As schools worldwide struggle with reopening, the latest data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) reveal that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic … Read more
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By Annie Hall, Marketing Specialist
In fact, it was WSUP’s interest in the role of the private sector, and the drive to understand low-income consumer needs, that convinced me to make the leap from a career in corporate marketing and creative advertising agencies.
In previous roles, I’ve worked on projects to improve the customer service experience in sectors from energy and pharmaceuticals, to luxury jewellery and technology. However, trying to apply this in a developing market context hasn’t been easy.
I have had to adapt familiar theories, models, and best practice assumptions to account for technology limitations, business maturity, and unique pressures faced by the utilities we work with. Nonetheless, I still look to international industry leaders for inspiration from time-to-time.
In this blog, I share a snapshot of a recent customer experience of my own. This year, I switched to Octopus Energy, a relatively new UK based company that has attracted press attention for their numerous industry awards, and impressive customer service commitments.
From my first interaction, to the regular billing and metering communications I receive now, I have been impressed by their clarity, consistency, and creativity in keeping me engaged. It led me to reflect on what WASH institutions can learn from other utility brands and which, if any, of their customer engagement techniques can be replicated by water service providers in sub-Saharan Africa.
The onboarding process refers to every interaction a customer has getting set up with a company. For a utility provider this may include the initial customer application and confirmation of when the connection will take place, through to being issued an account number, the first meter reading and delivery of the first bill.
This critical process is where first impressions are formed and it has the potential to disappoint, confuse, frustrate, and leave customers worried that they’ve made the wrong choice.
My onboarding process with Octopus commenced with an immediate email, thanking me for choosing them. I was given a clear and detailed summary of the key information and could see when my supply would start. I was even able to change this with a single click. The email confirmed my payment amount and indicated when to expect the first bill and all subsequent payments.
It’s important to acknowledge the ability to provide such an efficient switching service was heavily enabled by action taken by the UK regulator Ofgem back in 2014 when they radically modernised the switching process to benefit customers.
Regulator engagement forms a core part of WSUP’s work in the WASH sector. Active, informed, and empowered regulation authorities help to drive competitive innovation within industries, which is why it’s so important that a customer-centric mindset is championed by the regulators. WSUP must often encourage the utilities to go above and beyond the minimum standards set by the regulator, whilst supporting the regulator to raise the stakes in parallel.
My welcome email also included a personalised note, with a useful tip regarding how to identify emails that require action from me, versus emails I can read at my leisure.
This email was shortly followed by another, from the company CEO, telling me more about the company’s mission and values and invited me to learn more about how my purchase decision contributes to their greener energy initiative.
Throughout the process I did not have to seek out any information. I was sent regular updates, billing reminders and felt informed, valued, and convinced that I’d made a good choice, not just for me – but for the planet too it seemed!
By contrast, customers seeking a household water connection in a peri-urban area of sub-Saharan Africa can wait several weeks after paying an initial deposit before they see any activity from the service provider. Lengthy processes involving approvals with local councils and sourcing of infrastructure materials mean the customer is left chasing for updates, often queuing at the utility office.
This period spent out of pocket and out of the loop makes customers distrust water utilities. Many of the utilities we work with miss opportunities to proactively keep customers informed. They could engage customers in their wider vision for healthier communities and add a personal touch to communications simply and cheaply.
Like most utilities, my energy provider requires me to submit regular and timely meter readings – a task no one enjoys! It interrupts your day, and often involves accessing a meter hidden somewhere outside the home. So, Octopus incentivises this in two ways.
Firstly, I can access an online platform to submit my readings on a laptop or mobile in less than three clicks. There are step-by-step instructions to remind me how, and my previous submission is displayed to help me notice any anomalies.
Secondly, every time I submit a meter reading, I have the option to play a virtual wheel of fortune. An animation simulates a game-of-chance, where I can win money off my next bill. I’ve not won anything yet, but I keep playing (and keep submitting my readings) regardless!
It almost doesn’t matter what Octopus has created to pique my interest. The point is, they’ve recognised the effort required of customers to facilitate the billing process and have attempted to make it easier and more enjoyable. WSUP conducts customer journey mapping exercises with utilities to help them identify where their business operations inconvenience customers and try to encourage them to think of their own ways to ease the burden.
Is it reasonable to expect a small regional water utility in sub-Saharan Africa to deliver a customer experience like mine? No, not yet. But there are there lessons we can learn from other sectors about how to prioritise customer experience within organisational structures and processes.
When talking to Utility Week, Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, marketing and product director at Octopus Energy said, “It’s everyone’s job to do customer engagement.” Rebecca explained how staff training, performance measurement and even where they sit in the office, is built around delivering the best customer experience.
She also talked about how their systems are set up to facilitate individual customers being repeatedly routed to the same six to eight staff members, leading to greater personalisation and accountability. Staff aren’t measured on call handling times because they want staff to give customers the time they need.
Some observers are sceptical about whether Octopus can maintain this high-quality service experience as the customer base grows. However, an attitude of continual learning and improvement seems to be the status quo. “As we keep growing, we need to continue to get better. That’s the biggest challenge, continuing to put pressure on yourself to keep making things better as you scale,” said Rebecca.
This is important because building the necessary infrastructure is only part of what is required to bring sustainable water and sanitation services to poorest and most vulnerable urban communities.
Utilities need to continuously work at creating and sustaining demand for their services. When designing business models for low-come consumers, it’s important to remember that ability to pay and willingness to pay are not the same thing. Willingness to pay is driven by a perception of value and like any other customer, low-income customers expect and deserve service experiences deemed worthy of their hard-earned .
