Richard C. Carter
Editorial: What works? And how can we know?
In the international water, sanitation, and hygiene annual cycle, we are soon to enter the main conference season. WEDC’s annual conference takes place in July in the UK; Stockholm’s World Water Week begins at the end of August; the University of North Carolina will hold its Water and Health conference in October in the USA; and the International Water Association Water and Development Congress will take place in November in Argentina. This is just to mention a few of the largest international gatherings over the remainder of this year.
An investigation of private operator models for the management of rural water supply in sub-Saharan Africa
Concerns over rural water service functionality and sustainability have led to a range of alternative rural water supply (RWS) management models being investigated and trialled, including the private operator (PO) management model. This study aimed to construct a rapid assessment framework (RAF) to determine if the PO management model is appropriate for RWS. Data collection consisted of a review of literature and interviews conducted with key informants involved in RWS in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The synthesis of the literature review and interview analysis findings resulted in six themes, critical to the PO management model, being identified. In the right circumstances, PO management models can be a viable option to help address the sustainability of RWS in SSA. However, private sector involvement is not a panacea for RWS and, therefore a mix of management models is required if sustainable development goal 6 is to be achieved.
Editorial: Seeking and using informed common sense
Editorial: Reaching the last 2.5 billion with adequate sanitation
Editorial: What does it take to change behaviour?
Beyond ‘functionality’ of handpump-supplied rural water services in developing countries
Many rural point-water sources in developing countries consist of wells or boreholes equipped with handpumps. Various estimates have been made of the functionality of such water points, and functionality is now routinely monitored in national and local surveys of service performance. We argue, however, that a single binary (functional/non-functional) indicator is crude and insufficient to provide much information about service sustainability. We set out a categorization of functionality which includes three sub-categories of functional water points and five non-functional sub-categories, with well/handpump water points in mind. We use a simple model to demonstrate that reduction of high rates of early post-construction abandonment and reduction of total downtimes would greatly improve service performance. We show that functionality levels for multi-age populations of wells or boreholes equipped with handpumps would not normally be expected to exceed about 85 per cent. We recommend going beyond functionality monitoring via the collection of quantitative data on rates of abandonment, frequency and duration of breakdown, combined with descriptive narratives of actions to manage and repair water points, in order to generate more nuanced understanding of service performance.
Editorial: Something new? Or something better?
If you are reading these words and enjoying access to this journal, the chances are you also have the luxury of ready access to a clean and convenient toilet which safely removes your faeces out of sight via a water seal. Any unsightly or malodorous experiences are only temporary, and most of the time you never think about the destination and final resting place of your transported, treated, and transformed excrement. It is only if your septic tank or sewer – for you are unlikely to be a pit latrine user – fills up or gets blocked that these matters get forced to your attention.
Editorial: Serving the urban poor
This issue of Waterlines addresses some of the issues surrounding water and sanitation services in urban environments. These areas of habitation vary greatly in regard to their size, population density, topography, wealth, housing standards and infrastructure, and access to public services. In the context of this journal and its focus – low-income settlements in low- and middle-income countries – such habitations are nearly all fast-growing, under-planned, and under-provided with infrastructure and services. Their inhabitants are predominantly poor but they have well-developed survival skills. Many have left rural settings which they perceive as having less to offer in terms of opportunities and services.
Editorial: January 2017: one year and counting
One year of the 15-year period (2016–2030) of the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) has passed. A number of conferences and commentaries have marked the occasion by noting some encouraging signs of progress, while still acknowledging the major challenges which lie ahead. Unsurprisingly, there is recognition that achieving the goals and targets will be even harder than arriving at agreement over their wording.
Can and should sanitation and hygiene programmes be expected to achieve health impacts?
