Commitments made by governments to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions are falling far short of what is required to limit climate change, according to the United Nations. Current national … Read more
15-minute integrity maturity survey for utilities based on integrity indicators validated in research with the Inter-American Development Bank.
Why it is relevant:
Understanding what integrity practices are in place in a utility, and how to improve, is key to having an effective integrity risk management strategy or ESG programme. In the water and sanitation sector specifically, integrity management can support improved service delivery, build trust with users, and reduce costly risks of corruption or unethical behaviour.
This survey provides insight on internationally recognisedbest practices for integrity, adapted specifically for water and sanitation service operators or utilities.
How does it work:
The self-scan is an online survey in English, Spanish or French, that can be filled in by a staff member or small team with knowledge of key governance and control processes.
The data collected is anonymised and processed in the strictest confidentiality by the WIN research team as input to a global trends report on integrity management challenges and best practices for utilities.
All participating utilities receive:
A summary of the answers given;
A personalised benchmarking report comparing individual utility scores with average scores for water and sanitation utilities, across the main integrity principles (when a minimum number of responses is collected for analysis);
A copy of the global trends report.
The reports are shared exclusively with the email provided for the survey.
Space4Water’s vision is to enable all stakeholders involved in the space and water communities to access data and knowledge, to be creative and to realize their full potential in contributing … Read more
Integrity Talks are interactive discussions with WIN partners about challenges and lessons for advancing integrity to improve service and reduce corruption in the water and sanitation sectors. All WIN partners are invited to participate.
To receive Integrity Talk invitations, please sign up below.
November – Date to be confirmed
Integrity Talk 5 – Water Integrity and Artificial Intelligence
Integrity Talk 4 – Water Tariffs and Inflation
With Sanitation and Water for All
Water and sanitation tariffs have been increasing steadily. For many households they have become unaffordable, particularly for the urban poor. Inflation is one of the driving factors. This talk explored integrity measures taken by different water and sanitation sector stakeholders, including utility companies, international banks, governments, and civil society organisations, to address the situation and resolve the tension between making water more affordable and coping with inflation.
Integrity Talk 3 – Water Integrity for Small Water Supply Systems
Many crucial small or community-based water supply systems work through solidarity mechanisms and are often not formally recognised, eceiving very little support or resources from local government. What does this imply in terms of integrity and can integrity management tools contribute to address water quality, infrastructure, land, and maintenance issues?
Integrity Talk 2 – Water and Sanitation in Informal Settlements and the COVID-19 Crisis
How can we assess and address issues of exclusion and marginalisation in informal settlements from a water integrity perspective? How can different stakeholders use integrity and support the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation in informal settlements? What has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Integrity Talk 1 – Regulators and the Promotion of Integrity in Water and Sanitation
What is the role of regulators in securing access to water and sanitation services? How can they promote transparency, accountability and participation, and which challenges do they face in doing this?
Water Integrity Network will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates.
A new research paper from WIN, Change Initiative, Development Organisation of the Rural Poor and UNU-Merit investigates the incidence and risk factors associated with sextortion when accessing water and sanitation services by women in four different regions in Bangladesh. The study contributes to the growing evidence base exposing sextortion as a grave but hidden violation of the human rights to water and sanitation.
Being forced to pay a bribe in exchange for basic services is a grim and unjust daily reality for countless people across the world. It is all the more devastating when it takes the form of sextortion.
“Poor women faced so much difficulty to get water and sometimes some of them had to surrender themselves to those mean men as they were so desperate to get water and other services.”
– Focus Group Participant, Rasulpur (Dhaka South City Corporation)
There is significant evidence that corruption in the water and sanitation sectors disproportionately affects vulnerable populations and hits the poor the hardest, particularly women. There may be no more serious manifestation of this than being forced into paying a sexual bribe in exchange for the resource most essential to sustaining life.
Yet despite increasing awareness that women, girls, and other vulnerable members of society may face risks of violence and abuse when accessing WASH services, there is little information on where and how sextortion incidents are occurring, and scarce conversation focused on awareness and prevention.
