and maintenance of WASH facilities. There are countless examples of failure in the sector due to lack of cost recovery (feel free to ask me, and I could send you dozens of examples).
While there is always talk of the separate worlds of academics and NGOs (and I learned this all too well during my PhD thesis on urban water governance) effective discussions of and improvements in institutions and finance are what is needed right now. In a recent article at WRI’s City Fix blog, I make the argument that accountability and affordability are the main drivers of access. Simply put, poor people in Africa and Asia often do not have access to water or sanitation services because they are either too poor to afford the service or the government does not provide (using tax revenues). Water, for example, is neither equally distributed across the earth nor is drinking water handed out to people. It should be thought of as a service, rather than a good in most cases. What is needed are more serious political economy analyses of water and sanitation that bridge the gap between academics and the policy crowd (here is a good example).
A call from Matt Damon for more funding in the sector is helpful, in that a celebrity is able to reach a wide, global and general audience. Nevertheless, banging one’s fist on the table and saying what should be done is not enough without an understanding the systems of institutions and finance that drive change.