Sustainability framework

WaterAid has developed a new framework document to provide 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 utilisation of water and sanitation services as well as lasting changes in human behaviour around hygiene and safe sanitation. Sustainability is about services that continue in use indefinitely and that consequently transform people's lives for good.

The 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 sanitation, hygiene and urban services. Each of these areas, however, is the subject of a separate framework document to be issued in the coming months.

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, as stated in the framework, community management has limitations because of 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.

The framework lays out five general components that are needed to ensure sustainable WASH 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
There are numerous reasons why WaterAid must take the issue of sustainability seriously:

  • 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 WASH 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 in water supply or water treatment occur can very quickly reverse many of the public health benefits.