Sextortion is not uncommon, and is exacerbated by poverty, water insecurity, and low literacy
Sextortion is both a form of corruption and a form of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). In addition to the SGBV component, three elements must be present to constitute the corruption component in sextortion, including (I) abuse of authority; (II) a quid pro quo exchange; and (III) psychological coercion rather than physical force (IAWJ). This corruption component, and notably the exchange element, may contribute to significant under-reporting of sextortion. It is therefore important to show the inter-relatedness with SGBV, while specifically highlighting the specificity and risk factors related to sextortion.
The new study sought to specifically examine cases where these corruption elements are present, in order to further understand the phenomenon, the inter-relatedness of SGBV and sextortion, and the norms that allow SGBV/sextortion to continue. The survey examined nine different forms of SGBV, four of which are considered sextortion.
Findings from the research show that about 15% of the women surveyed had experienced sexual and gender‐based violence (SGBV) when accessing water, toilets, or bathing facilities. About one-third of these cases constituted sextortion. Due to the stigma associated with experiencing sextortion and/or SGBV, the prevalence of the issue in the study area may be under-reported.
The study found that there are several key risk factors of experiencing sextortion, illustrating the need for further study of compounding risks.
Prior research suggests that women living in poverty are more vulnerable to sextortion, a risk factor also found to be true in this study. With a lack of resources to pay with money and/or goods, women are often left with no choice but to rely on their bodies as the only remaining ‘currency’.
Using a variation of the Lived Poverty Index (Mattes, 2008) to examine poverty at the household level, the research confirmed that those respondents who reported having experienced sextortion were more likely to have a higher score on the Index, signifying a more severe level of poverty.
“People don’t support the poor, when we ask for help or try to complain a crime, nobody believes us. (…) We don’t have any support, any right to be in the position to say no.”
– Focus Group Participant, Rasulpur (Dhaka South City Corporation)
Household water insecurity
Women coming from water insecure households were more likely to experience sextortion as well as to pay bribes in order to receive WASH services, highlighting that those experiencing water insecurity are vulnerable to the discretion of service provider officials. Overall, 23% of respondents live in water insecure households, but make up 43% of reported sextortion cases.
“Most of the women are helpless as they are not capable of giving big amounts of money as bribery to get the legal connection, so they are abused by the service providers.”
– Key Informant Interview, Korail (Dhaka North City Corporation)
Respondents who reported predominately relying on unprotected water sources (unprotected wells and springs, rainwater collection and/or surface water) were also disproportionately affected by sextortion incidents. Notably, none of the respondents that had direct access to WASH services in their homes reported being exposed to sextortion.
Another key aspect that contributed to respondents’ vulnerability to sextortion is their level of literacy, supporting previous research that demonstrates corruption’s potential to feed upon the consequences of illiteracy such as lack of resources, limited access to information and/or diminished power and voice. A majority of sextortion cases (72%) reported in this study affected either illiterate or partially literate women. Those women who are literate made up almost half the sample (48.9%) but accounted for only 28.3% of the reported sextortion cases.
Strengthening the response to sextortion
Much remains to be done to combat the issue of sextortion. Existing legal frameworks, including anti-corruption and SGBV legal frameworks, are largely inadequate at raising awareness and prosecuting the act, and very few countries have adopted or even discussed specific legislation to address the problem (Transparency International, 2022). Globally, significant shifts need to occur to confront the issue head-on through collective action: governments, sectoral institutions, communities and relevant authorities must all work together, first and foremost to make reporting of issues safer and to support victims, while addressing key risk factors.
Service providers must also play a proactive and practical role, leading the way for other stakeholders.
As one key informant stated, “water is a fundamental right and the service providers are responsible to ensure equal distribution of water for all. They need to change their mindset, as they hold the ultimate power and can demand anything in the exchange of service. They have to be taught to be accountable for their duty.”
Water service providers, operators, and vendors therefore should:
Recognise sextortion and other forms of sexual abuse as serious offenses for which there is zero tolerance;
Ensure that sextortion is incorporated in integrity policies and sanction catalogues;
Ensure that leadership, staff, contractors, and other organisational stakeholders are aware of the issue, understand the penalties for engaging in such behaviour, and know how to identify and report potential cases;
Conduct vetting procedures before appointing people to positions where they may abuse their power;
Introduce independent reporting mechanisms that assess the organisation’s capacity to eradicate and address instances of sextortion and/or sexual violence and abuse;
Raise awareness on the issue among water users and their right to report instances of sextortion in accessing water and sanitation services;
Put in place formal reporting and response mechanisms where individuals can report incidents freely, confidentially, and without discrimination;
Ensure that reported cases of sextortion and/or sexual abuse and violence are investigated in a timely manner by trustworthy and independent entities.
