DfID aid reviews – what do they mean for water, sanitation and hygiene?

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/James Kiyimba

Bethan Twigg, WaterAid’s UK Advocacy Manager, looks at the strengths and weaknesses in the new UK Department for International Development (DfID) Bilateral and Multilateral Development Reviews, and where WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) fits in.

It’s official – the long-awaited DfID reviews are finally out. The Bilateral and Multilateral Development Reviews (BDR and MDR) set out how and where the UK Government will spend its bilateral aid (money sent directly to developing country governments) and multilateral aid (to organisations like the UN and EU), the focus themes, sectors and countries, and which multilateral agencies it considers best placed to deliver the UK’s aid priorities.

Together with last November’s new UK Aid strategy, they form part of the larger review of UK international development, and will frame the UK Government’s approach, focus and priorities for development and overseas aid – including water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) – for the next four years.

Commitments to be proud of

There is much to welcome in the reviews: the UK’s re-commitment to give 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to overseas aid; the focus on poverty reduction; a commitment to play a major role in delivering the Global Goals; and a commitment to be a world leader on health, education, nutrition, and disability. Also welcome is the emphasis on remaining outward-looking, open, and transparent, and in ‘leaving no one behind’.

Given the decision taken by the British public to exit the EU, and the subsequent new Prime Minister and new set of Ministers, including at DfID, these continued commitments of solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable people send a strong global message, of which the UK can be proud.

The BDR confirms the Government’s intention to provide access to safe water and sanitation for a further 60 million people before 2020. All of these interventions will include a focus on hygiene, which is a strengthening of DfID’s previous WASH intervention criteria. Reaching 60 million people – equivalent to the population of the UK – with these essential services to fulfill their human rights will be a vital contribution to ending global water poverty and making progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 and Agenda 2030.

But are there gaps?

Questions nevertheless remain unanswered. With half of the aid budget to go to fragile states and regions, where does this leave least developed but stable countries, such as Mozambique or Tanzania, where poverty still remains extremely high?

Does the major increase in funding for investment organisations such as the CDC Group (formerly known as the Commonwealth Development Corporation, whose actual development impact is less proven and has recently been the subject of criticism from the media for not reaching the poorest people) risk diluting DfID’s poverty reduction focus?

Is enough urgency being given to climate change adaptation? And, on water and sanitation, is a target to reach 60 million people sufficiently ambitious for a world-leading development ministry committed to achieving SDG 6? This is only a small fraction of what only two DfID priority countries, Nigeria and Pakistan, need to achieve by 2030.

WaterAid has been calling on DfID to increase the percentage of overseas development aid spend dedicated to improving WASH each year until 2020, as it is an extremely effective use of the UK’s aid budget. However, there is no indication in the review that WASH will receive any extra resourcing. Nor of how DfID can contribute to institutional strengthening in the sector, such a welcome focus for its health programmes. Given DfID’s renewed transparency pledges, it would be great to see more detail on how the total budget on WASH will be spent and disbursed by 2020.

DfID’s other pledges to lead the world in development work on disability, nutrition, education, and maternal and child health all require investments in WASH to be effective and sustainable. This will require stronger coordination between programmes, focusing on those areas and programmes for WASH, if these are to deliver stronger, lasting results and contribute to a world with universal access to water and sanitation by 2030.

Bethan Twigg tweets as @b_twigg