Sustainability framework


This new framework provides guidance to country programmes, partner organisations and others in the sector on achieving sustainability in the provision of safe water sources in rural areas.

For WaterAid, sustainability refers to the continued functioning and use of water and sanitation services, as well as lasting changes in human behaviour around hygiene and safe sanitation. Sustainability is about services that continue to be used indefinitely and that transform people's lives for good.

This framework has been created with the intention of being adapted and applied to different contexts and settings across the developing world. Although mostly focused on rural water supply, wherever possible it also addresses issues of urban sanitation and hygiene services. 

Ensuring sustainability

Enabling communities to take responsibility for managing their water and sanitation services forms a key part of current policies and strategies in the sector. However, community management often has limitations because of a lack of skills, resources, motivation or external support.

The framework presents a model in which well-established local management is adequately supported by the public and private sectors in order to achieve lasting outcomes. It lays out five general components needed to ensure sustainable water and sanitation services and hygiene practices:

  • A real demand from users evidenced in the consistent use of improved water and sanitation services and the practice of improved hygiene behaviours, and the willingness to pay for such services.
  • Adequate revenue to cover recurrent costs, with appropriate tariff structures that include the poorest and most marginalised.
  • A functioning local management and maintenance system comprising clear roles, training and skills, tools and equipment, and a revenue collection system.
  • Effective external support to local-level structures and institutions.
  • Attention to the natural resource and environmental aspects of the system

Why sustainability matters

WaterAid takes the issue of sustainability seriously for a number of reasons:

  • Our work with communities raises expectations. If services fail after some time, the hopes and expectations of communities are dashed. This is unacceptable.
  • We have an obligation to invest the resources entrusted to us wisely. Money spent on services that soon fail is money ill-spent. 
  • Once water and sanitation services have fallen into disrepair or disuse, communities have little alternative than to wait for another service provider to help. Far from building self-reliance, this exacerbates the dependence of communities on external organisations.
  • Raising the standard of water supply services and then letting even occasional short-term failures occur can very quickly reverse many of the public health benefits.