Investments in customer experience don’t have to be radical, expensive or underpinned by major technological advancement (although that helps). Often the utilities we work with just need to spend more time putting themselves in the customers’ shoes.
They need to think strategically about the customer communications plan, map key customer journeys and identify where an extra SMS update, a personalised bill communication, a targeted public announcement or a more friendly customer service interaction, might help to transform how customers perceive their service as well as how valued they feel.
If you’re interested in learning more about Octopus energy and how they’re disrupting the UK market with their unique approach to managing customer relationships, check out some of the links below:
The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) welcomes comments on this discussion paper.
Please leave your suggestions and comments in the Comment field or contact: Jona Toetzke, firstname.lastname@example.org, of the German Toilet Organization.
WASH & Health: Prevention is the Best Medicine – WASH in Times of COVID-19. A SuSanA Discussion Paper, July 2020
The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA), an international network of partner organizations and individual members, plays an important role at the WASH and health linkage. Direct and indirect connections are anchored in most of SuSanA’s 13 working groups. While none of them focuses on health only, all of them contribute to services, processes or approaches that are fundamental to achieve sustainable WASH and health impact.
This discussion paper visualizes current opportunities and activities from the SuSanA community and highlights synergies between SuSanA working groups and several key issues of the health sector. Furthermore, it is a starting point for dialogue and collaboration with / for implementing organisations of the health sector. In this regard, the discussion paper intends to address the following topics:
1 – No Health without WASH: How WASH contributes to key health topics
– Public Health Risks
– Neglected Tropical Diseases
– Large-Scale Outbreaks
2 – Approaches for Risk Reduction and Prevention
– One Health
– Health Care Facilities
– Hand Hygiene
– Comprehensive WASH
3 – SuSanA, a Network for Sustainable Solutions
– Beyond SuSanA
– Within SuSanA
IRC and Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group Members, Conservation International and the Jane Goodall Institute, jointly developed the Freshwater Conservation and WASH Advocacy Strategy Workshop Facilitator's Guide because advocacy is a critical step in enabling integrated freshwater conservation-WASH management and must be closely tied to field-implementation of freshwater management strategies.
The target audience for this manual is development practitioners and advocates who desire a supportive policy environment for integrated freshwater conservation and WASH programming. The guide covers steps required for engaging effectively with decision-makers; increasing the impact beyond programmatic solutions; and influencing individuals, organizations, policies, regulations, and financing.
The Freshwater Conservation and WASH Advocacy Strategy Workshop Guide is comprised of five parts, the main Facilitator's Guide and 4 appendices:
1. Advocacy Strategy Workshop Facilitator's Guide
2. Appendix 1: Advocacy Strategy Workshop PowerPoint Presentation
3. Appendix 2: Country Context Presentation Template
4. Appendix 3: Facilitator Workbook
5. Appendix 4: Participant Workbook
The four-day workshop outlined in the guide is designed to introduce advocacy and provide the rationale for the important role advocacy and influencing play to advance freshwater conservation and WASH at national and sub-national level goals through changes in policies, budgets, and practices.
When using this guide, please use the suggested citation below. For questions about the methodology in the guide, please contact Elynn Walter (email@example.com) or Colleen Sorto (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Suggested Citation: Walter, E., Sorto, C., Edmond, J., Mercurio, S. and Rozenberg, E. 2020. Freshwater Conservation and WASH Advocacy Strategy Workshop: Facilitator's Guide. Washington, DC: Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group and IRC.
Below is an excerpt from the August 11, 2020 issue of Water Currents and the complete issue is on the Globalwaters.org website :
Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) and COVID-19: Critical WASH Interventions for Effective COVID-19 Pandemic Response . World Bank, April 2020. Good and consistently applied WASH and waste management practices serve as essential barriers to human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 in communities, homes, health care facilities, schools, and other public spaces.
Policy and Legislation Linked to COVID-19 and Pandemics . UN Environment Program (UNEP), June 2020. This policy and legislation guidance is intended to help countries better respond to future waste emergencies such as COVID-19 and includes information on the types of measures that could be put in place, the coverage and scope of the measures, and how to monitor compliance and enforce the measures.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak: Some Serious Consequences with Urban and Rural Water Cycle . NPJ Clean Water, July 2020. Conventional sewage treatment methods with disinfection are expected to eradicate COVID-19. However, for densely populated countries like India that lack adequate sewage treatment facilities, chances of contamination are extremely high.
Waste Management: An Essential Public Service in the Fight to Beat COVID-19 . UNEP, March 2020. With COVID-19 continuing to spread and its impacts on human health and the economy intensifying day by day, governments are urged to treat waste management, including medical, household, and other hazardous waste, as an urgent and essential public service.
Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and Waste Management for the COVID-19 Virus: Interim Guidance . WHO, April 2020. This interim guidance summarizes WHO guidance on water, sanitation, and health care waste relevant to viruses, including coronaviruses and supplements previous infection prevention and control documents.
Exploring the Correlation Between COVID-19 Fatalities and Poor WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Services . Medrxiv, June 2020. In this study, researchers analyzed the latest data on COVID-19 fatality rates in sub-Saharan Africa with indicators of safe water and sanitation governance and found a strong correlation between a higher case fatality rate and poorer access to safe drinking water and safe sanitation.
Global Socio-Economic Losses and Environmental Gains from the Coronavirus Pandemic . PLoS One, July 2020. Using a global model, the authors of this study captured the direct and indirect spillover effects of COVID-19 in terms of social losses, economic losses, and environmental effects.
