Pipe dream or possible: Reaching the furthest behind first in WASH sector?

By Sara Ahrari (Simavi) RWSN Theme Leader for the Leave no one behind Theme.

Simavi’s Programme Manager, Sara Ahrari, moderated a side event during the UNC Water and Health Conference on 1 November 2018. This event was convened by Simavi, Wateraid, Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN),London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and World Vision (WV). The purpose of this section was to reflect jointly on “who are left behind” from “Use of” and “Participation in decision making processes related to” WASH services, “what are the barriers for their inclusion” and “what can be done and what roles can different WASH stakeholder play to accelerate their inclusion”.

The session started with a short introduction to “Leave No One Behind” Concept in the WASH sector. Afterwards the participants were divided into groups to focus on a specific scenario related to multiple exclusion factors facing by different personas. Initially 8 personas were defined (for elaborated description of the personas, please click here) but based on the number of participants and their interests only 6 personas were discussed in the groups.

The groups were asked to work through the following process to come to recommendations (in form of a pitch) on how “Leave No One Behind” can be reached for the persona in their scenario:

  • Illustrate using mind map technique draw the barriers faced by the persona as a group
  • Inspire list anything that inspires them as individuals (people, products, programmes, services, innovations, insights, etc.).
  • Selection come up with as many ideas/ solutions/ practical recommendation to address the barriers faced by the persona, then cluster all the ideas and select one idea as a group to further work on it
  • Sketching draw a storyboard using pictures representing the idea or recommendation, who will be impacted by the idea, what would be their experience, the way idea would be rolled out. Prepare your pitch.
  • Pitch The idea to the plenary in one minute.

After the group work a Ms. Ellen Greggio presented Wateraid experience on using Washington Indicators on disability in their monitoring including the challenges and insights that application of such tool might entail.

Key results of the group exercise

Group 1-Mariette: who lives on daily wages and is a member of WASH committee.






The mind mapping exercise had led to identification of poverty, no support at household when husband is away, time constrain, lack of community support and lack of government support as main barriers faced by Mariette. The selected solutions were:

  • Share responsibilities: train more members of the committee to be able to do repair work, make sure roles are divided properly and backed up.
  • Increase awareness among community members/users: to pay their WASH costs (which are affordable) so that the repair work can be paid for; other support in forms of other incentives (i.e. help with the children) and manage expectations
  • Create a safe platform for everyone to share the experiences and challenges.

An interesting discussion which took place during the group exercise was selection of the “right” person for the committee and “dividing the roles”. While very valid points, one should be careful that defining “right” as people who have time to participate can lead to “leaving those who can’t afford to participate behind”. Also when dividing the roles, it is important to make sure that dominating community role (namely men being the decision maker and women doing the work) will not influence the decision making process. The group pitch can be seen here.

Group 2- Sharon: A young girl living with HIV/AIDS who produces & sells low cost sanitary napkin.

The participants indicated that Sharon is disempowered due to stigma and lack of access to education, has limited voice, suffers from trauma due to loss of her parents and lack of institutionalized support for the poor. The suggested solutions included:

  • Improved access to WASH services: City authorities, utilities and local government need to ensure that proper pro-poor WASH policies and services are available, provide subsidized tariffs, access to affordable sanitation and hygienic products. Advocacy organisations can influence policies to ensure that this will take place.
  • Increased learning opportunities: NGOs, faith-based organisations or vocational training institutes can provide skill and entrepreneurship training as well as scholarships.
  • Enhanced link to social services: Government of NGOs can create youth homes, facilitate peer support and mentorship (female, people with HIV/AIDS and business mentorships).

The group pitch can be seen here.

Group 3- Maria: :A visually impaired girl who is sent out to city to live with her aunt in slum area and earn income through begging on streets.

The main barrier identified for this persona was her visual impairment which in her situation causes dependency on family and strangers for support, poverty, lack of accessible WASH service and transport, unsafe and non-trustworthy environment at home and outside, which leads to mental health problems feeling as a burden and stress.

The group concluded that if Maria can be provided access to school and kept at school, many of these barriers would be overcome. This means that schools need to have inclusive education as well as access to safe sanitation and water. Schools also can facilitate “Eye vision test” and promote measures for preventable visual impairments not to occur. There should be also safe transport to and from school. Also the care-givers (aunt or her family) need to be supported to have increased income. Depending on the country, public awareness raising needs to be done on right to education, children’s right and disability rights. Legal protection and safety nets supports need to be provided to families with people with disabilities. The people with disability also need to be empowered and equipped with skills and knowledge which allows them to live an independent life.
The final pitch of the group can be seen here.

Group 4- Bilegt: A nomad man whose source of water is diminishing and has no access to proper sanitation.

