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Changing behaviour to achieve water and sanitation for all

Posted 8 Oct 2015 by Clare Battle

WaterAid’s Policy Analyst, Clare Battle, explores four new behaviours that are set to change the way organisations in the water and sanitation sector collaborate to provide sanitation, water and hygiene for everyone everywhere by 2030.

I was once told that the fledgling water and sanitation system under the city streets of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, is made up of more than 50 different types of pipe. The explanation was straightforward: investment in Timor-Leste’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector came from a range of sources (including government, international donors and non-governmental organisations, NGOs), whose various projects used different types of pipe.

But the consequences have been far reaching. 50 different types of pipe mean 50 different types of replacement part (which often need to be imported from distant donor countries). It means maintaining a system that requires 50 different kinds of expertise. And it means fragmentation and inefficiency rather than a coherent, government-led system that has the capacity to deliver sustainable services for all.

These types of challenge are not unique to Timor-Leste. All too often, WASH financing is channelled into short-term projects that are not part of a common plan, bypassing country processes and systems essential for financing, implementing and monitoring services such as water and sanitation in the long term.

Changing the way we collaborate

At the root of these challenges is the way governments and their development partners work together. While the Global Goals have united decision makers behind a common target of water and sanitation for all by 2030, entrenched structures and incentives continue to encourage practices that are not consistent with – and sometimes even undermine – the development of lasting WASH services. For example, the use of parallel delivery mechanisms can divert resources away from investment in core government systems, and sometimes even draw capable staff out of line ministries. And this means precious resources are not used as effectively as they could be to build the systems needed to deliver WASH services in the long term.

Over the past few years, research by WaterAid and other sector partners has highlighted the extent of the challenges to effective cooperation in the WASH sector. But these studies also helped us identify the behaviour changes needed to ensure both aid and domestic resources are used more effectively, and to build momentum across the sector for a new way of working.

The SWA Behaviours

One of the most important outcomes of this is the identification of Four Collaborative Behaviours that, if adopted by countries and their partners, will make development cooperation more effective in the sector, and ensure universal, sustainable access to WASH services. These have been shared online for the first time this week.

Sanitation and Water for All's Four Collaborative Behaviours The SWA's Four Collaborative Behaviours

Implementing these behaviours is the cornerstone of the new strategy of the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership. As the multi-stakeholder partnership for the WASH sector, SWA has a vital role to play in catalysing behaviour change, promoting mutual accountability and providing a platform for learning and exchange across governments, donors, NGOs and other sector actors. By putting these Behaviours at the centre of all its activities, SWA can strengthen collective understanding of the reciprocal obligations they entail.

As an SWA partner, WaterAid is committed to ensuring the implementation of the SWA Behaviours, and we have already started thinking through what this will mean for our own work. And when over 100 key sector actors come together to discuss how to put the SWA strategy into action at the SWA Partnership meeting in November 2015, we look forward to seeing other partners follow suit.

These Behaviours pose a challenge to established ways of working, and turning them into practice will not be easy. But for now we are pleased to celebrate this important step in ensuring sector actors work together effectively to overcome the systemic challenges that stand in the way of our vision of sustainable sanitation, water and hygiene for everyone everywhere by 2030.

Clare Battle is WaterAid UK’s Policy Analyst – Aid Effectiveness & Sector Strengthening. She tweets as @Clare__B and you can read more of her work here.

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