Wastewater Surveillance for COVID-19: An African Perspective . Science of the Total Environment, November 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, early warning wastewater systems have been proposed as a platform for surveillance and a potentially important public health strategy to combat the disease. This short communication on wastewater surveillance in sub-Saharan Africa highlights challenges, opportunities, and alternatives taking into account local context.
Wastewater Surveillance for Population-Wide COVID-19: The Present and Future . Science of the Total Environment, September 2020. This article explores wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), which the authors believe holds the potential as a key tool in containing and mitigating COVID-19 outbreaks while also minimizing domino effects, such as long stay-at-home policies that stress humans and economies alike.
Computational Analysis of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Surveillance by Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Locally and Globally: Feasibility, Economy, Opportunities and Challenges . Science of the Total Environment, August 2020. In this study, researchers computationally examined wastewater as a matrix for detection of COVID-19 and found that combined use of WBE followed by clinical testing could save billions of U.S. dollars.
Read the complete issue .
Between 24 and 28 August a broad array of organizations will host virtual sessions on water and climate, open for anyone to tap into – listen to and interact in. … Read more
By Antonio Madeira, Head of Water, Mozambique
There are two fundamental ways to make a business model more profitable: increasing revenue or reducing costs (and preferably both). Good customer service is critical for both.
Good customer service leads to greater customer satisfaction, timely payment of bills and customer advocacy, which in turn drives new customer growth via referrals. Poor customer service leads to customer complaints, which are resource-intensive to manage, defaults on bills, negative word of mouth, higher rates of customer churn, and even vandalism.
It can be tempting for public service organisations like utilities to assume customer service is less critical because they are the only provider in the market. However, an absence of direct competition does not mean, customers have no choice. Customers can choose an illegal water connection, they can choose to purchase bottled water, they can seek an alternative source.
Águas da Região de Maputo (AdeM), the primary water utility in Maputo, recognises the importance of good customer service and has been working with WSUP for several years to develop a model that allows them to be more present and available for their hardest-to-reach customers.
Like many of the utilities WSUP works with, maintaining a consistent, reliable, and financially sustainable engagement with low income communities had proved challenging for AdeM. A lack of trust had emerged between low income communities and the utility.
Firstly, there was a broadly held perception that water services in low income communities were not prioritised due to less water supply network coverage, fewer household connections and comparatively less water consumption making the market less attractive to the utility. This was exacerbated internally at AdeM, by weak bill collection efficiency in poorer areas of the city.
Secondly, there was a belief among customers that their service was substandard, particularly in relation to wealthier neighbourhoods assumed to receive a better supply experience. For example, in times of water shortage, low income communities believed their supply would be cut first.
The extent to which these perceptions were accurate was arguably less important than the need to change them. What AdeM needed was to shift their relationship with customers into a position of greater trust and cooperation.
Customers needed to feel valued by AdeM and equally deserving of quality service and attention awarded to higher income areas. In return, AdeM needed low-income communities to view their service as good value for money and worthy of timely and consistent bill payments.
AdeM currently contracts several community-based organisations (CBOs) across the city. The model operates on a performance-based contract whereby responsibility for local monitoring of bill payment, meter reading, delivery of invoices and reporting leakages are delegated to a community-based organisation. CBOs conduct their tasks by visiting low income customers at home, whilst maintaining daily communication with AdeM, through the zone manager.
The decision to hire CBOs was driven by the fact that the CBO staff would be working in their own neighbourhoods. They would therefore have better knowledge and appreciation of the problems and be likely to adopt a more authentic, understanding, and effective approach to engaging low income communities.
Once recruited, CBO staff undergo training delivered by WSUP and AdeM, covering technical aspects such as understanding the billing systems, through to softer skills such as community interaction techniques.
The difference between this model and use of traditional meter readers is that the local staff have more time to dedicate to building relationships with customers, making themselves available for any queries or feedback during their regular visits. This change has been positively received by residents.
“We now have someone to report to at the utility Águas da Região de Maputo as well as local young people who can read water meters in the neighbourhood,” says Carlota Zefanias, resident Aeroporto B, Maputo.
In areas managed by CBOs, AdeM has seen an increase in debt recovery values, billing rates, and reading rates of meters, which enable the utility to calculate bills more accurately. AdeM have also seen the CBOs deliver added value in managing dissatisfaction in times of crisis.
An increase in water tariff in 2018 unfortunately coincided with a review of AdeM’s billing cycle, which led to multiple bills in quick succession and unexpected invoices, understandably impacting the poorest communities most significantly.
Whilst better planning would have been preferable in mitigating customer dissatisfaction, the availability of CBO staff to assist with customer queries, explain the changes, be sympathetic to their frustrations and support customers in managing a debt repayment plan, meant that bill collection efficiency recovered quickly.
Deployment of the CBO model has also led to significant improvements in the tracking of error cases and account anomalies. While collecting readings, CBOs will sometimes encounter obstacles such as faulty meters, water damage obscuring visibility, or the customer simply being unreachable.
Thanks to the CBO staff capturing the most frequent and impactful error cases, AdeM has an up-to-date customer database and a better system for prioritising action to improve quality of service supply.
Approximately five years from the launch of the CBO approach, the model is delivering impressively and is a fantastic example of how customer-centric investment in simple human touchpoints can transform the service experience and have a meaningful impact on the bottom line. Bill collection efficiency increased from 50% in 2009 to 80% in 2016 in the newly served low-income areas. Additionally a customer survey found that 59% of households considered the water bill a ‘reasonable price’.
