Closing down the WASH Lessons Learned blog

This WASH Lessons Learned blog is closing down.

All posts have been uploaded to the WASH Learning for Change blog at:

There you will continue to find field and sector evaluation news along with posts about sector learning, learning alliances and other multi-stakeholder processes, resource centre networks, sector-wide approaches and other (sector) harmonisation and coordination mechanisms, and change management applied to complex sets of institutions.

Go to to learn more.

Financing household on-site sanitation for the poor

In 2010, the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and the World Bank conducted a study to improve understanding of the financing of on-site sanitation at the household level through analysis of field experiences in six countries:  Bangladesh, Ecuador, India (Maharashtra), Mozambique, Senegal, Viet Nam.

A new Research Brief [1] summarizes findings from the full report [2].

Key messages from the research are:

  • Public financing for “software” has a significant role to play in creating demand for improved sanitation and changing community and household behaviours. However, the amount and way such public support is financed can significantly affect the performance of sanitation projects and their impact.
  • Project designers should look beyond the semantics of simplistic “subsidy vs. no subsidy” debates to define an appropriate level and form of public investment in sanitation. The design of the financing approach at the outset of on-site sanitation programs is too often not given sufficient critical thinking. Answers to basic financial questions—“Who pays for what, when, and how?”—can determine the extent to which projects can replicate, expand sanitation, be sustainable, and meet household needs.
  • Well-targeted hardware subsidies can provide a critical safety net for the poor. Such subsidies should not be used as a substitute for hardware investments by households. Hardware subsidies that were most effective were provided after demand was created—and especially after outputs and/or outcomes were achieved.

[1] Tremolet, S.; Kolsky, P.; Perez, E.(2011). Financing household on-site sanitation for the poor : WSP Sanitation Global Practice Team. (Research Brief / Water and Sanitation Program (WSP)). Washington, DC, USA. Water and Sanitation Program, WSP. Downloadable document: WWW PDF [1299 KB]

[2] Tremolet, S. (2010). Financing on-site sanitation for the poor : a six country comparative review and analysis. (Technical paper / WSP). Washington, DC, USA, Water and Sanitation Program, WSP. Downloadable document: WWW Download PDF [2.35 MB]

Time to acknowledge the dirty truth behind community-led sanitation

In rural India, extremes of coercion are being used to encourage toilet use writes Liz Chatterjee in the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog. Her provocative post has drawn comments from the likes of Robert Chambers, Rose George, Ned Breslin and Erik Harvey.

Wall art on the local council headquarters in Karnataka, where a two-year sanitation education campaign still has a long way to go. Photo: Liz Chatterjee

A spectacular rise in toilets usage from 20% to nearly 100% in a semi-rural district in Karnataka, realised by India’s national Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), Ms Chatterjee discovered, was founded on community-led coercion.

Previous efforts to build toilets in the area failed to ensure actual use. They were often used to store firewood or chickens while families continued to defecate outdoors.

But some of the techniques used to persuade reluctant community members to construct toilets were unorthodox to say the least.

At its mildest, this meant squads of teachers and youths, who patrolled the fields and blew whistles when they spotted people defecating. Schoolchildren whose families did not have toilets were humiliated in the classroom. Men followed women – and vice versa – all day, denying people the opportunity even to urinate. These strategies are the norm, not the exception, and have also been deployed in Nepal andBangladesh.

Equally common, though, were more questionable tactics. Squads threw stones at people defecating. Women were photographed and their pictures displayed publicly. The local government institution, the gram panchayat, threatened to cut off households’ water and electricity supplies until their owners had signed contracts promising to build latrines. A handful of very poor people reported that a toilet had been hastily constructed in their yards without their consent.

A local official proudly testified to the extremes of the coercion. He had personally locked up houses when people were out defecating, forcing them to come to his office and sign a contract to build a toilet before he would give them the keys. Another time, he had collected a woman’s faeces and dumped them on her kitchen table.

Continue reading

Urban water supply: learning to mitigate risks in Asia

Risks that can impair development effectiveness in the urban water supply sector are multidimensional, says a new report [1] by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). This highlights the sector’s vulnerability to risks in the absence of appropriate mitigating measures.

Evaluation lessons in the report are drawn from actual independent evaluation, self-evaluation, and ADB’s Evaluation Information System. The report complements ADB’s 2009 Guidance Note on Urban Water Supply Sector Risk Assessment.

Risks in the urban water sector can emanate from (i) capacity weaknesses in policy making, regulation, partnerships, sector planning, and management; (ii) unresponsive systems (water resource management, financial management, and procurement); (iii) poor governance, which hampers stakeholder participation, transparency, and accountability; and (iv) weak project design, management, and evaluation, among others. Financial management systems and operating environment that are unable to provide returns on invested capital and adequate revenue streams for facility maintenance can seriously undermine new investments, jeopardize service quality, and threaten the viability of sector operations. Lack of stakeholder commitment to sector improvements can also seriously compromise sustainability. Overall, fragile links in the chain of policy, planning, financial management, project management, and results-based evaluation can work against development effectiveness.

Various lessons drawn from the experience of ADB in the urban water supply sector call attention to the diversity and varying complexity of risks, along with measures pursued by various developing member countries (DMCs) to address these risks. A careful understanding of the risk environment is a must, with due regard to specific contexts in which risks occur, the arrangements that can mitigate these risks, and the extent to which stakeholders and stakeholder alliances can affect policy, planning, and implementation processes. Where sector reforms are required, assessing roadblocks to collaboration as well as potential areas for engagement is crucial. Differences in stakeholder responses and the interplay of institutional, organizational, and capacity-related factors often shape development outcomes.

