Cost effective ways to leave no-one behind in rural water and sanitation – Summary on the RWSN E-discussion

The e-discussion on the topic of “Cost effective ways to leave no-one behind in rural water and sanitation” has come to an end and we are very grateful for the 40+ participants who actively took part. A summary of the e-discussion can be found here. Additionaly, we as moderators want to share our own summary of the discussion in this short blog.

Authors: Julia Boulenouar, Louisa Gosling, Guy Hutton, Sandra Fürst, Meleesa Naughton.

As duty bearers for the realisation of human rights to safe drinking water, States have the responsibility to ensure that no-one is left behind. And the SDG framework clearly sets out the need for all stakeholders to work together on the challenge. This e-discussion was an opportunity for diverse members of the Rural Water Supply Network to share lessons and views on how this can be done.

Reminding ourselves of the challenge at stake: since the SDG WASH targets 6.1 and 6.2 were adopted in 2015, the sector has been thinking hard about how to finance the ambitious goal of providing access to safely managed WASH services for everyone, everywhere and forever. This ambition is even more challenging in rural areas, where coverage levels are lower and the unserved include remote communities which are harder to reach and often poorer.

In order to develop a credible financial strategy to achieve this ambition and leverage resources, governments and sector stakeholders need to determine the real costs involved (not only to provide first time access for a few, but sustainable services for all) and the sources of funding that are available and can be mobilised. It needs credible data on those aspects as well as on the population served and unserved, including the most vulnerable groups.

What we already know about the cost of providing WASH services: the costs of providing services rely on many factors and the WASH Cost initiative led by IRC has helped to identify 6 categories beyond capital expenditure to include among others, operation and maintenance, capital maintenance expenditure and direct support. We know that some of these cost categories are largely unknown and as a result, not planned, not budgeted and not financed. This is the case for capital maintenance expenditure and for direct support costs (generally referring to costs for local government to support service providers).

In terms of actual costs, a World Bank study of 2016 showed that $114 billion per year would be needed globally to cover capital costs and roughly the same for operation and maintenance.

What we know less about is the real cost of providing services to all, especially for those left behind (including those marginalised and those discriminated against) and this is because limited data are available. We also recognise that beyond the 6 generic cost categories, many costs are unknown and neglected and these include:

  • the non-financial time costs of WASH access,
  • the cost of taking time to properly understand demand, recognising gender differences and diverse perspectives,
  • the cost of strengthening skills and stakeholder capacity to fulfil their mandate, particularly service authorities and service providers,
  • the cost of corruption,
  • the time and cost of including people with disabilities and others who are socially excluded in services.

These can be seen as cost drivers rather than additional categories, but should be thought through, every time services are planned for.

Who is currently financing this goal and who should do more? Leaving no one behind is the responsibility of national governments. They need to mobilise funding through a combination of sources, including government (taxes), development partners (transfers) and users (tariffs). This is usually known as the “3Ts”. In some contexts, the private sector may have a role to play in investing in water services. However, results from countries that conducted to identify and track WASH financing with the UN-Water tool TrackFin, show that the main contributors for the sector are by far the users who are paying for their own services through capital investment (Self-supply) and through water tariffs (operation and maintenance). In that context, should we consider revising the “3Ts” to “3Ts and S” to acknowledge the importance of Self-supply in the mix of services? And should we also add a 4th T for time to recognise the extent of unpaid labour, especially that of women, on which rural water supply depends? And should we recognise the time used to travel to a place of open defecation or also the waiting time for shared sanitation?

In any case, given the magnitude of the challenge, governments should mobilise additional funding for the WASH sector and coordinate efforts at all levels to ensure cost-effectiveness and efficiency, particularly in resource-constrained environments. Developing WASH plans at sub-national level could be a good way to strengthening governance and coordination, and maximise cost-effectiveness.