The model is currently being scaled up and implemented in 10 areas of the city, with the costs shared between AdeM and WSUP funders. A further five areas are planned to be included by September 2020. However, this is only the beginning. The CBO model was always planned to be developed in stages, culminating in fully delegated management of service areas whereby the CBOs will have complete responsibility for service delivery including billings, revenue collection, leakage management and customer liaison.
The delegated management contracts will be performance based with the CBO’s being paid an agreed percentage of the revenue collection. The principles of moving to this stage have been discussed and agreed with AdeM and the first pilot is expected this financial year with replication to several areas in 2021/2022.
Arsénio Mate, project manager at AdeM, describes the approach as part of the organisation’s plan to provide better quality service to customers, especially for those living on the periphery. “We welcome the initiative and we hope they will continue working with us to serve those in need with good quality service”, he says.
This work is part of WSUP’s strategy to support AdeM in improving operations and service delivery, through a wider utility improvement programme over the next three years. This strategic approach addresses AdeM’s water service delivery in a holistic framework to improve KPI’s for service delivery, commercial returns and to meet future demand including reducing NRW losses.
COVID-19 is a major threat to the livelihood of rural communities living off agriculture and livestock herding in Nakuru and Makueni counties. Key economic institutions have been shut down in response to the pandemic, including markets. This has negative consequences on household income and social interactions in rural communities and is leading to underemployment in informal labour markets.
Water, sanitation, and hygiene issues (WASH) are coming to the fore. Governments are urging people to wash their hands with soap and water as an essential means to stop the spread of infections. This has led to high demand for communal handwashing facilities in low-income areas and for the distribution of soap with handwashing tanks.
To address these issues, curb the spread of the virus, and cushion Kenyans from the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, the Government of Kenya is disbursing COVID-19 relief funds to county governments, with support from non-governmental actors.
There is no room for corruption or manipulation in these unique circumstances. Relief funds cannot be wasted. County governments must follow national procurement rules and regulations in using these funds. They must use the money transparently and with integrity. We cannot afford to take this lightly. We must hold service providers, civic and county leaders accountable.
The Centre for Social Planning and Administrative Development (CESPAD), with the Water Integrity Network (WIN) and the Kenya Water and Sanitation Civil Societies Network (KEWASNET), are launching a citizen’s campaign, to sensitise the public on their rights and duties to ensure the effective and transparent use of COVID-19 relief funds during the pandemic. We are focusing on ensuring meaningful public participation, as well as monitoring and evaluation of funds and procurement activities.
The campaign highlights ways to hold county governments and water service providers accountable:
The pandemic can only be stopped in its tracks with integrity. County and national governments must put in place sustainable measures to limit the impact of the pandemic. People must follow guidelines to wear masks correctly, wash hands, practice social distancing, get tested and self-isolating when feeling ill. For it all to work, active participation, accountability mechanisms, and anti-corruption procedures are essential. They can ensure that funds disbursed to help fight the virus are used well and benefit those who need them most.
Follow news on the campaign on Twitter: @cespadkenya
For more information, contact the WIN Programme Officer for this initiative:
Nagnouma Kone, nkone[at]win-s.org
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National Development Planning Commission - NDPC in collaboration with IRC and partners is disseminating the findings and is further engaging relevant stakeholders on the stories starting with the launch of the Good Practice for WASH in Ghana booklet.
The Government of Ghana is committed to achieving access to safe water supply and water-related targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With about 10 years left until the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, there is an urgent need to identify innovative actions that can help fast-track the delivery of the SDGs.
The National Development Planning Commission in collaboration with IRC embarked on a project to collate and publish ongoing innovative interventions on water and sanitation from selected district assemblies; namely Wassa East, Bongo and Asutifi-North District. Fieldwork was carried out from 18th February to 4th March 2020 to ascertain, assess and interact with developers and beneficiaries of the selected WASH projects. The aim of the exercise was to collate and publish these innovative approaches and interventions for the purpose of sharing experiences and lessons learnt to institutions such as MDAs, MMDAs, private sector and CSOs. The main outputs for the exercise which include website publication on the WASH stories (at both NDPC and IRC websites) together with the final WASH document have been prepared.
As part of the way forward to these publications, the NDPC in collaboration with IRC and partners would disseminate the findings and further engage relevant stakeholders on the stories starting with the launch of the Good Practice for WASH in Ghana booklet.
The objective of the programme is to i) raise awareness on the ongoing strategic, innovative WASH interventions identified in the selected districts; ii) highlight major findings in the report; iii) generate further interaction with stakeholders; and iv) provide an opportunity to widen the scope of the interventions to unserved or underserved areas in the country to help attain the national and SDG targets on WASH. Due to the Covid-19 health pandemic, the launch event would be organised within one-and-half hours targeting WASH-related stakeholders and beyond.
Selected stakeholders are invited to join a face-to-face session whilst wider stakeholder participation will be via Microsoft link: Join Here.