Experiencing sextortion and/or SGBV in accessing water and sanitation services has severe social, psychological, physical and economic implications. Some of the risk factors identified in the study indicate that more vulnerable groups are at increased risk for this gendered form of corruption. Further research on the topic is critical to raise awareness, to identify trends for where, how, and under what circumstances sextortion is occurring, and to hold service providers and decision makers accountable.
Integrity for small water supply systems in Africa and Latin America: successes, lessons learned, and challenges ahead
Small water supply systems play a key role in providing access to water in rural and peri-urban areas. Many of these systems are outside any centralised water network or state service provision scheme and they work thanks to volunteers and solidarity mechanisms for collective repairs or extensions of the service to unserved groups. As many of these systems are not formally recognised, they receive very little support to access credit or legally contract support services. However, they face significant operational challenges, such as ensuring appropriate water quality and timely maintenance, extending infrastructure, or securing land status.
In our Integrity Talk, partners explored different models for small water supply system management in Africa and Latin America and discussed their experiences of working with the Integrity Management Toolbox for Small Water Supply Systems (IMT-SWSS). This tool, initially developed by Caritas Switzerland and WIN for rural water supply systems in Kenya, links small system management committees with local stakeholders and duty bearers. It puts them in the driving seat to develop a step-by-step plan for service improvements, using governance and compliance tools as stepping stones for more sustainable service provision.
“The theme of integrity generates trust, and trust is what we need to reach the most vulnerable.”
– Elvia Arzate, Controla Tu Gobierno
Regularisation of small water systems, or at least formal dialogue with local government, can ensure there is at least more data on service levels from small systems, and, importantly, can ensure committees have access to more resources through grants and loans. However such regularisation is only possible when the legal framework recognises water committees and clearly defines responsibilities. It also requires trust from committees in local and national authorities.
Building trust and links between stakeholders, especially between committees and local authorities, contractors and duty bearers, is crucial for communities to gain access to formal resources and service and in some cases for communities to accept external interventions. Trust between committees and users is also essential to increase willingness to pay, support water conservation, and motivate for good service.
Integrity is the motor for trust through all its pillars: Transparency, Accountability, Participation, Anti-Corruption and Inclusion. Increasing transparency for example -on the funds available and how they are spent, or on water quality and tariffs- limits discretionary service. Acknowledging the contributions and know-how of local communities, especially indigenous communities, is also key. As is ensuring participation from communities, for example by adapting tools for low literacy and taking into account the schedules and time constraints of volunteers, especially women.
What is the role of the Water Services Regulatory Board of Kenya (WASREB) and how does it engage with small water supply system managers?
Peter Njaggah (WASREB): The Kenyan Constitution recognises the human rights to water and sanitation and these have been translated into national standards. Every citizen of Kenya is entitled without discrimination to water that is affordable, reliable, easily reachable, and of good quality. We also have a very strong water regulatory system providing clear rules and regulations to protect water resources and to control the quality of the service.
WASREB has set up a licencing system for any entity providing water services. We work in close cooperation with small system managers to ensure uniform standards, collect data to track the progressive realisation of the right to water, improve cost recovery, ensure that they do not operate in isolation, secure access to credit or resources, and create control systems to protect the right of consumers. In this way, we are able to promote integrity.
Why is important to regularise small systems? How do local communities perceive the process of regularisation?
Peter Njaggah (WASREB): There are over 7000 small water supply systems in Kenya that serve a large part of the population, but many of their management committees are not registered as legal entities and there is no data. Committees that are not registered generally cannot access credit or resources and this is problematic. For example, the national government created a special fund to help communities with small systems during COVID-19. Many could not get these funds because the water committees are informal. We see it as a form of discrimination.