Although the anticipated health benefits are not the only reason for undertaking sanitation and hygiene programmes, they do represent an important part of the justification. Studies and reviews over recent years have shown, however, that the health impacts of sanitation programmes can be quite small or even negligible. They have also provided no solid evidence that integrated (water, sanitation, hygiene) programming has any greater effect than addressing one or two of these components alone. Two questions arise: first, whether a certain level of sanitation usage and hygiene practice within a community is needed in order to achieve a measurable health impact (i.e. whether a minimum percentage of the population should be using safe sanitation); second, whether sanitation and hygiene interventions undertaken without accompanying water supply improvements are likely to have significant health benefits. In this opinion paper some plausible and practically relevant answers to these questions are extracted from the relevant literature. The conclusions are that a high level of sanitation usage (well over 65 per cent) and widespread handwashing practice are necessary to achieve significant health impact; and that in situations where water services are poor, sanitation and hygiene interventions, while valuable for other reasons, are unlikely to have significant health impacts. Sanitation and hygiene programmes may be justifiable even if they do not immediately achieve high levels of compliance and corresponding water supply improvements are not made; however, the justification should not be presented on the grounds of short-term health benefits.
Editorial: Why partial solutions may not be solutions at all
In the United Nations’ exposition of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’), the problems of water and sanitation are framed in terms of the targets and indicators that would demonstrate desired progress. The underlying problems for which these targets represent a solution include the world’s failure so far to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water and to adequate and equitable sanitation. Specific attention is also drawn to the threats to the quality and quantity of the water resources on which humanity depends for its survival.
Editorial: Feeling our way forward
The scale, scope and level of ambition embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) is daunting. At the country level, the corresponding aspirations encapsulated in national development strategies and plans are equally formidable. Dwelling on the challenges would be understandable, but only useful up to a point. While it is essential to analyse the nature and magnitude of the problems which we are trying to address, it is even more critical that we are not overwhelmed by them. Analysis must lead to action, not paralysis. Action will lead to numerous failures along the way, but it is through failures and occasional successes that we learn how to do better. Failure – and success – must be embraced.
Editorial: Setting SDG ambitions in a realistic time-scale
At the outset of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) period 68 countries are not on track to achieve universal basic water services and 89 countries will not achieve universal basic sanitation services by 2030 (WHO/UNICEF, 2017). Furthermore, the SDGs challenge us to go even further than basic service provision, through the introduction of new standards of ‘safely managed’ services. Based on simple extrapolations, even more countries will fail to achieve universal safely managed services by 2030 unless major changes take place in the next 13 years.
Editorial: Reflecting, listening, and doing better
Each year I teach a module on ‘international development’ (with a particular focus on WASH) to a postgraduate class drawn from many countries. We discuss both the ideas and concepts which underlie development and disaster risk reduction, and also some of the practicalities and realities of these challenging endeavours. Teaching and being questioned by bright and enquiring individuals who come from a wide range of professional and cultural experiences presents a welcome opportunity to reflect again on what this work is all about.
Editorial: Why it’s not enough for local governments and NGOs to simply serve more people
Many people lack even basic services. Implementation of water and sanitation programmes, especially in rural areas, is mainly undertaken by (local) governments and NGOs – often supported directly or indirectly by international donors and NGOs. These implementing agencies and their partners are driven by their awareness of the numbers of people who are still not able to access even a basic level of service – around 844 million in the case of water, and 2.3 billion in the case of sanitation (data from JMP update 2017).
Editorial: WASH evidence – linking research and practice
At the Stockholm Water Conference this year I chaired a panel-led discussion organized by WaterAid which examined how the interface between research on the one hand and policy and practice on the other could be improved. After the session a summary was drawn up, and this editorial includes the main points and quotations from that report. As this journal attempts to bridge the divide between academia and practice, it seems appropriate to reproduce it here.
Editorial: Time to take professionalism seriously in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 6
As one who has worked in the development of water and sanitation for nearly 45 years, I look over the wall sometimes into the world of humanitarian work, and see a very different environment from the one in which I have mainly worked. The particular contrast which I want to highlight is the wide international consensus around clearly articulated principles and standards in humanitarian work, and what I see as a far looser commitment to true professionalism in long-term development work, including in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector.