Time (Day1) Activity Responsibility
9:00 – 9:30 am Registration and Arrival of invited guests and the media NDPC
9:30 – 9:40 am Welcome Address Dr. Kojo Mensah Abrampah, Director-General, NDPC
9:40 – 10:00 am Brief Statements:
Country Director, IRC Ghana
Ministry of MWSR
SDG ICC Coordinator
10:00 – 10:20 am Presentation: Water Stories and Sanitation Tales by NDPC
10:20 – 10:40 am Discussions: Participants
10:40 – 10:50 am Launch of the WASH Report Dr. Kojo Mensah Abrampah, Director-General, NDPC
10:50 – 11:00 am Wrap-up and next steps Dr. Felix Addo-Yobo
11:00 am Refreshment and Departure
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By: Cyndie Berg, Liz Flores-Marcus, Kaitlynn Lagman, Laura Mapp, & Molly Parus
Like so many other nonprofits this year, Splash pivoted our gala to a virtual event as a result of COVID-19. While we were thrilled to exceed our fundraising goal, we also learned some important lessons along the way. Whether you work for a nonprofit organization or support one through volunteering or donating, we hope you find this article helpful as you consider how best to gather virtually, fundraise and engage digitally, and capture the energy and generosity sparked by in-person fundraising galas.
When we made the decision to go digital, we immediately sought advice from those who had gone before us. We were fortunate to speak with Upaya Social Ventures’ wonderful fundraising team and learn about the structure of their virtual gala, as they were one of the first Seattle-based organizations to host one. We also connected with our Board members, donors, and other Seattle business leaders to diversify our perspective and ensure that our virtual gala ideas translated well for guests. These early conversations helped to guide our decision-making process and find harmony between our revenue goals and the overall guest experience.
For the virtual event to succeed, we knew we had to engage our closest supporters (including already confirmed Table Captains) and get their buy-in and support. We wanted to keep the gala spirit alive by creating “virtual tables” with Table Captains. Using Classy’s peer-to-peer fundraising platform, we were able to mimic the gala format to achieve our fundraising goals.
The virtual platform also provided some flexibility that an in-person live event would not afford. Instead of being limited to 15–20 Table Captains and asking them to fill a ten-person table, we were able to engage a larger group not limited to the Seattle metro. Supporting Table Captains leading up to and throughout the event, confirming pledged gifts, and securing donor matches were all critical to meeting our fundraising goal.
In a concentrated effort to make the program content more accessible to Splash’s global audience and to increase fundraising opportunities, we decided to host the virtual gala over a four-day period. We were fortunate to contract Kelly Lacy, photographer and videographer of MakeBeautiful, to help us edit and produce videos for the virtual gala. Collaborating with a videographer brought a level of professionalism to our content that we would have otherwise struggled to achieve.
Going virtual allowed us to embrace technology and invite a significant amount of our global staff to take part in the gala through pre-recorded videos. While the in-person gala usually allows for a few global staff to make the journey to Seattle, the virtual platform allowed us to increase involvement across all of our country programs. With this increased involvement came extra engagement with technology — late night and early morning Zoom calls — to align visions and record content. This increased our daily interactions with one another and resulted in some pretty fun and creative collaborative content.
COVID-19 has disrupted every industry, and event-centered businesses have been hit incredibly hard. While Splash benefitted from saving in event costs, the vendors who were counting on this revenue took a big hit. Splash’s primary value is people first, people second, and people third. In an effort to support and honor our community partners, we tried to work with vendors to minimize losses. For example, rather than trying to claim force majeure with our gala venue for a full refund, we instead asked them hold onto our deposit and worked with them to reschedule our event for May 2021.
Hindsight allows us to appreciate the success of the event, even amidst our ever-changing global environment. Thanks to our incredible donors, staff, and network of supporters, we exceeded our fundraising goal and continue to be proud of the content we produced. Post virtual gala, our team gathered to discuss lessons learned and what we might have done differently, knowing what we do now. Major takeaways to consider include:
4. Streaming platform: We chose Zoom to host both our live kick-off and closing ceremony as we thought the medium best replicated the intimacy of a live gala, and it was the platform with which we were most familiar. However, we question if a live streaming platform like Facebook Live would be a better option. Some of the intimacy might be lost in opening the event to the general public, but there would also be the opportunity to engage a larger audience.
We will likely integrate some elements from this learning experience to an in-person gala, perhaps streaming the event live and posting it on our website. While we look forward to gathering in a room with our closest friends at a future event, the global accessibility of a virtual gala is particularly compelling.
Have you also pivoted to a virtual event recently? Let us know how it went, and visit our virtual gala page to see Splash’s virtual event for yourself!
In Bangladesh, WSUP is trialling different marketing models to encourage greater uptake of services.
We tested door-to-door brand promoters with promotions running in trusted shops (retail agents), to find out which were more effective at targeting different stages of the customer journey.
We also looked at how these marketing approaches could best link with a sanitation service’s existing processes, so that sales leads could be retained and converted when the customer was ready.
Watch our video to find out what we learnt:
The work was supported by TRANSFORM, a programme led by Unilever and the UK’s Department for International Development. TRANSFORM is a collaboration between business, government and civil society, leveraging their respective strengths to address the world’s most pressing development challenges.
Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is the first line of defense against the spread of COVID-19. Safe WASH practices can help stop human-to-human transfer of the virus at the household- and community-level. Recognizing the crucial role of WASH services during a pandemic, national and county governments, especially in low- and middle-income countries, have deemed WASH as essential services and have directed water utilities to ensure uninterrupted supply to all consumers, regardless of their ability to pay. While important for public health, this directive can compromise the financial health of utilities over the long-term.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, water utilities are caught in a perfect storm of declining revenue coupled with rising costs. In Kenya, the government’s directive to water service providers (WSPs) includes the following requirements: water should be provided for free in informal settlements and public places, disconnected customers should be reconnected, and no disconnections for nonpayment of bills should be carried out during the pandemic. In addition, WSPs also have to comply with social distancing guidelines and use personal protective equipment (PPE) and other infection control measures. While these directives serve important public health needs, they also amplify the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on water utilities. WSPs, which rely on fees from customer tariffs, new connections, and reconnections to cover their operations and maintenance costs, stand to incur huge losses in revenue from these directives. This sharp decline in revenue collection, combined with the cost of COVID-19–related compliance, increases the financial stress on utilities.
