Improving aid effectiveness

By Clare Battle, Policy Anlayst, Aid Effectiveness & Sector Strengthening, WaterAid

WASH Matters

22 Jul 2014

This post orginally appeared on

One of the main outcomes of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) was the agreement by member states to launch a process to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs). Rio+20 did not elaborate with specific goals but stated that the goals should be coherent with and integrated into the UN development agenda beyond 2015.

As negotiations for a new set of post-2015 global development goals move forward, there is growing recognition that any framework for eradicating poverty must include universal access to water and sanitation.

International commitment to a vision of universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) by a target date of 2030, as part of a big push to end extreme poverty by the same date, would amount to a historic opportunity. But achieving the step change in progress needed to meet this goal will not only require significant increases in sector investment; it will also require a different way of doing business.

Reaching everyone, everywhere

Achieving this goal of reaching everyone, everywhere with access to water and sanitation depends on the existence of a strengthened WASH sector capable of delivering sustainable services for all. Building these systems requires partners to work together to strengthen sector performance in a number of different areas – such as planning, financing, monitoring and coordination.

Governments, donors, the private sector and civil society organisations will all have a vital role to play in ensuring resources are put to good use. One area of particular importance is the effectiveness of development aid. Effective aid enhances the capacity of governments in recipient countries to extend and sustain WASH services, and is a crucial part of efforts to achieve permanent universal access. However, evidence suggests that aid to the WASH sector is not currently as effective as it could be.

Fragmentation remains a challenge, and donors’ commitment to strengthening national institutions and addressing national priorities is sometimes overtaken by a desire to maximise short-term impacts. The urgent need for the sector to improve its understanding of how aid can optimise progress, and to foster mutual accountability for sector performance, was highlighted at the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership’s High-Level Meeting in Washington DC, USA, earlier this year.

As a member of the Sanitation and Water for All partnership, and its Country Processes Task Team, WaterAid is working with other SWA partners to increase our understanding of current provision of aid to the WASH sector, and to develop a bold roadmap to make aid to the sector more effective.

Reporting on aid effectiveness

Our new report, Progressing aid effectiveness in the WASH sector, highlights the findings of our work over the past year. Conducted for WaterAid by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the report draws on previous work both within and beyond the WASH sector, and looks at how the health and education sectors have tackled the challenge of strengthening mutual accountability for sector performance. It also incorporates the findings of case studies in Ethiopia and Timor Leste, to provide examples of current practice in the WASH sector.

It is clear that the core concepts and principles of ‘aid effectiveness’ are relevant to the WASH sector. Issues such as ownership, alignment, and focus on results, accountability and transparency have a very real impact on the extent to which development resources are translated into the improvements needed to reach the poorest and most marginalised people with access to WASH services.

A framework for action

The report’s findings will resonate with the experiences of individuals and organisations from across the SWA partnership. But to bring about change, there is a need to go one step further: we need a framework for action. This is why the report also proposes a series of common practice and performance measures that capture the most important facets of effective WASH aid, and explores the types of institutional arrangements that could be used to monitor practice in these areas. By doing so, it provides the first step towards a global framework that can introduce greater scrutiny and mutual accountability into development cooperation in the WASH sector.

We are looking forward to combining our own findings with the valuable work currently being undertaken by other SWA partners such as the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) and IRC, and will continue to work with the country process task team to strengthen the evidence base of aid effectiveness in the WASH sector. But embedding mutual accountability for effective development cooperation in the WASH sector will require a collective effort from all SWA partners, across all of the partnership’s constituencies, not just the task team. We therefore hope others will join us in further testing and refining the proposed framework, so that together we can develop a basis for strengthened mutual accountability between donors and recipients of WASH aid.

Only in this way will we be able to make the improvements in sector performance necessary to realise our ambition of sanitation and water for all.

Discover more about our work on WASH and post-2015 >