Editorial: Leave no one behind in rural water services
In development work, as in many other areas of life, we have a natural human tendency to focus on the one thing – the single highest priority issue, or perhaps the current fashion – without recognizing that several things may be true or important simultaneously.
Tuesday is a special day in our household. Every Tuesday our five-year-old grandson wakes up excited by the fact that today the bin lorry will come to take away our household waste – one week it’s the recycling, the alternate week it’s the landfill waste, and every week the kitchen waste is taken away for composting. Together we enjoy watching for and waving to the workers as they take our solid waste away, and we are immensely grateful for their toil.
Editorial: Bridging the funding gap in rural community water services
These days, with the exception of sewered urban sanitation, it is taken for granted that households will meet the full cost of first providing, then maintaining and upgrading, their sanitation services. Whether the sanitation approach is community-led total sanitation (CLTS) or sanitation marketing (SM), or some combination of the two, the user pays. Similarly, households are expected to provide themselves with facilities for personal and home hygiene, to maintain, and, as necessary, upgrade them.
Editorial: In a time of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter
The COVID-19 pandemic and international reactions to the death of George Floyd have added to the edifice of inconvenient truths which tower over our world in the 2020s. The phrase ‘inconvenient truth’ received widespread exposure as the title of a film and presentation made by former US Vice President Al Gore in 2006. The film set out to educate the public (and our representatives in power) about the truths of global climate change. There seem to be three characteristics of inconvenient truths: first, they are largely true; second, they are deeply uncomfortable; and third, they seem to defy solutions, easy or otherwise. And yet, solutions must be found.
Editorial: Making a difference
Development and humanitarian relief work, and the research, education, and funding which support them, are about making a difference to people’s lives. Those of us involved in these endeavours see the unnecessary suffering, need, deprivation, and discrimination experienced by too many people in our world, and we work for change. The pithiest definition of ‘development’ is ‘good change’ (Chambers, 1997) – change that makes a real and lasting difference to those whose rights, freedoms, opportunities, and life chances are constrained.
Editorial: Can communities manage their water services?
From the early years of the first UN water decade (1981–1990) and for the following two or three decades, community management of rural water services has been the norm. This management model – synonymous with what many countries refer to as community-based maintenance (CBM) – seemed to be the only and best option for ‘keeping the water flowing’ in rural water services, in particular those provided via water points such as handpumps.
Editorial: Knowing when and how to disengage humanitarian response
The machinery of international humanitarian response, once triggered and functioning in a country, has a life of its own. A multiplicity of United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations set up their programmes. The various sector- or subject-focused ‘clusters’, established to strengthen pre-emergency preparedness and operational coordination once an emergency has occurred, are activated. Humanitarian response plans are published, and appeals for funds made.
Editorial: Getting to first base in rural water services
The rural water story in poorly served countries is fairly well known by now. Much progress has been made, but a substantial number of countries lag behind. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of safely managed water for all (i.e. water of World Health Organization quality standard or equivalent, supplied on the premises, and available at least 12 out of every 24 hours) is hugely ambitious and unlikely to be achieved.
At the start of 2022 we take the opportunity to do two unusual things, at least as far as this journal is concerned. First, we present a conversation between the four members of the editorial team, in which we range over the major environmental challenges faced by the planet, explore aspects of inequality, and highlight the importance of the politics and governance of water in its resource and service dimensions.
Editorial: Statistics matter, but people matter more
If you work – or intend to work - for a Government, a non-governmental organization (NGO), a development partner or a social enterprise in a low- or middle-income country then you probably have some familiarity with the communities which you are trying to help. Make no mistake though, if you are reading this journal you are almost certainly an outsider to those communities. Your origins, your education, or your relative wealth, among other things, set you apart from those whose poverty you are working to alleviate. You can never truly and fully share the experiences of those who live there.