The Nzoia Water Services Company Limited (NZOWASCO), a Kenyan utility organization providing water and sewerage services within the County Governments of Bungoma and Trans Nzoia, is one such utility that is facing a looming financial crisis due to the pandemic. “Our revenue collection is low, and customers are not paying for water. Following the directives given by the government, we cannot disconnect them. We have not paid our power bill for the last month as a result of this,” notes Mathew Wakhungu Maruti, Managing Director of NZOWASCO.
NZOWASCO’s experience is not unique. The Kenya Water Service Providers Association estimates that water utilities’ revenue collection has dropped from 94 percent to 30 percent since March. Based on Kenyan Water Services Regulatory Board projections of the primary financial impact of COVID-19 on two large WSPs, USAID estimates that collection efficiency will fall to 50 percent in a best-case scenario. The worst-case projection sees this number falling to 20 percent. When expenditure changes are required to meet the directive of providing free water, the worst-case scenario predicts a two-fold increase compared to pre-COVID-19 monthly expenditures. (For more details, see Water Service Provider COVID-19 Financial Stress Testing and Mitigation.)
“Immediate financial support is very much needed and will be critical for sustaining water and sanitation service provision that underpin public health measures in responding to the pandemic,” notes Barbara Kazimbaya-Senkwe, USAID WASH-FIN’s senior WASH governance advisor.
Providing support to WSPs to ensure continuity of services enables communities to maintain access to WASH — a crucial pillar of USAID’s response to COVID-19, and a part of the Agency’s larger framework of short- and long-term recovery and resilience.
USAID’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Finance (WASH-FIN) project is conducting financial stress testing of large WSPs in Kenya using the World Bank’s COVID-19 Financial Impact Assessment Tool for Water and Sanitation Providers. Through assessments of revenue, debt, operational expenditures (such as wages and rent), and additional costs associated with the crisis (such as chemicals, PPE, additional water points, and tanker services), the tool allows WSPs to quantify the financial impact of the pandemic on their operations and helps prioritize potential response options. For its first cohort, USAID WASH-FIN selected two large WSPs that had previously been relatively well-performing, financially stable, and among those best-positioned to weather a financial crisis. The third WSP is smaller and representative of WSPs that despite not being financially creditworthy, had still procured commercial loans through an output-based aid approach. Such WSPs are likely to experience significant pandemic impact.
The results of the analyses are stark. The three selected WSPs will require around KES 155 million (US$1.4 million) to sustain their operations through the next six months. If no action is taken, all three WSPs assessed are expected to run out of cash by September 2020 and, in some cases, even earlier. To continue to serve the public, the WSPs must, at a minimum, have enough cash to cover their most basic operational and maintenance costs. Given that they are presently unable to fully collect revenue from most of their customers, additional financial resources will be required to close the gap and ensure they can continue to provide essential services and support the government’s public health objectives.
To help mitigate financial stress, USAID is working closely with these WSPs to consider a mix of actions, such as increase in collection efficiency, internal cash preservation, liquidation of assets, and debt restructuring. Even with all of these mitigating factors, however, it will be critical to provide financial support to these WSPs. “Due to reduced revenue from water sale, we have accumulated debt to our suppliers, including those supplying water treatment chemicals,” notes David Ndumo, Corporate Manager of NYEWASCO.
USAID WASH-FIN is also performing a crucial coordination role for the Council of Governors (COG) concerning national-level dialogue and action following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the WASH sector. Following the facilitation of a high-level meeting by USAID between COG and WASH development partners, UNICEF committed US$100,000 for the provision of water treatment chemicals for WSPs in 13 counties.
All of these efforts will be extremely beneficial to companies like NYEWASCO, which must meet their obligations not just for chemicals but also other inputs, including electricity and labor costs required to keep water and sanitation services flowing.
As in the case of Kenya, the Government of Indonesia required that local WSPs provide free or discounted water to customers, free connections for new customers from low-income households, and greater flexibility on payments to ensure residents’ uninterrupted access to water. This mandate has severely impacted the financial situation of local water utilities.
Using the World Bank’s financial assessment tool, USAID’s IUWASH PLUS (Indonesia Urban Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Penyehatan Lingkungan Untuk Semua) project is conducting financial stress testing for its 25 local partner utilities. The results, which are expected by the end of July, will help to better focus the needed assistance, including getting reduced tax for the year of 2020. In the next quarter, USAID IUWASH PLUS will continue the analysis for all of the 32 assisted water utilities, while continuing to help them improve performance, reduce operational cost, and adjust their business plans to get operations going while expanding coverage. Additional data collection is ongoing to assess COVID-19’s impact on the operational activities of WSPs, which will in turn inform the local government’s planned investment in their utilities.
Three months’ worth of data from the Bogor District’s water utility are already projecting a 12.5 percent decrease in the utility’s revenue this year, which is largely attributed to commercial entities’ reduced water use. The billing collection rate is also down from 98 percent to 85 percent, and capital expenditure has been reduced by 70 percent.
