Sector strengthening: lessons from the WEDC International Conference 2018

4 min read
Members of the WaterAid delegation at WEDC 2018
Image: WaterAid/Chanchal Kumar

Every year WaterAid staff attend the WEDC conferences, both to share our work and to learn from others. Here are some key lessons from sessions at this year’s conference, themed 'Transformation towards sustainable and resilient WASH services'.

The annual Water and Engineering in Development Centre (WEDC) conference is an excellent opportunity to develop the capacity of key staff in partner organisations – especially governments – as well as of WaterAid staff. In July the 41st WEDC International Conference in Kenya gave water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) professionals and researchers the opportunity to network, and learn from shared experiences around the theme 'Transformation towards sustainable and resilient WASH services'. Here are some of the key lessons we heard.

Equity, inclusion and rights

  • While there is increasing interest in this area, and there are some examples of great work happening, ensuring that a rights-based lens and principles of inclusion and equity are consistently integrated into WASH work continues to be a challenge for policies and programmes, at both a local level and in research. In some cases, when asked why these issues are not included in reports, the response was "We shall look into that!"

  • We need to ensure advocacy for inclusive WASH services for people with disabilities is not about emotions but human rights.

  • Accessibility is about much more than just a ramp and a toilet with a western commode seat. We need an accessible route and entrance to the ramp, a handrail with correct dimensions, and a barrier-free corridor with adequate signage to different accessories used in the toilet.

  • Homeless people and migrants are more likely to have poor access to WASH services in urban spaces.

  • How much do we understand and engage with non-WASH organisations working on women’s rights, gender equality, disability or inclusion? It was great to hear the perspectives of rights-based organisations at the conference and understand how they mobilise their target populations and constituencies.

  • Read more about our work on equity and non-discrimination.

Sustainable systems/ sector strengthening/ community partnerships

  • The commitment of local governments at all stages of a project contributes to its success, as WaterAid Mali’s project to integrate the health and WASH sectors to help bring sustainable access to WASH in healthcare facilities shows. Good leadership, collaboration, setting up, and disseminating and monitoring WASH standards also contribute to project success.

  • The sector system strengthening model is expected to result in: a clear incentive for good performance of local government and utilities and greater accountability through strengthened citizen forums and accountability platforms; wider change and replication in other districts and at national level.

  • NGOs need to shift their approach towards solving WASH challenges, encouraging national and local governments and communities to take the lead and be more accountable. Involving them from the beginning of the intervention improves ownership and management of WASH infrastructure and services. With this in mind, we can then go to scale to reach everyone, everywhere.

  • There is an urgent need to review the sustainable WASH services model, especially in urban slums, which are outside the scope of urban planning and development in most developing countries. There were examples at the conference of how planners can develop community toilets and public toilets into WASH resource centres. These must be well regulated by local governments and can be run by women’s entrepreneur groups, as a means of improving their livelihoods while strengthening poor communities’ WASH services.

Menstrual hygiene management

  • We need to speak properly and openly about menstrual hygiene management (MHM), and take care with the language we use. Parents and teachers need to be involved in the process. When we help girls learn about MHM we need to make sure preparations, materials and processes are appropriate.

  • There is a need for a political, mind and cultural shift in advancing MHM. We need to intensify our national-level advocacy on removing taxes from sanitary materials to make them more affordable for all, or possibly even on making them free for all.

  • There is a need to look into safe disposal of single-use products as well as advancing reusable sanitary wear as a sustainable option. These options must be culturally appropriate, taking into account deep-seated beliefs and myths surrounding MHM.

  • Menstrual health work would be improved by more coordination with sexual reproductive health work, because in girls’ lives the topics are one.

Some of the other topics from which WaterAid delegates drew key learnings were:

  • Creating demand marketing/ sanitation products

  • Urban sanitation costing and sanitation planning

  • Water supply and quality/ water security

  • Water monitoring and water quality testing

  • Data/research and knowledge management


All relevant papers and publications are now on the WEDC website. For more information about WEDC conferences check out this video on WEDC’s website.

Hope to see you there next year!