The group had identified the following barriers:

  • Environmental: harsh environment due to increased effect of climate change and scarcity of water resources.
  • Social/cultural: due to challenges, there is increased migration to the cities which for Bilegt it means losing “his sense of being” and social support system.
  • Political: limited political voice and influence of population, conflict with companies, no investment in hydrogeological survey.
  • Economic: limited access to financial resources, loss of traditional income generating activity.
  • Physical: difficulty of access due to mobility.

An integrated understanding of solutions, combining bottom-up (socially inclusive) and top-down (sustainable solutions) approaches would be needed according to the group to remove these barriers. The group pitch can be see here.

Group 5- Ruksana: A 15 years old girl without forearms who is pregnant with her 2nd child.

The group identified the main barriers faced by Ruksana to be poverty, lack of support from family or community members, lack of education/trainings, disability, limited availability and distance from water sources, insecure feeling when using the latrine, social stigma inside and outside, married as a child and child pregnancy. The solution thought by group were:

  • Technological: Accessible toilets with locks which can be operated by people with disability, technology to support mobility, household access to safe drinking water (i.e. through filters).
  • Services: Accessible education/skill building centres with appropriate courses and technology for people with disability, identification & support by local government, regular follow up/ home visit by government/community health workers, optional services to deliver safe water.
  • Health: family planning methods (cycle beads), regular home visits by health workers.
  • Social Engagement & awareness: Awareness raising among different stakeholders (community leaders, men, local government, etc.).
  • Economic development: Increased livelihood options at the community level.

The group identified access to water and family planning option as priority to improve Ruksana’s situation.
You can see the pitch the group presented here.

Group 6- Amin: A district engineer in charge of WASH service delivery with insufficient resources, needing to prioritise different areas within the district.

Amin’s challenges were found to be rooted in legal, financial, knowledge, political barriers at the national level and cultural, knowledge, communication and financial at the community level. Lack of transparency and proper coordination between these two levels were also identified as a barrier. The solutions suggested by the group were:

  •  Encourage private sector financial investment.
  • Dedicated structural leadership support to district level staffs.
  • District management support in communication and planning.
  • Town halls communicating plans to the communities.
  • Capacity building at all levels.
  • Relationship building based on trust.
  • Cultivating demands and grassroots community planning.
  • Transfer of power & decision making rights from national to district and lower levels.

The group’s pitch can be seen here.

Reflection and way forward

The side event had brought together participants from the different background and organisations, namely NGOs, knowledge institutes and government. As we have defined “Active contribution of the participants and lots of ideas not to leave anyone behind” as one of the success indicators for this event, we can say that it a very successful event thanks to the energetic and engaged participants.

We still hope to receive more stories of success (or constructive failures) and increased collaboration on “Leave No One Behind” and to “Reach the Furthest Behind First”. The conveners will continue to promote the dialogue on the topic in different platforms, in particular RWSN “Leave No One Behind” discussion group.

Participants’ feedback

Lena Bunzenmeyer, Global WASH Advisor, CAWST: “ I truly enjoyed the participatory session and I definitely learned a lot. It was by far my favourite session of the entire conference! Would it be possible to get a copy of the PowerPoint presentation that went along with the session? I’d like to bring it up at CAWST as an example of both participatory learning (we love learning new techniques from others!) and also how to approach the topic of inclusive WASH services. Thank you again for your excellent facilitation!”

Reposted with thanks from Simavi; the original blogpost is available here:  https://simavi.org/long-read/pipe-dream-or-possible-reaching-the-furthest-behind-first-in-wash-sector/

Photo credits: Tom Flunder

RWSN at the UNC Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy

The Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy, organized by the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC), is one of the most important conferences for WaSH professionals. This year the conference has not only explored the interactions between drinking water supply, sanitation, hygiene, water resources and public health, but put also a strong emphasis on rural water supply in developing countries. Researchers, practitioners and policy-makers had the chance to present and lively debate

by Sandra Fuerst and Sean Furey (Skat Foundation)

The Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy, organized by the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC), is one of the most important conferences for WaSH professionals. This year the conference has not only explored the interactions between drinking water supply, sanitation, hygiene, water resources and public health, but put also a strong emphasis on rural water supply in developing countries. Researchers, practitioners and policy-makers had the chance to present and lively debate on following topics:

  • Measuring Progress Toward Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Targets
  • Water Scarcity
  • Rural Water Supply
  • WaSH Equity and Inclusion
  • WaSH in Emergencies

At this year’s conference, the RWSN and its partners have convened two side events, providing water professionals an interactive space for engaging on cutting-edge topics of rural water supply. These sessions translated the “virtual RWSN DGroups into real life discussion groups” as Stef Smits (IRC), the chair of the first side event, phrased it. The participating water experts shared their experiences and developed exciting ideas with their peers for challenging rural water contexts.