To facilitate regularisation, according to our Water Act of 2016 we offer different licencing models to help small systems depending on their commercial viability. For those systems located in the service provision area of a formal water service provider, we offer four options: 1) The formal water supply provider takes over the system; 2) The formal water supply provider delegates responsibilities to a registered water user association that manages the system ; 3) A cluster of small system committees contract a private operator, with a contract with the formal water supply provider, and 4) the system committee has sufficient capacity to expand and become a formal water supply provider. For those systems that are not commercially viable and are located outside the service provision area of a formal water provider, we offer two options: 1) The County Government, with linkages to WASREB, establishes a contract with the small water supply system committee, or 2) The County Government contracts a private operator, to maintain service delivery standards.
“We create awareness to show the benefits of operating in a regularised way. Rather than forcing regularisation and the adoption of a particular option, we recognise the diversity of small systems and allow them to select the model that is better suited to them. In this way we limit resistance.”
– Peter Njaggah, WASREB
What is the importance of promoting integrity in investment programmes targeting small systems in Kenya?
Namarome Lukelesia (Water Sector Trust Fund): The role of the Water Sector Trust Fund is to provide grants to counties to assist the financing and development of water services in underserved areas. We have done the following to promote integrity in the management of our programmes and these grants: applied a project risk management tool, enhanced capacity of implementing agents, reduced ineligible costs by auditors, and developed a manual for project implementation with clear processes. Strengthening integrity in our operations has ensured continued support from international development partners (e.g., KfW, World Bank, IFAD, EU).
What are the main integrity risks you see related to investment programmes for small water supply systems?
Namarome Lukelesia (Water Sector Trust Fund): The main integrity risks are conflicts of interest occurring during the identification and implementation phase. In many cases, the identification of the project is politically motivated and in the implementation phase, there are many interested parties. Other issues include the limited capacities of implementing partners, poor compliance with laws and regulations, and activities being implemented outside the contract, leading to increasing costs.
To reduce integrity risks, we are investing in capacity building and we have created a project guidance tool with an internal and external audit checklist. We are recruiting officers at the county level, including engineers, and they have played a key role in enhancing accountability. We have also established a mechanism to ensure that grant recipients report back continuously to the Water Sector Trust Fund. With all these measures we aim to secure access to clean water and sanitation to at least 75% of Kenyans by 2030.
What are the opportunities related to applications of the Integrity Management for Small Water Supply Systems (IMT-SWSS)?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In Mexico there are at least 4000 small water supply systems in communities that have been historically marginalised. They face lack of infrastructure and poor access to training, technology, or financing. Controla Tu Gobierno has used the Integrity Management Toolbox for Small Water Supply Systems (IMT-SWSS) with partners and WIN since 2020, with seven small system water management committees (known as comités autónomos or comités comunitarios de agua).
The benefits for integrity and for the performance of the systems are numerous. For instance, some committees worked to set up differentiated tariffs for residential and commercial users. This facilitated the payment of debts to the Federal Committee of Electricity. Another example is improved communication with the community, which has encouraged community participation, generated trust, and promoted water conservation.
Girum Girma (Caritas Switzerland): The Government of Ethiopia has policies and, regulations for water supply in remote areas. One of them is the Ethiopian WaSH Implementation Framework (2013) that puts a clear focus on defining roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, including WASHCOs (community water supply systems in Ethiopia). However, the framework has limitations. Here is where the IMT-SWSS becomes very useful, especially in building capacity of WASHCOs to manage and operate their water system.
The tool, which is visual and didactic, and includes games, clear exercises and hands-on activities, was easy to apply in communities with low literacy levels, allowing for their active participation. The process has had positive results, notably that the IMT-SWSS has helped to create trust between users and management committees.
“The IMT-SWSS created favourable conditions to build trust between management committees and users. For example, we saw that people were willing to pay for operation and maintenance services when they were properly informed, trained, and motivated.”
– Girum Girma, Caritas Switzerland
What are the main integrity challenges small water supply systems face?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In Mexico, water committees face many problems. First, collective forms of water provision are not recognised in the National Water Law. Second, much of the work of the committees is performed voluntarily. Third, the development of megaprojects (e.g. airports) is preventing local communities from accessing water resources by altering land tenure rights. Fourth, it’s a challenge to carry the responsibility of securing water services in the face of natural phenomena such as water scarcity and erosion.