[1] Bestari, N. … [et al.] (2011). Learning lessons : urban water supply sector. (ADB independent evaluation). Manila, Philippines, Asian Development Bank. vi, 25. p. Download full report

Technology transfer: barriers to uptake of innovations in emergency water and sanitation

In order to gain insight in the barriers within the transfer of technology for emergency water and sanitation applications in developing countries a partnership between the University of Glasgow and Oxfam GB was formed under the Enhanced Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance initiative (ELRHA). A study was undertaken to examine why there remains a gap between what is researched (i.e. academia), what is available (i.e. industry), and what is practiced (i.e. humanitarian NGO’s and agencies) with regards to water supply and sanitation technologies.

Based on a review of available technologies and stakeholder surveys,  these wer some of the findings:

  • Many currently-available water treatment solutions are “overengineered” with regards to their performance and the requirements of humanitarian water supply response; interestingly, technologies that have been known to be developed through a collaboration between practitioners, industry and academia were the most cost effective.
  • Many new advances, some of which have still not found applications in developed-world contexts, have potential applications in water and sanitation issues
  • The available training courses focused on humanitarian water and sanitation seem to cover most basic concepts necessary to utilise currently-available water and sanitation methods; as new technologies are introduced this sector would need to incorporate any training related activities with it
  • A great deal of work must be done to standardise the current methods of developing technologies for field use; there is also much scope for the use of local markets in disaster prone areas to assist in contingency planning and preparedness if they work in partnership with foreign investors and micro-finance schemes
  • Several improvements are needed to move emerging technologies into the field, including:
    • better education and awareness (mainly on behalf of those developing the innovations) related to the need of emergencies and field conditions
    • development of an effective review system to enable fair comparison of currently available and emerging technologies
    • setting up effective fora for new innovations to be showcased to practitioners and endusers

The University of Glasgow and Oxfam GB have submitted several proposals for follow-up research on overcoming communication gaps in order to streamline the development of cost-effective water and sanitation technologies for humanitarian aid.

Read the full report:

University of Glasgow and Oxfam GB (2011). High-science in low-tech emergency settings: a foreseeable horizon or height of folly : ELHRA Small Grant Project final report. Download full report [PDF file, 189 KB]

Project web site: ELHRA – High Science in Low-Tech Emergency Settings

Urban water provision in sub-Saharan Africa: the role of the domestic private sector

In 2010, UNDP’s Poverty Group and Environment and Energy Group launched a joint project to examine to what extent the domestic private sector in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) contributes to achieving the target for access to safe water under MDG7. The project carried out in-depth case studies of three countries: Kenya [1], Tanzania [2] and Uganda [3]. The studies are based on household and provider surveys as well as interviews with government officials and other stakeholders. Additional studies are planned for 2011, covering Angola, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Senegal.

The findings of the case studies so far are that small-scale private providers increase water supply coverage and reduce time spent on fetching water, often providing a vital service, particularly for low-income households. However, in the absence of a coherent policy framework with effective tariff enforcement and water quality monitoring, small-scale providers often deliver services that are very costly and of varying quality.

[1] Small-Scale Private Water Providers in Kenya: Pioneers or Predators? By Degol Hailu, Sara Rendtorff-Smith and Raquel Tsukada

[2] Services and Supply Chains: The Role of Informal Water Vendors in Dar es Salaam By Kate Bayliss and Rehema Tukai

[3] The Role of the Domestic Private Sector in the Delivery of Urban Water in Uganda: Contracts for Small Towns By Kate Bayliss and Sam Kuloba Watasa

To obtain copies of the case studies please contact:
Sara Rendtorff-Smith by e-mail: or by telephone: +1 212 906 6371.

Related web page: UNDP – Water Supply and Sanitation

Source: UNDP (2011). Urban water provision in sub-Saharan Africa: the role of the domestic private sector in accelerating MDG progress. (Issue brief, 15 Mar 2011). 2 p. Download full brief

Benchmarking local government performance on rural sanitation: learning from Himachal Pradesh, India

The Global Scaling Up Sanitation project of the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) has developed a performance monitoring and benchmarking model to strengthen outcome-based management of the rural sanitation sector in India. This model has been adopted by the Government of Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

A WSP learning note [1], published in April 2010, draws some preliminary lessons from using the benchmarking model:

  • Performance benchmarking enables districts to understand their performance and motivates them to improve. It helps to flag areas of strength, areas that need improvement, and linkages between them
  • Through performance benchmarking, inputs, outputs and processes can be linked to outcomes in monitoring rural sanitation sector performance in India
  • The use of performance benchmarking weighted scoring is designed to put heavier emphasis on, and therefore encourage, achievement of outcomes
  • Benchmarking should enable policy makers and nodal agencies to monitor performance on a rational basis and thereby channel resources and efforts on the basis of identified strengths and weaknesses
  • The comparison of performance provides an incentive to be on the “top of the league table”
  • Periodic monitoring helps to flag gaps in data accuracy and timeliness of data reporting
  • Benchmarking needs to be linked to an incentive in order to drive performance improvement

[1] Kumar, C.A. and Singh, U. (2010). Benchmarking local government performance on rural sanitation : learning from Himachal Pradesh, India. (WSP learning note). Washington, DC, USA, Water and Sanitation Program. 5 p. : 3 fig., 2 tab. Read the full note

Related web site: WSP – Global Scaling Up Sanitation