What about serving those that cannot afford to pay? Those currently left behind include communities located in rural and remote areas who are often the poorest and currently rely on Self-supply. For those who cannot afford to pay and to address the issue of leaving no-one behind, various areas can be investigated:

  • Defining and measuring users’ affordability
  • Considering low-cost technology options such as Self-supply but only if accompanied by long-term support from local and national government (including through regulation)
  • Making sure the solutions are acceptable and accessible for all – taking into account gender, disability, and cultural preferences

This e-discussion has been useful at clarifying knowns and unknowns related to costing and financing services. Even though the issue of affordability has been touched on, many questions remain unanswered.

We think this discussion should continue and here are a few questions, which we still have in mind, but you might have many more:

  • Who are populations left behind in different contexts (including the marginalised and discriminated against) and how can we define and identify them?
  • What are the ongoing costs of reaching everyone (including the aspects listed above)?
  • If users are those paying the majority of WASH supply costs, how do we deal with those who cannot afford to pay?
  • What mechanisms can be introduced to set tariffs appropriately, whilst also covering the costs of long-term service provision?
  • What are the examples of supported Self-supply that have been successful?
  • What are the specific roles of local government in ensuring no-one is left behind?

Continue the discussion with us and post your answers below or sent your contribution to the RWSN e-discussion group.

Photo credits (top to bottom): Dominic Chavez/World Bank; Alan Piazza / World Bank; Arne Hoel / World Bank; Gerardo Pesantez / World Bank

Make the last mile the first mile: is business the key to fulfilling human rights?

This guest blog was written by Selma Hilgersom (Simavi). The original blog post is available here and is re-published with permission and thanks from Simavi.

Last week, I attended the AGUASAN workshop. This yearly event is organised by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and joined by a broad variety of WASH practitioners. The key focus of this year’s workshop were ‘service providers that take an inclusive business approach and drive the advancement of the human right to water and sanitation’. Within the conference, six cases of young and inspiring entrepreneurs were put forward during the week and participants teamed up to dive into the business cases and assess the human rights angle of making a business out of WASH.

If anything, the week has given me a serious mind exercise on the role of the private sector in development. I have a background in the field of water technology and supporting the development of innovative business propositions. I do believe that the private sector is key in addressing global challenges. Business comes with internal drivers to guarantee the delivery of products and services that meet the demands of costumers, as entrepreneurs depend on the success of their business to generate an income. This drives efficiency, cost-efficiency and the continuous exploring smarter ways of working.

So, if business has the potential to provide everyone in the world with well-functioning WASH infrastructure, why are we not collectively entrepreneuring into the most rural areas of this world and ensuring that the human right to water and sanitation is fulfilled? And why are NGOs still funded to do a job that business can do while making money out of it?

Let’s first set the perspective straight. I work for an NGO. I am not afraid to re-consider my role in a fast-changing world. I do believe business has an key role to play in accelerating development and strengthening (business) ecosystems in-country. Especially local entrepreneurship and equal North-South partnerships can go a long way in providing people with the basic services that they need. Especially the businesses that pro-actively include women and girls and effectively respond to the needs of all members of a given community, regardless of who they are and their circumstances, seem to have the exact same goal as many NGOs. And stepping away from the ‘beneficiary perspective’ and including people as ‘costumers’ creates a different perspective. Two sidenotes: let’s try to avoid the discussion whether capitalism is the system that ensures everlasting happiness here and at the same time acknowledge that disadvantaged people benefit from a system in which they are participating as more than just ‘costumers’ that are defined by their purchasing power.

The nature of business is to ensure that there is a profit made. And from my experience in start-ups, this is a challenge when starting-up a business. The question that comes to my mind is then how feasible it is to design a self-sustaining business model targeting consumers with the least purchasing power, especially in the beginning. And whether it is possible to focus on the lower-bottom of the pyramid; even if this comes with challenges. A few examples: geography (what if a village is located at a remote mountain), reaching relatively few costumers per community, having to invest a lot in demand-creation before WASH services and products are bought. Are there smart models that make this ‘work’? Or stable financing mechanisms that can blend different revenue streams to cover the high need with the limited profitability? And how do you create a business ecosystem with local entrepreneurs to serve the people who currently lack access to WASH? What is the role and contribution of the government?
There is a broader development perspective to this too. Including ‘impact indicators’ in doing business, which reflect the aim of development work, does require extra efforts that may conflict with business interests. But results in lasting positive change in communities. Think of delivering water in a community where people are at high risk of a specific disease; is this just solved by delivering water? Or does this require the provision of additional health information and working towards improved service delivery? Or in the case that women are not allowed to decide over their own bodies, does the delivery of WASH provide an answer to the broader challenges that exist in the community?

