First of all, what is ‘governance’? This seems to be a valid question, especially if you read the new World Bank blog on the subject − one of the first postings was essentially an answer to this question: What we talk about when we talk about governance. The World Bank also has a helpful Knowledge in Development Note on Governance (2007) and a very informative Governance and Anticorruption website.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) in its 2006 White Paper Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor is a little more specific (page 22):
So what is good governance? Good governance is not just about government. It is also about political parties, parliament, the judiciary, the media, and civil society. It is about how citizens, leaders and public institutions relate to each other in order to make change happen. Elections and democracy are an important part of the equation, but equally important is the way government goes about the business of governing. Good governance requires three things:
• State capability – the extent to which leaders and governments are able to get things done.
• Responsiveness – whether public policies and institutions respond to the needs of citizens and uphold their rights.
• Accountability – the ability of citizens, civil society and the private sector to scrutinise public institutions and governments and hold them to account. This includes, ultimately, the opportunity to change leaders by democratic means.
So how does all this relate to sanitation? Democracy is good for your health (see 2004 article in the British Medical Journal here), but we know that even in good democracies (Tanzania, for instance) there’s not 100% sanitation coverage. Has anyone done any work on sanitation coverage in democracies and non-democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example? Now we have the JMP report A Snapshot of Sanitation in Africa, this shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ll try to find time to have a go over the next few weeks.
The DFID White Paper also has this to say (page 21):
Effective states and better governance are essential to combat poverty. States which respect civil liberties and are accountable to their citizens are more stable, which in turn means they are more likely to attract investment and generate long term economic growth. They can also cope better with calamities. Famines, for example, are less likely where there is a free media, because the press creates pressure on governments to provide relief. Unless governance improves, poor people will continue to suffer from a lack of security, public services and economic opportunities.
So could a free press and free radio/television improve sanitation coverage by shaming the government into action? Well, if it was a really sustained attack on the lack of sanitation coverage, it might, just might. But this would take a committed journalist to champion the cause and a supportive editor. I wonder what success rates vigorous environmental organizations, like the Centre for Science and Environment in India, have had in influencing and changing government policies.
The Water Research Group at the University of Bradford, UK, works on water governance in developing countries (see, for example, Water Governance and Poverty: What Works for the Poor?), but there’s not a lot on sanitation on their website. Maybe what’s good for water governance is also good for sanitation governance?
And what can be done in the ‘bottom billion’ countries? [See The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (by Professor Paul Collier of the University of Oxford, OUP, 2007) – one of the best books you’ll ever read.]