Sustainable Services Initiative: Review and Upscaling Workshop in Kenya

By Bill Twyman and Harold Lockwood, Aguaconsult

For the last three years, six of Welthungerhilife’s (WHH’s) country programmes have adopted systems strengthening approaches as part of the Sustainable Services Initiative (SSI). From 8-12 December, WASH staff and country directors from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, Somalia and Uganda came together for a review and upscaling workshop in Makueni County, Kenya to reflect on their experiences since 2017. They were joined by a group of new country representatives from India, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Sudan, who are looking to join an expanded SSI in 2020.

A woman using a Grundfos pre-paid water meter

The workshop began with eventful field visits to four WHH supported projects. All these visits provided insights into why non-functionality rates for rural water facilities in Kenya still hover around the 30% mark; however, the visit to Kwaluma standpipe was particularly interesting. Notably, this borehole, which serves 500 rural households, has experienced consistent breakdowns, a prohibitively expensive (and ultimately failed) one-year preventive and corrective maintenance contract, and has struggled to raise enough funds from community members for costly repairs. However, following the fitting of a Grundfos pre-paid water meter in 2018, many of these challenges have been overcome, with the Water User Committee having substantially reduced non-revenue water, benefitted from the increased accountability provided by the cashless system and has even managed to save €3,000 in the last year. In this case, the Water User Committee is not receiving support from Makueni County in important areas such as water quality testing and advice on how to use the revenue accrued. But this project highlights that, when correctly targeted, innovative technologies can strengthen the financing, accountability and management components of the WASH system at the local level. The WHH Kenya team have learned important lessons from this project and are looking to scale-up the use of pre-paid water meters to other communities across the programme.   

Participants in the WHH Kenya workshop

Following the field visits, the existing and new SSI countries were (re-)introduced to the WASH systems strengthening approach and systems strengthening concepts such as the nine building blocks, political economy analysis, local government WASH planning and systems strengthening in fragile countries. These sessions enabled the diverse range of participants to discuss what they were doing in these areas, reflect on what has worked and where they are facing challenges. Several important learnings emerged as a result of these exchanges:

WHH does not need to strengthen all the building blocks at once, and many existing SSI countries are already contributing to tangible improvements by focusing in on just a few key areas. Notably, in Ethiopia, by conducting water point mapping, creating an updatable database system that can feed into the Government’s One WASH National Programme, and supporting the Woreda WASH Team to hold regular meetings and engage in consultative planning, WHH has contributed to the functionality rate of rural water points increasing by 10 percent.  

There are significant benefits to collaborating with Agenda for Change partners and other stakeholders engaging in WASH systems strengthening. In Malawi, WHH has joined with World Vision International, WaterAid and Water For People to apply the District-Wide Approach in four districts. 

That many of the countries that will join the SSI in 2020 are already engaging in systems strengthening approaches, and that the SSI will not radically alter how some of these countries operate, but, instead, provide an opportunity to upscale these activities and bring about greater positive change. Notably, in areas in India, “where policies and programmes do not reflect the needs and aspirations of the people, WHH works to influence these, and the SSI initiative will help us in strengthening our approach and scaling up to achieve a greater impact” (Nivedita Varshenya, WHH India, Country Director).

The role of WHH programming needs to change and be more concerned with influencing national and sub-national policy, but this is a sensitive area and there needs to be a balance with providing core services to those people most in need. WHH Nepal has achieved success in this area by “implementing WASH system strengthening at the local level and generating evidence-based learning on the local government-led WASH Plan development process that is shared among national-level stakeholders and government departments by organising and participating in workshops at the national level” (Giri Khatri, WHH Nepal, Head of Programmes). 

The workshop benefited from a visit and interaction with the Minister for Water, Sanitation, Environment and Climate Change from the Government of Makueni County. Mr. Robert Kisyula came well prepared with a whole set of the new County Water Act, fresh off the press. One of his reflections was that by working on the development of this Water Act, the County has made great progress in strengthening the WASH system in Makueni. The Act will provide guidance and ‘track lines’ for the next decade to set out clearly the roles and responsibilities for service delivery and to hold duty bearers to account.

The Minister has a long history of working with NGOs and was a breath of fresh air for participants, most notably when he said that when all the people of Makueni County have access to sustainable water and sanitation, he will have earned the title “Honourable Minister”, but that until then, he was to be called plain "Bob".

Finally, the participants were introduced to a brand-new resource produced under the SSI programme: ‘Strengthening WASH Systems: Tools for Practitioners’ (or just the SSI-Toolbox). This new resource has been developed by Aguaconsult, WHH and the German Toilet Organization and is designed to help NGOs understand and apply WASH systems strengthening approaches in their programming. It contains 21 different WASH systems strengthening topics, with access to over 100 related resources int eh form of pdfs, reports, videos, blogs, training materials and PowerPoint decks. By working in groups to test the Toolbox, workshop participants provided important feedback that will be used to refine this important resource; the Toolbox will be open-source and should be ready for launch in early 2020.

For more information, see Strengthening sanitation and hygiene in the WASH systems conceptual network (English)