Universal and Sustainable Rural Water Services: Different Perspectives, Common Goals

In the first side event, participants were invited to understand two major concepts to apply them later through group discussions in a case study of an WaSH implementation organisation, HYSAWA, Bangladesh, presented by their Managing Director, Md. Nural Osman.

Md. Nurul Osman (HYSAWA)

Sara Ahrari presented the NGO perspective of how organisations, like Simavi, use monitoring and data systems to promote Social Accountability and the holding duty-bearers to account when it comes to the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. Miguel Vargas-Ramirez from the World Bank and Ellen Greggio from WaterAid presented then the development partner perspective on how data and monitoring can be used to raise the capacity of governments and service providers to deliver sustainable rural WaSH services, particularly rural water supply. This included on-going work to develop benchmarks for rural water service delivery, which WaterAid is testing in Myanmar.

After the break, Elisabeth Liddle from Cambridge University, and Prof. Rob Hope from Oxford University, gave the research perspective on how data and monitoring is enabling them to generate deeper insights into why rural water supply systems fail and how to develop new ways of making them more sustainable.

After the concepts have been introduced, the participants applied them in smaller groups to the HYSAWA case study in Bangladesh. This case study was presented by HYSAWA (Hygiene, Sanitation and Water Supply) to come up with suggestions and advice on how his organisation can improve the quality and sustainability of their rural WaSH interventions. The audience debated questions around:

  • Who is responsible for monitoring and data collection? Who is accountable and feels responsible for what? Those who design the system?
  • Who is responsible for the service provision of water in rural areas? And who needs to be hold accountable for that?
  • What are the drivers to feeling responsible?
  • What are the services that needs to be done?
  • How do the processes need to be managed?
Stef Smits (IRC)

Stef Smits summarised the debates during this session on three levels:

Who? The answer that communities and local governments should be accountable for the service provision of water in rural areas seemed to be too easy as in fact it is not clear at all. The role of service providers in many contexts is not very well defined, also not in legal terms. Accountability is often spread over several layers. For example, minor operation and maintenance (O&M) services can be done on community level, while major O&M services can be provided through public services. Then the levels of accountability also need to be differentiated between service provider and service authority. This first differentiation will help to define who is responsible for what and will help the service authority to hold the service provider accountable. As soon as the roles of different stakeholders are clearly defined, it can be defined more specifically who needs to collect the data. The collection of data then needs to be spread over different levels, from household, community, service provider to authority level.

What? The debate started around the functionality of rural water supply devices and has shown that there is not a simple answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to functionality. Functionality needs to be distinguished between functional devices and functional services (i.e. O&M services). This led to the question how functionality should be measured and which other indicators should be taken into account. Should we bring water quality in as an indicator? Clearly, financial indicators are necessary. As the trend to use indicators and monitoring tools is increasing among service providers and governments in rural areas, it becomes increasingly necessary to define clear indicators for universal rural water services. Based on that development, we can start to understand rural water as a systemic issue.

How? The identified need to define clear indicators on different levels, raised the question of how the process of developing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems should be managed. Even though governments were identified to lead this process, NGOs could support to trigger it. However, if a NGO has developed a working M&E systems, it cannot be simply handed over from a NGO to the government, without a well-planned transition phase. It also needs to be taken into account who “the government” is and on which level the government operates. Data and M&E systems will at the end always need a sector development approach.

Pipe Dream or Possible: Reaching the Furthest Behind First in the WASH Sector? – RWSN Side Event 2

The second side event was convened by RWSN (Simavi, Wateraid) with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and World Vision. During this session, the participants developed human-centred solutions for “Reaching the Furthest Behind First” and “Leaving No One Behind” in the WASH sector.


The participants worked in several groups on different case studies of extremely vulnerable people (i.e. disabled pregnant child) that are exposed to extreme hazards in their environment (i.e. arsenic contamination of groundwater).

In several steps, the participants developed possible solutions based on their field of expertise: In a first step, they illustrated the social, cultural, physical, political and legal barriers that the imaginary persona faced, regarding their social inclusion. Then they created inspirational ideas of possible solutions to these barriers. The different options were heavily discussed before choosing one or more solutions. To illustrate the actions and stakeholders needed to implement these solutions, a story board was created by each group. Finally, the persona, storyboard and possible solution were presented in pitches to all participants.



The two side events have been great examples of how the RWSN works as its best: “Taking concrete examples and bring them together with key concepts from research and practice. This is the richness that RWSN provides: Linking practical questions with conceptional frameworks (Stef Smits)”.