Girum Girma (Caritas Ethiopia): Small water system committees face several challenges. For example, maintenance costs are highly dependent on external finance, there is low state involvement and support for remote systems, and there is no transparency or exchange between committees and water officers or technicians. Building trust requires time.
What have we learned from communities for promoting integrity? What can we learn in particular from indigenous and autonomous communities?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In the beginning, it was not easy to start working with the IMT-SWSS. There was resistance and distrust because the committees did not know the work of WIN and Controla Tu Gobierno. The committees asked, “Why are they giving us something without asking anything in return? Why don’t they ask for money?” Once we got to know each other, we created trust and they recommended our work to other water committees. We have had to adapt to their necessities, timings, and traditions. This is a process of responsibility and mutual learning. We do not teach them, we share knowledge.
The committees managing water supply systems in indigenous or autonomous communities have existed for longer than the institutions supplying water at the state level. Autonomous communities have a strong respect for nature and common goods. They also have their own forms of community practices and collective work. This is a good starting point for us to learn about integrity.
Value is a critical concept in economics and philosophy. Economics is a discipline concerned with resource allocation informed by the value placed on alternative uses of those resources. In welfarist economics, value is taken as the strength of preference for a good or service (Brouwer et al., 2008). In that paradigm, strength of preference can be measured as the amount of money people are willing to pay (or accept) to have (or forgo) something. In other words, value is the benefit provided to an individual by something. Alternatives approaches to welfare economics exist, such as the capability approach (Sen, 1980), which focuses on individuals being able to achieve the kind of lives they “have reason to value”. In all approaches however, value is a relative concept in which some things are more valuable/important than others.
Whichever welfare economic paradigm is used, the concept of value is different to how it is used in philosophy to mean a principle or moral standard (Baker et al., 2021). In this post, I draw on the distinction between intrinsic and instrumental value in normative ethics. Something has instrumental value if it a means to an end (i.e. to achieve something else), and intrinsic value if it is desirable in and of itself (Weber, 1921).
Health has intrinsic value in that having less than full health brings disutility (e.g. being in pain, being depressed), but also in that “being healthy” is an important part of a good life regardless of utility.* However, health also has instrumental value in that it enables productive work or full enjoyment of family life (Table 1). Health therefore has both intrinsic and instrumental value. Health care, however, is a service (or commodity) which has only instrumental value through its ability to improve health. So demand for primary care (GP) appointments is a derived demand for health itself (Grossman, 1972).**
Instrumental value for:
Intrinsic value in:
enabling work, participation in family life
being healthy (mobile, not in pain/depressed etc.)
enabling time savings (for school/work/leisure) and prevented disease
being water secure (feeling safe / not worrying about water)
enabling time savings (for school/work/leisure) and prevented disease
being sanitation secure (feeling safe / not worrying about sanitation)
Table 1: instrumental and intrinsic aspects of value of health, water, and sanitation
I think water brings both intrinsic and instrumental value from the household perspective. Its instrumental aspects are more often emphasised, e.g. in preventing disease and enabling time savings. However, “being water secure” has intrinsic value in that since water is necessary for life, being water secure is part of being human. In addition, worrying about having enough water, or feeling unsafe in water collection, bring disutility (Table 1). Water supply is analogous to health care in being a service/commodity only of instrumental value through how it supports water security. The same thinking applies to sanitation (Jain and Subramanian, 2018). Sanitation services have instrumental value in the same way as water (Table 1), but sanitation security has intrinsic value (Caruso et al., 2017; O’Reilly, 2016).
In benefit-cost analysis (BCA) of sanitation and water interventions, it is usually the benefits of instrumental value which are quantified (e.g. time savings, avoided morbidity/mortality). In health BCAs, however, the value of health is regularly quantified in monetary terms, e.g. US$ (Robinson et al., 2019). For example, willingness to pay for a quality-adjusted life year (QALY), a regularly-used measure of the value of health, can be estimated as through methods such as contingent valuation (Bobinac et al., 2010). A review identified 24 QALY monetary valuation studies with a trimmed median of 24,000 Euros in 2010 prices (Ryen and Svensson, 2015). Such monetary valuations can be summed with other benefits in BCA, just as disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) have been for some water supply BCAs (Whittington et al., 2017). I have a pre-print in which I make the case for using a new “water-adjusted person year” to quantify the value of water for people’s quality of life (Ross, 2022). I think that capturing the monetary value of water security in such a way could better reflect the quality of life gains from water supply interventions in BCA, just as is done with the monetary value of QALYs.
