The issue explained

Sustainability is about ensuring that pumps, taps and toilets are looked after and maintained by the local community long into the future. It's also about helping develop our local partners into strong, stable organisations, so that they have a sustainable future too. Finally, it's about creating permanent changes in hygiene practices.

Because of the uncertain future our world faces due to climate change, sustainability must also be about building resilience and flexibility into our approaches, to try and ensure water points and sanitation services remain in use, regardless of what happens with the climate.

Our approach

First, sustainability means selecting the right technology for the local situation. There is no point, for example, in installing a water pump in a remote rural village if the pump requires lots of spare parts that are only produced in another country and are expensive to buy. As soon as something breaks, it is likely to fall into disrepair.

To ensure the most appropriate technology is used, we work with local partners and local people to carry out an assessment of the area and then agree on the best ways to meet the water and sanitation needs of the community. We also make sure we build the skills and capability of our local partners so they can carry on the work in the longer term.

Second, it means involving local communities every step of the way – from project planning right through to training and maintenance. If the local people who are going to use the new facilities are not involved, they are less likely to feel ownership of the project and the chances of failure are much higher.

This is also true when a project is aiming for 'behaviour change' – for example, to stop people defecating in the open. If a whole community is to change their behaviour permanently, the whole community has to understand the benefits and support the process from the start.

Finally, climate change is making the future of water supplies more uncertain, which makes sustainability harder to achieve. To try and address this uncertainty, we are exploring new ways of working, such as focusing on ways to improve surface water storage. Basic technologies, such as sand-dams and rainwater harvesting for example, can help ensure that when it does rain, more water is stored in a safe way for drinking later.