Building on efforts in Kenya and Indonesia, USAID plans to further roll out the stress testing tool in Mozambique and Zambia, with the possibility of expanding to other countries.
To assist WSPs in the Philippines with their emergency response and recovery planning, USAID, through its Strengthening Urban Resilience with Growth and Equity (SURGE) project, conducted online surveys from April 23 to May 12, 2020, to identify the impact of COVID-19 on WSPs. USAID and its partners used the findings from the rapid assessment to identify appropriate assistance and interventions for WSPs, such as providing training and mentoring to develop business continuity and recovery plans (BCRP). The purpose of the BCRP is to ensure continuity of water services during the pandemic while maintaining the safety of the WSP employees and consumers. The project is also working with its partner WSPs to identify their interest in electronic billing and payments following the findings on low collection efficiency. SURGE is also advocating and promoting the institutionalization of proper handwashing with soap by completing concept designs of handwashing stations.
As part of a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments have issued decrees suspending water tariff charges for low-income households. While these decrees may be beneficial and are a form of targeted subsidies for at-risk households, they will also lead to lowered revenues for water utilities. This will result in the WSPs having reduced ability to pay for the energy and water treatment chemicals, in effect compromising the ability to provide quality water services over the long-term. USAID is partnering with UNICEF and key government partners in Mozambique to provide short-term operating cost subsidies to private water providers in peri-urban areas and small towns. This initiative will help ensure they are able to balance the need to meet short-term public health mandates with the risk of financial insolvency over the long-term.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already shown in just a few months the devastating impact it has had on water utilities globally. If these shocks are not addressed urgently, the consequences of utility deficits will be felt immediately and long after the virus subsides. We are also at a critical juncture in the progress toward universal access to water and sanitation by 2030. Falling utility revenues and ballooning national budget deficits in many countries could set back the advances in universal access that have been made in recent years.
Mobilizing resources to counter falling revenues and rising costs will require a concerted effort from governments, development partners, and water utilities themselves. “It’s clear that water is critical to mitigating the impact of COVID-19. As importantly, we also recognize that many of our service providers weren’t operating in a technically and financially viable manner, even before the crisis,” notes Joel Kolker, program manager for the World Bank’s Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership. “Therefore, we must enhance our efforts to deal with the crisis and improve the long-term viability of the service providers.”
USAID is committed to using the results of financial stress tests and other approaches to not only keeping vital water supplies flowing but also ensuring water utilities remain operational now and well into the future. By supporting water utilities, USAID can ensure that the WASH sector not only maintains its critical role in fighting COVID-19, but is also on course to help countries achieve universal access in WASH by 2030.
By Ella Lazarte, USAID, and Farah Siddique, USAID WASH-FIN
Special thanks to Amanda Robertson (USAID/Kenya), Marian Cruz Navata (USAID/Philippines), and Trigeany Linggoatmodjo (USAID/Indonesia) for contributing to this story.
This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 3; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.
COVID-19 and the Looming Financial Crisis for Water Utilities was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
To control further spread of a deadly disease, USAID and its partners are pivoting to improve access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene, bolstering public health at a critical moment as the worst pandemic in 100 years sweeps the globe.
Since it emerged in late 2019, COVID-19 has gained a foothold in more than 185 countries, claimed more than 645,000 lives, sickened more than 16 million people, and become the world’s worst public health crisis in a century.
Joining a fight that is at once global and local, USAID is marshaling its considerable expertise and resources in the field of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to help stabilize public health at a time of great uncertainty. The Agency is working in close coordination with communities, governments, development partners, and the private sector to help contain the spread of the disease. This all-hands-on-deck approach is working to flatten the infection curve, buying crucial time for local and national health care systems to increase testing capacity, improve contact tracing, and develop surge capacity at hospitals to treat serious cases.
USAID’s Water Leadership Council developed and released the “USAID Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Strategic Approach to COVID-19 Response” in mid-April to shape the Agency’s global response to the pandemic and emphasize the vital roles WASH infrastructure and services play in reducing transmission risk.
In the absence of a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, the strategic approach emphasizes that one of the greatest tools in the battle against COVID-19 is also one of the simplest — handwashing with soap — shown to be one the most effective behaviors for reducing the risk of infection and transmission.
In addition to promoting this vital hygiene behavior, USAID’s contribution to the global fight against COVID-19 includes facilitation of public education campaigns to improve personal hygiene habits, decrease transmission risk, and build communities’ resilience in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
Water service providers are also facing a perfect storm of declining revenues and sharply rising costs as a result of this pandemic. Sustaining water services is critical for public health and handwashing, and provides a foundation for safely reopening schools, businesses, and public spaces. USAID is leveraging its expertise in WASH to help service providers continue operations, secure critical supplies, and avoid financial collapse.
USAID missions around the world are putting the Agency’s new strategic approach into action every day in the fight to more quickly contain and control COVID-19. Read how in the stories below.
With more than 100,000 positive confirmed cases as of late July, Indonesia is grappling with an escalating crisis as increased testing reveals the extent of COVID-19’s spread across the country. Improving access to reliable water and sanitation services and championing regular handwashing with soap are two ways USAID’s IUWASH PLUS (Indonesia Urban Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Penyehatan Lingkungan Untuk Semua) project is contributing to critical actions that will reduce the spread of the virus.
Working in 120 communities spread across 35 municipalities, USAID IUWASH PLUS and its partners supported the installation of 5,000 handwashing stations, more than 900 soap dispensers, and nearly 700 water taps. In March 2020, IUWASH PLUS began collaborating with puskesmas (community health clinics) to educate the public about handwashing with soap, using a variety of channels to reach residents including radio jingles and social media posts. These efforts are supplemented with strategic messaging emphasizing the importance of either remaining at home or physical distancing when in public.