Even if we would imagine an all-inclusive model of the private sector that perfectly responds to the needs of people, there is still one discussion that was put forward more than once during AGUASAN: (government) systems are the enablers of the success and upscaling of any business. The central question is therefore how business models fit in existing local, national and global systems? This links into the very basis of acknowledging that people have rights, and that they should be able to claim them, wherever in the world that may be.
And this is not ‘just a remark’ – it links into the issue of rightly anchoring the responsibility where it belongs: who is (or should) take the responsibility for fulfilling the human right to water and sanitation, and what is the place of the private sector therein? What to do if there is no profitable business case for providing WASH? Maybe the consideration is whether the ideal business model, if it would exist, would silence this discussion: does access to WASH equal that human rights are fulfilled? Even if this is done independently from the government, and in a profitable way? And if so, is it possible (capacity wise) to reach the 2.1 billion people (!) that still do not have safe and sustainable water delivery? Should the private sector be made responsible for fulfilling the human right to water and sanitation, if governments fail to do this?

I am not afraid of profit. I believe that businesses and NGOs both play a vital role in development. I believe in systems that are driven by (young) entrepreneurs and create a broad-range of value to consumers and are self-sustaining. There are many examples in the world where the private sectors makes a huge difference in the lives of disadvantaged people. I refer to the two amazing female entrepreneurs of Pad2Go who want to break the barriers women face in Nepal due to their menstruation (and with whom I had the honour to work with during the week). I am incredibly happy that many entrepreneurs are positive towards cooperation with NGOs. However, I also believe that this comes with a joint dream and a joint responsibility.

Often, the cooperation between NGOs and the private sector is defined by the roles ‘taking care of the business’ and ‘taking care of development’. I advocate for a more integrated business case, where investing in business and investing in development are one and the same thing. Could we agree that the success on the broader impact indicators is equally important as the development of a sustainable business model? And not from a ‘charity perspective’, but from the believe that this will increase the integrated value proposition of businesses. And thereby open up new markets and potential (impact) costumers. And a call to NGOs – can we move beyond the output, outcome and impact indicators, and join hands with those who will remain long after the funding of our NGO programmes has run out? And create built-in incentives to be as successful as we can? And not be guided by pre-set targets?

One of the things that stayed in my mind after AGUASAN is the presentation of human rights superstar Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, who challenged us to “make the last mile the first mile”. Let’s do that. Together.

Edit from the author: I had some discussions about the extent of ‘pushing (Western) values upon local communities’, and whether businesses or even NGOs should be involved in this at all – or that we should limit ourselves to basic product or service delivery. I can write another blog on my thoughts on this. As this blog has a slightly different focus, I refer to Simavi’s aim to ensure that disadvantaged people in low and middle income countries are enabled to practice healthy behaviour based on their own free and informed decisions and free from coercion and violence. By doing this through supporting civil society to claim its rights with and through local organisations, development is no more than amplifying positive changes that start locally.

About the author

Selma holds a master degree in ‘Human Geography’ and ‘Policy and Organisation’ with a specialisation in transnational advocacy and business and innovation. She has worked in international organisations to promote and support the development of new business models, sustainable innovations and the uptake of new water technologies. Currently, she coordinates programs of Simavi in Tanzania and Nepal that aim to ensure that disadvantaged people, and especially women and girls, can live healthy lives



Providing water, sanitation and hygiene services that last forever for everyone, is all about systems.

by Dr Patrick Moriarty, IRC

Systems such as monitoring systems to see whether services are delivered; financing frameworks that define who pays for what and how; and procurement mechanisms for infrastructure development.  Developing those systems – the people, skills, resources – is therefore critical – it will allow us to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and to end dependency on aid.

