Monday 14 May 2012

Public Expenditure on WatSan in SSA

I’ve been reading More, Better, or Different Spending? Trends in Public Expenditure on Water and Sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa by Meike van Ginneken, Ulrik Netterstrom and Anthony Bennett (World Bank, 2012). Here’s a couple of quotes:

Looking at political dynamics also helps explain why sanitation is an orphan sector, suffering from slow technology change. Low household demand for sanitation results in politicians not seeing sanitation as a vote winner, and therefore allocating scarce resources to sectors with higher perceived political rewards. But sanitation is a cheap lifesaver [emphasis added], and as such might merit higher public spending. Mistrust of cheaper service levels and other cultural norms within the engineering profession form the background of the strong barriers to technological innovations [emphasis added].

The need for better targeting is a major conclusion of this review. This includes channelling funds to the sanitation subsector, to areas outside of the capital, and to the upkeep of existing water supply and sanitation facilities that currently appear underfunded.

A review of Public Expenditure Reviews reveals huge gaps between policy and practice. PERs can be a useful tool to hold governments accountable for the implementation of their own policies and promises. At the sector level, we found that while nearly all countries have elaborated comprehensive water sector policies and strategies, implementation and enforcement of sector reform strategies remain incomplete, and efforts are needed in terms of capacity building, general public awareness campaigns, and further development of the legal framework that would facilitate implementation of policies and strategies.

An inspiring but depressing read!

Saturday 12 May 2012

Raspberry jam …

Richard Feachem prompted me to read the outstanding essay The Clash of the Counter-bureaucracy and Development by Andrew Natsios (Center for Global Development, 2010), probably the most indicting document on aid bureaucracy yet! Here’s the ‘Up-front Quote’:


Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:

1.) To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or, perchance…

2.) To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,


11 August 1812

… and here’s the Abstract:

One of the little understood, but most powerful and disruptive tensions in established aid agencies lies in the clash between the compliance side of aid programs—the counter-bureaucracy—and the technical, programmatic side. The essential balance between these two in development programs has now been skewed to such a degree in the U.S. aid system (and in the World Bank as well) that the imbalance threatens program integrity. The counter-bureaucracy ignores a central principle of development theory—that those development programs that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programs that are most transformational are the least measurable. Relieving the tension between the counter-bureaucracy and development practice would require implementing new measurement systems, conducting more research on overregulation and its effects, reducing the layers of oversight and regulation, and aligning programmatic goals with organizational incentives.

What’s the answer? Most likely ‘output-based aid’, sometimes called ‘cash on delivery’ or ‘results-based financing’. More of this, especially in the WASH sector, to come …

PS: Still too many ‘accountants and copy-boys’ in London … and Washington and Paris and …!

Friday 11 May 2012

Economics of inadequate sanitation in Africa

A recent World Bank/Water and Sanitation Program initiative on the economics of sanitation in 18 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa found that:

Inadequate sanitation costs [these] 18 African countries around US$5.5 billion each year [around 1−2.5% of GDP].

Open defecation alone accounts for almost US$2 billion of these annual losses in the[se] 18 countries. Lacking alternatives, more than 114 million people still defecate in the open in the 18 countries surveyed − this is about half the number of people on the continent and almost 24% of the total population in the countries surveyed. Eliminating the practice of open defecation in these countries would require about 23 million toilets to be built and used.

Each of the 18 countries has its own report (downloadable here). Fairly grim reading – but, of course, unfortunately what we're used to. Will sanitation ever get the real priority it deserves?

Vocational training

I received a circular email the other day from EMWIS (the Euro-Mediterranean Information System on Know-how in the Water sector) highlighting some conclusions from the recent World Water Forum, specifically on the need for vocational training and the role of the International Network of Water Training Centres [Réseau International des Centres de Formations aux Métiers de l’Eau]. Here’s a little of what it said:

Most of the staff concerned are workers who, in too many developing countries, still have little or no training! The cost of labour accounts for up to one third of the total cost of the water utility, to optimize this significant expenditure, it is essential to improve skills through basic and continuing training for these professionals. But this is an area still largely underfunded both by governments and operators and even by bi and multilateral donors who are the first to complain about the negative consequences of this situation! It would therefore be advisable to better support vocational training in the water sector through sustainable financial mechanisms. … Without planned investments in vocational training, the consequences will be:
• a limitation or even a decrease in access to quality drinking water supply, sanitation or irrigation services,
• impossibility for service managers to prevent problems,
• quick degradation of the installations that will have to be rebuilt,
• inability to operate the facilities at full capacity,
• ultimately reduction of the effectiveness of the ODA public funds.
There are hundreds of thousands of employees, at all levels, but mainly at a low level, and only speaking their local language, who are employed in water management over the world. [Training] needs are thus huge …

It all refers to water, but clearly it’s applicable to sanitation.

Remember what Professor Derek Bok (a former president of Harvard University) said: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

YouTube videos

Some of my Microsoft Producer presentations on low-cost sanitation, low-cost sewerage. waste stabilization ponds, and wastewater use in agriculture and aquaculture have now been converted by Dr Andy Sleigh to YouTube videos and mp4 files – so you can download them and listen to them on the go!