Meanwhile, to ensure residents’ uninterrupted access to water, the government has mandated that local water utilities must provide customers with free water for the next three months. To support the 25 partner utilities affected by this new mandate and the resulting decrease in revenue, USAID IUWASH PLUS is assisting them to plan their capital needs and strategize how to meet those needs while providing more free water. This support is maintaining continuity of water supply and keeping faucets from running dry.
Improving access to hygiene-related infrastructure continues: IUWASH PLUS is setting up handwashing stations equipped with soap not only outside puskesmas, but also near other centers of community life, such as the local mosque.
“I hope the community understands the importance of clean and healthy behaviors,” says Wheny Susianti of Surakarta city in Central Java. “Hopefully, the handwashing-with-soap facilities will remind people to wash their hands with soap,” a key behavior for stopping the transmission of COVID-19.
In South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm a fragile health care system. To curb transmission of the disease, USAID is helping distribute hygiene kits and soap while improving water and sanitation access in at-risk communities — as well as sending personal protective equipment to health care workers as hospitals prepare for a potential surge of patients.
Efforts to educate the public on best practices for avoiding COVID-19 infection target particularly high-risk communities, such as the densely populated sites hosting people displaced by the conflict that began in 2013. In these settlements, where donors provide safe water and sanitation, USAID support enabled UNICEF to recently reach nearly 30,000 residents in Juba with emergency WASH infrastructure and services.
USAID funding is also helping ramp up additional infection prevention and control measures such as routine cleaning and disinfection of sanitation facilities and water points. “USAID’s continuing support,” says Tina Yu, head of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team in South Sudan, “will allow frontline workers to continue combating COVID-19 in the places at greatest risk of infection.”
USAID support is empowering other development partners to make a substantial impact, such as Action Against Hunger International, which now provides handwashing demonstrations to community members visiting its health and nutrition centers. Meanwhile, USAID partner International Organization for Migration installed handwashing stations in high-traffic areas such as transportation hubs and marketplaces. This USAID implementer also focuses on building leadership capacity and holding training sessions with local community leaders so that they may educate their neighbors and spread the word about healthy hand hygiene.
After a months-long national lockdown extending from late March through the end of May, India continues to grapple with the rapidly intensifying spread of COVID-19. Currently, India is experiencing the world’s third highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections with more than 1.4 million cases nationwide as of late July.
To help reduce the risk of unchecked disease transmission, USAID/India and local partners are working to improve conditions in the country’s densely populated urban informal settlements. Through its Moving India Towards Sanitation for All (MISAAL) activity, USAID/India empowers sanitation committees to improve access to vital hygiene and sanitation services. In addition to promoting healthy sanitation and hygiene habits among residents of slum settlements, these committees serve as intermediaries between residents and local government bodies, facilitating the installation of in-home toilets and improving upon existing sewer infrastructure.
Beyond its push to strengthen WASH in urban settlements, USAID/India teamed up with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to facilitate a government public education campaign to help protect frontline health care staff and quarantined households from prejudice. Since March 2020, USAID has trained close to 40,000 health workers on COVID-19 prevention and response in the 12 states where it implements programs, directly benefiting 2.5 million people in India.
Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, confirmed more than 41,000 cases of COVID-19 as of late July. In a country where one in three people is without access to safe water and more than half of residents are without access to basic sanitation, the potential for transmission of the virus is widespread, as reliable water access is a key ingredient for creating sustainable changes in handwashing habits.
“The importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene has been emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic,” noted USAID/Nigeria Mission Director Stephen Haykin in May, as the outbreak spread.
Ever since the earliest known confirmed COVID-19 infections in Nigeria, USAID’s Effective Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Services (E-WASH) program, which partners with utilities in six Nigerian states to improve water access, intensified efforts to improve WASH services. For example, Nosa Okoh, general manager of the Delta State Urban Water Corporation, pledged to provide a “constant safe water supply” in his jurisdiction, to decrease transmission risk. E-WASH is also supporting the digitization of payment services; e-billing enables customers to reduce unnecessary visits to the utility to pay their bills to better promote social distancing.
The state water utilities that E-WASH partners with are shaping other aspects of Nigeria’s evolving response to the pandemic as well. USAID and the Taraba Water and Sewage Corporation recently helped convene Nigerian media professionals, who exchanged ideas on how to combat COVID-19 misinformation and shared best practices for responsibly informing the public about the nature of the disease. Apart from its support to water utilities, USAID/Nigeria also collaborated with telecommunications firms to deliver messaging about safe hygiene habits to millions of Nigerian cell phone users and provided direct technical support to the National WASH Response on COVID-19, including implementing risk communication interventions such as signs and pictorial guidance on the proper use of masks and information resources for hand hygiene.
As the pandemic continues to evolve, USAID and its many partners across the U.S. Government collectively pledged more than $1 billion to the effort to combat COVID-19 as of late June 2020. Whether it involves installing soap-equipped handwashing stations, refurbishing water and sanitation infrastructure, or delivering ventilators to overburdened hospitals, USAID stands committed to helping protect the communities it serves as they endure some of their most uncertain hours. Thanks to the transformative power of improved WASH, the Agency and its partners are already helping some of the world’s most at-risk populations stay one step ahead of the disease.
By Russell Sticklor
This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 3; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.