*To illustrate, it is worth quoting Brouwer et al. (2008) in full: “Health is pursued and valued by policy makers for its own sake (and possibly because of its impact on productivity) rather than because it yields utility or merely to the extent that it yields utility. Although good health certainly also contributes to welfare and, for that matter, to opportunity for welfare, it is valuable in itself as an important characteristic of human beings. Indeed, especially in the context of health it has been claimed that utility is an unsuitable guide to policy, if only because a person may adjust his expectations to his condition.”
**Of course, health care may have intrinsic value for a small minority of people who appreciate their problems being listened to, regardless of health consequences (Ball et al., 2018).
The International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research (IAHR) Young Professionals Congress give young professionals, researchers and students the opportunity to present their work and access mentoring from leading global … Read more
Can an ambitious public-private partnership lead to the successful delegation of rural water supply management to small businesses for an entire country in sub-Saharan Africa? Benin offers a test case.
In a 2020 article, Dr. Rob Hope and collaborators in Oxford University’s REACH program described aspects of scale, demand, institutions, and finance that make rural water economics so fundamentally different (and more challenging) than urban water supply.
Recognition of these kinds of obstacles motivated the government of Benin to engage in a decade-long effort to first test and then scale a novel policy approach to delivering rural water supply services, with support and technical assistance from the World Bank. In this approach, known as regional affermage, the government assumes the capital costs for water infrastructure and formally delegates responsibility for the operation and maintenance of rural water supply services. Private sector contractors competitively bid to manage very large consolidated service areas. In Benin’s case, the rural areas are divided into three service areas of approximately three million inhabitants each.
Affermage contracts supplying large service areas were meant to address several of the challenges laid out in Hope’s article: “the economic logic of one supplier to avoid duplicating costs (storage, treatment, delivery, waste, billing, customer services) makes it a natural monopoly, which can reduce costs and raise standards for consumers, if properly regulated. Rural water at the community level lacks scale and provides a lower-quality service due to the physical time and effort required to collect water from off-site supplies, such as handpumps or kiosks.” Consolidating service areas should, in theory, increase economies of scale and pool risks (particularly financial risk).
The Benin regional affermages were also intended to “crowd in” commercial investment for rural water supply, using both development finance and public finance strategically to attract private sector financing. UDUMA is convinced that end-user tariffs for reliable, high-quality water supply can cover the costs of operating rural water supply systems (including the costs of capital maintenance) and even generate a modest return for investors. Importantly, the costs of capital are assumed by the government or by development finance via concessional loans or grants.
Thierry and Mikael describe what led to the creation of UDUMA — a rural water service provider — out of Vergnet Hydro, a company that manufacturers and supplies pumping and conveyance hardware. Initial pilot efforts in Burkina Faso offered evidence for the potential of private sector models for rural water supply system operation (again, conditioned on co-investment by government or development institutions). Incorporation of UDUMA as a service provider followed, with expansion first into Mali and now Benin.
Just getting to the contracting stage represents years of legal and institutional reforms in Benin, the culmination of which was the competition for the three contracts and resulting awards. The contracts are only now being finalized, but over the coming years, the financial performance of UDUMA’s consortium (as well as another consortium led by Tunisia’s SONEDE International) and the operational performance of the hundreds of water supply systems for which they are responsible will provide an indication of if and how these regional affermages can bring reliable water supply to Benin’s rural communities.
The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 is the only United Nations official report that monitors global progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This annual report is prepared by … Read more
Challenge 1: All over the world, including in India, transgender individuals are targets of discrimination and often lack legal recognition of their gender identity and access to essential services such as education, employment, as well as safe and stigma-free health care.
Challenge 2: In India, stress on water and sanitation services is growing, with more than 60 percent of India’s population currently living in urban areas and a rapidly increasing urban population.
Challenge 3: Sanitation workers and urban poor communities face the most severe consequences of poor sanitation. Less than fifty percent of India’s urban population has access to safe sanitation and sewage treatment services, and virtually no urban communities have a reliable, clean water supply.