Still barking up the wrong tree? What is the future of community-managed rural water supplies: Join a live webcast from the Water & Health Conference at UNC

Save the date: Tuesday 17 October 2017

  • 07:30 to 08:30 (US Eastern Standard Time) /
  • 13:30-14:30 (Central European Time) /
  • 17:00-18:00 (India Standard Time)

What has happened so far?

The issue of community management of rural water supplies has attracted some interesting debate recently. An RWSN blog post by Ellie Chowns, at that time a researcher at the University of Birmingham, prompted a lively discussion in the RWSN online Sustainable Services and Equality, Non-Discrimination & Inclusion communities.

In parallel to this The Water Institute at UNC, in consultation with RWSN, chose a recent paper by Ellie Chowns as the publication to review for the most recent WaSH Policy Research Digest. This was accompanied by a short literature review written by Harold Lockwood of Aguaconsult, based on work he was doing for the World Bank on a multi-country review of rural water service sustainability.

How you can get involved

The Water & Health Conference at the University of North Carolina is an excellent opportunity to continue this conversation and bring it to an even larger audience. UNC and RWSN will host a one-hour panel discussion and will live stream this as a webcast so that a number of people not attending the conference can take part. Short moderated interventions from panelists will be followed by questions from the audience received both in person and online.  The panel discussion will be designed to bring out diverse points of view (for instance, community management has not worked and should be abandoned vs. that it is still a viable model) but also to explore the nuances of the circumstances under which well-supported community management can be successful.

The panel discussion will also be recorded and made available on the RWSN and The Water Institute at UNC websites.

You can start right away by posting questions to the Sustainable Services community – just send them in an email to ManagementSupport_rwsn@dgroups.org

Unfortunately, the webcast will only be available in English, but questions in other languages can be accepted, if submitted beforehand for translation. Be aware that there will be limited time and a lot of interest so it unlikely that everything can be covered.



  • Harold Lockwood, Director, Aguaconsult UK
  • Ellie Chowns, Evaluation and Research Specialist, VSO
  • Eng. Aaron Kabrizi, Director, Ministry of Water and Environment, Uganda
  • Vida Duti, Country Director, IRC Ghana

Moderator: Clarissa Brocklehurst, Adjunct Professor, Water Institute, UNC

Online host: David Fuente, Assistant Professor, School of Earth, Ocean & Environment, University of South Carolina

US: +16465588656,,204142462#  or +16699006833,,204142462#

  • Or Telephone:

Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):

US: +1 646 558 8656 or +1 669 900 6833

Webinar ID: 204 142 462

International numbers available: https://uncsph.zoom.us/zoomconference?m=87U9Ga7fnXMIha5ZeJDhjyNMar78REQd

Visit to Water Missions – Deep South Innovators

Andrew Armstong at Water Mission headquarters
Andrew Armstrong at Water Missions headquarters

This year I was fortunate enough to attend the ‘Water & Health Conference’ at UNC, North Carolina, USA again. I was running a side event on WASHTech, and my partner in crime was Andrew Armstrong, Water Missions’ community development programs manager who gave a great presentation on the experiences of Water Missions in introducing solar water pumping and water pre-payment systems in Uganda.

On Monday 21st October, after the conference, I was in Charleston, South Carolina, standing in large a naval dockyard surrounded by towering steel cranes and fat oil depot tanks. On one side of the sparse car park was a sizeable array of solar panels and opposite was long, low warehouse on which the name “Water Missions International” was emblazoned in precise, blue lettering.

I was shown around the Water Missions International facility by Andrew. There are 27 staff based in this location and numerous volunteers. The building acts an office, workshop, storage area and display area, the latter being open to groups to visit and find out about their work.

Water Missions was created in 1998 in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which devastated much of Central America, particularly Honduras and Nicaragua.  After running operations out of their environmental engineering firm for a few years, the founders sold their company in 2001 and set up the charity and today they work in Belize, Indonesia, Malawi, Mexico, Uganda, Haiti, Kenya, Tanzania, Peru and Honduras.

Continue reading “Visit to Water Missions – Deep South Innovators”

Sustainable water services take ‘Water & Health’ Conference by storm

Dr Grace Oluwasanya, Federal University of Agriculture, Nigeria presenting on “Water User’s Perception to Health Impacts: Implications for Self Supply Water Safety Plans”

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s Water & Health Conference at the University of North Carolina. I was even luckier to make it as the skirts of Hurricane Sandy swept up the Atlantic coast before crashing into the American North East.

It was a great opportunity to meet, face-to-face, many RWSN members who have been communicating with online and meet a whole bunch of new people. It was really inspiring to hear their stories and find out more about their organisations and research. Here are just some of my highlights from the event:
Continue reading “Sustainable water services take ‘Water & Health’ Conference by storm”