Sustainable services remain a daunting challenge in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. Traditionally, national and local governments, WASH service providers, and development partners have focused on the construction of WASH facilities and the expansion of service coverage. Less emphasis has been placed on sustaining and maintaining existing WASH services. As a result, failure rates of water supply and sanitation systems continue to be high.
Universal access cannot be achieved without addressing the sustainability of WASH services. This requires taking a comprehensive, long-term view of service delivery and changing local systems. While the sector recognizes this shift in programming is necessary, there has been limited exploration of what approaches work, what benefit they bring to sustainability, and how they can be applied effectively.
The Sustainable WASH Systems (SWS) Learning Partnership tests new ideas, approaches, and tools to overcome barriers for improving WASH service sustainability. The partnership seeks to:
Influence USAID to apply evidence on how systems approaches can help improve the sustainability of future USAID WASH programs
Catalyze national and international uptake of successful systems change approaches
2016 - 2021
The University of Colorado Boulder (UCB) leads a consortium of partners who are developing, demonstrating, learning about, and sharing evidence on systems-based approaches for improving the sustainability of WASH services. With implementation of systems-based approaches in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, USAID—and the broader WASH sector—will gain an understanding of how, and under what conditions, these approaches can be effectively applied in future programs.
The steering committee is comprised of leadership from our consortium member organizations.
SWS is advised by a group of respected members of the global WASH community.
SWS is developing a body of knowledge about the cost of different systems approaches, their benefits, and what is needed to sustain them; how to effectively apply these approaches to new or existing activities; the conditions that support and inhibit different approaches; and the effectiveness of certain approaches. Through a series of knowledge products, webinars, and other resources, SWS shares evidence and lessons related to systems approaches and tools with the broader WASH community.
IRC, Tetra Tech, and LINC are working with local actors in Ethiopia and Uganda to better understand and strengthen local systems for rural water and small town sanitation service delivery. In each location, SWS is promoting and facilitating learning alliances – stakeholder platforms for collaboration and shared learning – as a vehicle for improved sector coordination. These platforms bring together actors at the town, district, zonal, and regional levels to innovate and take collective actions to strengthen systems for sustaining WASH services. Inspired by principles of collective action, SWS is undertaking learning and research activities that involve researchers and implementing agencies working together to further understand the challenges and test solutions. Learn more here.
Whave is working to cultivate a sustainable model for rural water service delivery by testing a preventive maintenance approach in three pilot districts. Operating as a Ugandan regional service provider, Whave is signing multi-year preventive maintenance service agreements with communities that require community leaders to charge operation and maintenance tariffs, manage the collected funds in supervised bank accounts, and pay an annual service fee. An important component of this model is incentivizing local technicians to prevent breakdowns by paying them based on the number of days a water source is functional instead of paying them to make repairs. Whave is helping local governments build an effective institutional and regulatory structure to establish and enforce preventive maintenance services. When incentives are aligned and costs can be recovered locally, the system can continue to work, increasing the sustainability of rural water service provision. Learn more here.
Oxford and UNICEF, along with local partner Rural Focus, are developing, testing, and scaling-up the FundiFix model as one response to rural water challenges in Kitui County, Kenya. The goal is to provide a model for universal, rural water service delivery. FundiFix provides a performance-based approach to maintaining water infrastructure, using ‘smart handpumps’ that collect real-time information on abstraction volumes and breakdown incidents. Oxford and UNICEF are incubating the local Kenyan company Miambani Ltd. to provide preventive maintenance for small-piped schemes and handpumps. Learning about and documenting the risks and returns of this approach will provide insights and direction for government, private sector, and communities to establish an empirical basis for improving policy, practice, and investments for water security for the poor. Oxford and UNICEF are working closely with government and other stakeholders, using an existing platform of quarterly County WASH Forums, to strengthen the institutional coordination necessary for effective service delivery. Learn more here.
WaterSHED and LINC drew upon the principles of collective impact and systems thinking to bring together a diverse set of stakeholders, including government, private sector, NGOs, and donors, around a shared vision for universal sanitation and hygienic environments. With SWS support, stakeholders collaborated to develop a common measurement framework and to align mutually reinforcing activities. Systems mapping and analysis tools were used to effectively identify and engage relevant local actors, collectively prioritize high potential areas of collaboration to achieve sector goals, and better understand how collective efforts contribute to sustainable rural sanitation and hygiene services. Learn more about WaterSHED here.