To address these challenges, in India, USAID’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs increase access to safe water and sanitation, improve public sanitation services, train skilled professionals on septage management, and increase access to safe drinking water and sanitation services for India’s poor and underserved communities. Ultimately, this work results in improved livelihoods and better health for urban communities.
Throughout its work in WASH and other sectors, USAID values and promotes inclusion. USAID India promotes community-managed sanitation infrastructure, which fosters both ownership and sustainability. Engaging populations in vulnerable situations through livelihood opportunities within the sanitation sector is crucial for their empowerment and progress.USAID promotes the rights and inclusion of marginalized and underrepresented populations in the development process, including indigenous and tribal peoples, LGBTQI+ people, women and girls, scheduled castes, persons with disabilities, and youth.
For example, in 2021, USAID partnered with India’s WASH Institute, the Odisha state government, and the Odisha Water Academy to provide skills training for local self help groups formed in the community to address local issues in more than 1,000 cities and towns to learn how to operate and manage fecal sludge treatment plants. Importantly, the program targeted youth, women, and transgender individuals.
The transgender groups were considered during the COVID-19 lockdowns given many transgender individuals had lost their earnings from working at bus stands and railway stations as travel in the country was curbed. In August 2021, USAID trained more than 30 members of the “Bahuchara Mata Transgender Self Help Group” to develop their leadership skills and technical skills in fecal sludge treatment, disposal of treated wastewater, reuse of sludge for agriculture, and monitoring the quantity and quality of effluent. Thanks to the training, the State Government of Odisha deployed the team to operate the Pratapnagari Water Treatment Plant of the Water Corporation of Odisha (WATCO) in Cuttack.
The operation and management of fecal sludge treatment plants by the self help groups supporting transgender individuals was a watershed moment. These efforts not only empowered a population that routinely encounters socio-economic exclusion, they also helped created a template for strengthened approaches to sanitation elsewhere in the country.
These efforts boosted the confidence and dignity of the group who are now looked upon more highly as role models in their community. Thanushree, a training graduate and head of the self help group, said that members stopped begging in public places during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to lockdowns. The training helped participants to get jobs and earn a monthly salary of approximately 14,000 to 15,000 INR ($177-$189). “We use this as an opportunity to educate ourselves and move on to better things,” shared Thanushree. Additionally, because the training program imparts knowledge about government benefits, some members of the group were able to get government-issued cards allowing them access to free and subsidized food for low-income citizens.
Notably, the engagement of transgender people in the operation and maintenance of fecal sludge treatment plants became a country-wide best practice when the Bahuchara Mata Transgender Self-Help Group received the ISC — FICCI Sanitation Award 2021 for its outstanding work in fecal sludge management.
Importantly, this initiative provides a model for expansion, and is inspiring other towns to adopt similar methods. As of June 2022, the state of Odisha has established 104 fecal sludge treatment plants, with more than 32,000 existing self help groups for youth, LGBTQI+ persons, and others, across 111 towns and cities, community engagement for operation and maintenance of sanitation facilities holds enormous potential.
Expressing a strong commitment to promoting a world in which all people are treated with respect and dignity,Mark Tegenfeldt, Director, General Development Office, USAID/India said, “Transgender individuals and other gender minorities exist in every society and culture around the world, and throughout history, and their accomplishments and contributions are wide ranging and impressive. Despite facing unique challenges and adversity on the basis of personal identity and expression, it is heartening to see transgender people and communities coming forward on this WASH initiative.”
USAID has supported WASH programs in India for decades, beginning in the 1990s and continuing today. For example, USAID supported the Government of India to achieve its goal of becoming open defecation-free by 2019 by helping to improve sanitation services throughout the country. In 2020, as a result of USAID’s joint work with the Government of India, more than 573,000 people gained access to sustainable basic sanitation services, which was even more critical amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated existing challenges.
To advance locally-led development initiatives, USAID supports the Government of India’s flagship programs, Swachh Bharat Urban Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, and Jal Jeevan, to improve the provision of safe water services and move the country toward sustainable sanitation standards. USAID’s work with the Government of India has also helped leverage the strengths of the private sector, bringing in their expertise and resources to achieve improved quality assurance, governance, finance (approximately 4 million USD in 2020), operations and maintenance of essential services. This support has been critical as India moves beyond ensuring basic sanitation to providing sustainable and holistic household access to clean drinking water and sanitation, and addressing water pollution.