Continue reading “Providing water, sanitation and hygiene services that last forever for everyone, is all about systems.”


Improve International: Guidelines for Resolution of Problems with Water Systems

Resolution is the process of addressing problems with water systems or toilets. Such problems are often identified during monitoring or evaluation after a project. Resolution reflects the concept that the organizations that are made aware that water systems or toilets they built aren’t working are responsible for doing something. Read more in the Guidelines for Resolution of Problems with Water Systems (Executive Summary) and Guidelines for Resolution of Problems with Water Systems (full report).

Improve International: Lignes directrices pour la résolution des problèmes des systèmes d’eau

Résoudre est le processus d’aborder les problèmes des systèmes d’eau ou des toilettes. De tels problèmes sont souvent identifiés lors du suivi ou de l’évaluation après le projet. Résoudre reflète le concept que les organisations qui se rendent compte que les systèmes d’eau ou les toilettes qu’elles ont construit ne fonctionnement pas sont responsables de faire quelque chose pour y remédier. Plus d’information dans Lignes directrices pour la résolution des problèmes des systèmes d’eau (résumé exécutif) et Lignes directrices pour la résolution des problèmes avec les systèmes d’eau (rapport complet).

Water for People: monitoring innovation for “Everyone Forever”

Metered hand-pumps: Privately operated hand pumps as a way to improve sustainability and service delivery

To encourage private sector engagement in the management of water points, Water For People and Appropriate Technology Centre, Uganda are testing a meter for hand pumps. This product has been introduced to entrepreneurs with the expectation that they will prove to be better managers of water points than the current committees.

Water For People Core Indicators and Monitoring Process

This piece outlines how Water For People currently conducts district-wide community and household-level monitoring in all Everyone Forever districts at least once per year. Data is typically collected by teams consisting of our staff and local government officials.

Water for People: suivre l’innovation pour “Pour chacun, pour toujours”

Des pompes manuelles avec compteur: des pompes manuelles opérées manuellement comme façon d’améliorer la durabilité et la fourniture de services

Pour encourager l’engagement du secteur privé dans la gestion des points d’eau, Water For People et Appropriate Technology Centre, Ouganda sont en train de tester un compteur pour les pompes manuelles. Ce produit a été introduit aux entrepreneurs avec l’espoir qu’ils seront de meilleurs gestionnaires de points d’eau que les comités actuels.

Principaux indicateurs et processus de monitoring de Water For People

Ce document met en exergue comment Water For People met en œuvre actuellement au moins une fois par an un monitoring à l’échelle des ménages et des communautés au sein des districts du projet « Pour chacun, pour toujours ». Les données sont en général collectées par des équipes composées par le personnel du projet et celui du gouvernement local.

Poldaw Designs: Call for Project Partners: New Handpump for Deep Wells

“In various regions there is a need for a Public Domain handpump for very deep boreholes with Static Water Level (SWL) 60m to 100m. Existing public domain handpumps are often unreliable at these depths.

Poldaw Designs with WaterAid have developed a solution. Prototypes have been successfully field-tested in various countries for 3 years, and the results have been assessed by a Skat expert engineer. Before releasing into the Public Domain as a proven design, a final validation programme is needed, testing on at least 20 boreholes with Static Water Level in the range 60m to 100m.

We are urgently seeking a partner (or partners) operating in the field, to provide suitable sites and to work with us on installing and monitoring the pumps. Funding partners are also welcomed to share in this valuable project.

 If your organisation operates in areas with water levels in the range 60 to 100m, and you are interested in participating, then we would like to hear from you.”

For more information, please contact:  Paul Dawson pdsundew @ or Sandy Polak tapolak @ Poldaw Designs, UK. (Poldaw Designs is a not-for-profit division of Neale Consulting Engineers

Poldaw Designs: Appel à des partenaires: Nouvelles pompes manuelles pour des puits profonds

“Dans de nombreuses régions, il y a le besoin d’une pompe manuelle du domaine publique pour les forages très profonds avec un niveau statique de l’eau de 60 à 100m. Les pompes existantes du domaine public sont souvent peu fiables à ces profondeurs.

