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. We seek to:
Influence USAID to apply evidence on how systems approaches can help improve the sustainability of future USAID WASH programs, and
Catalyze national and international uptake of successful systems change approaches.
WHAT IS A SYSTEMS APPROACH?
USAID has recognized that in order for sustainability to be achieved, local systems need to be engaged and strengthened. According to the 2017 U.S. Global Water Strategy, one of the primary goals of USAID is to “increase the availability and sustainable management of safe water and sanitation for the unserved and most vulnerable.” Through the innovative SWS Learning Partnership, USAID seeks to learn how to improve the sustainability of WASH services by using systems approaches.
SWS defines a systems approach as one that:
- Seeks to understand the complexity, interactions, and interdependencies between actors and factors through a deliberate, rigorous manner;
- Acts based on this understanding; and
- Regularly adapts to feedback and changing conditions.