Poldaw et WaterAid ont développé une solution. Des prototypes ont été restés avec succès sur le terrain dans différents pays pendant 3 ans et les résultats ont été évalués par un ingénieur expert de Skat. Avant de le sortir dans le domaine public comme design ayant fait ses preuves, un dernier programme de validation est nécessaire, avec test sur au moins 20 forages avec un niveau statique variant entre 60 et 100m.

Nous cherchons de toute urgence un ou plusieurs partenaires opérant sur le terrain pour nous fournir des sites appropriés et travailler avec nous pour installer et suivre les pompes. Des partenaires financiers sont aussi les bienvenus pour faire partie de ce projet de valeur.

Si votre organisation opère dans ces régions avec des niveaux d’eau oscillant entre 60 et 100m et que vous êtes intéressés de participer, alors nous serons ravis d’en savoir plus. »

Pour plus d’information, contacter : Paul Dawson pdsundew @ ou Sandy Polak tapolak @ Poldaw Designs, UK. (Poldaw Designs n’est pas une division à but non lucrative de Neale Consulting Engineers)

WEDC: WEDC Conference 2015

The 38th WEDC International Conference will be held on 27–31 July 2015, Loughborough University, UK. The call for abstracts will be launched soon on the WEDC Conference website.

WEDC: Conférence WEDC 2015

La 38ème conférence internationale de WEDC se tiendra du 27 au 31 juillet 2015 à l’université de Loughborough au Royaume Uni. L’appel à proposition pour les articles sera lancé bientôt sur le site de la conférence WEDC .

UNC: Water Safety Planning Distance Learning Course

The Water Institute at UNC now offers a distance learning course on Water Safety Plans (WSPs) aimed at those in the water industry with management, engineering, or operational responsibilities.  Water Safety Plans represent a new approach to managing risks of water system failure that was developed by the World Health Organization and field-tested in the UK, Australia, Iceland, Nepal, and Uganda. Registration for the course is now open. To register or for additional information, email us: or visit the Water Safety Plans distance learning webpage.

Skat/WaterAid/Waterlines: Writing for WASH courses

In the run-up to the 7th RWSN Forum in 2016 (see below), we are looking to organise more RWSN “Writing for WASH” courses. The format is flexible and can be run over 2 or 3 days. Since 2012, Skat and WaterAid have run courses in London, Kampala, Dar Es Salaam, Monrovia, Madagascar, Bangladesh and Kiev. We are looking for host organisations, so if you would be interested in developing the writing and presentation skills of your staff or partners then please contact the RWSN Secretariat (sean.furey @

Skat/WaterAid/Waterlines: Ecriture pour les cours WASH

Dans la preparation du 7ème forum du RWSN en 2016 (cf ci-dessous), nous planifions de réaliser plus de cours RWSN « Ecrire pour le WASH ». Le format est flexible et peut être tenu sur 2-3 jours. Depuis 2012, Skat et WaterAid ont effectué des cours à Londres, Kampala, Dar Es Salaam, Monrovia, Madagascar, Bangladesh et Kiev. Nous sommes à la recherche d’organisations hôtes. Alors si vous êtes intéressés dans le développement de l’écriture et des compétences en présentation de votre personnel ou de vos partenaires, alors merci de contacter le secrétariat du RWSN (sean.furey @

A bit short of a miracle …

The “Everyone Forever” is gaining traction

water services that last

By Patrick Moriarty and John Sauer

What is it that IADB’s Max Valasquez Matute in Honduras finds ‘only a bit short of a miracle’?  The decision by seven INGOs to align their programming in Honduras in support of an Everyone Forever movement aimed at delivering full coverage in sustainable rural water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Whether there was divine intervention or not, the meeting we attended on the 24 May between the assembled board members of the Millennium Water Alliance and the Mesa de Cooperantes (the donor coordination platform) of the Honduran WASH sector was pretty unusual – and very exciting.

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