By RK Srinivasan, USAID/India Water and Sanitation Project Management Specialist
A new technical guide from the secretariats of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) addresses the integration … Read more
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has released A rapid review of effective financing for policy, implementation and partnerships addressing drought risks. The report presents an … Read more
Summary: the severity of climate impacts on WASH services is uncertain. “Low-regrets” investments or interventions are those which generate net economic benefits under a range of the most plausible scenarios of climate impact severity. The concept is explored in Figure 1, which illustrates relationships between net benefits and the severity of climate impacts for different types of high/low/no-regrets options. It is also important to explore non-climate uncertainty, ideally in a probabilistic way.
Uncertainty is when we have imperfect information about variables in the present or the future. Even though the effects of climate change are increasingly upon us already, the scale and nature of their economic impacts remain uncertain (Burke et al., 2015). The further into the future the projection, the more this uncertainty increases (IPCC, 2022), because: (i) many variables interact in determining climate impacts; (ii) we can (and must) reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the worst impacts, and any effect of those actions is also uncertain.
The higher levels of water and sanitation services sought by SDG 6 are characterised by infrastructure assets with useful lives of 20-50 years or more (Hutton and Varughese, 2016). It is particularly important to characterise the vulnerability of such long-lived infrastructure to climate risks, especially since retro-fitting can be more expensive than designing for uncertainty upfront (Chester et al., 2020). I go into some of the climate risks to WASH services in this post.
Benefit-cost analysis (BCA) is the most commonly-used economic evaluation method for appraising WASH investments [a short introductory paragraph on BCA is below this post]*. In appraisal of interventions for adaptation or resilience, “no regrets” interventions are those which generate net benefits under all future climate/impact scenarios (Heltberg et al., 2009). A more achievable principle, endorsed by the IPCC (2012), may be aiming at least for “low”-regrets interventions. These are interventions which generate net benefits under a range of the most plausible scenarios. However, they also account for the risk that we might “regret” additional investment in adaptation/resilience if climate impacts are not as bad as expected. No-regrets options would be first choice, and often they will be available. However, low-regrets options may be important if adaptation/resilience increases costs substantially in relation to benefits in a “no climate change” scenario.
Low-regrets thinking has been applied in identifying opportunities for short/medium-term climate risk reduction within development interventions (Conway and Schipper, 2011). Identifying low-regrets options can also help reduce the risk of maladaptation (Barnett and O’Neill, 2010). This line of thinking can be applied whether what is being evaluated is a whole new investment in WASH services, or options for adapting/upgrading existing WASH services.
A few years ago, I was part of a three-country study looking at risk assessment and economic appraisal for adaptation to climate change in WASH (Oates et al., 2014). In making the economic arguments, we used a diagram which I’ve simplified here (Figure 1), and which I think Kit Nicholson came up with. The x-axis plots the severity of climate impacts (broadly defined) as an uncertain continuous variable. The y-axis plots the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) [see explanation at bottom]* of intervention options. The threshold where benefits equal costs on average over the time horizon (e.g. 20 years) is shown as “1”. In simple terms, we want to be above the green band, but we don’t know where we’ll be on the x-axis.
Plenty of WASH infrastructure constructed in recent decades might be climate risky (blue line A), i.e. in the absence of climate impacts it looks economically attractive, but as climate impacts worsen then BCR<1. Designing for the worst-case scenario may result in investments which are high regrets (orange line B), i.e. over-designed such that climate impacts have to be very severe before BCR>1. No-regrets options (both green lines C) are any interventions for which BCR>1 regardless the severity of climate impacts. Low-regrets options (yellow line D) may have BCR slightly below 1 when climate impacts are small, but gradually appear more attractive as climate impacts worsen. Low-regrets options need not necessarily have BCR<1 in the case of “no climate change”, but at least they would need to have lower BCR in that scenario than an option without investment in adaptation/resilience. While BCAs often present decisions as “doing something” versus “doing nothing”, this framework aims to account for the fact that in the real world there are usually multiple options under consideration.
A simplified WASH example can help illustrate. A team is planning a piped water supply with a treatment plant fed by a river intake, and the risk is identified that turbulent flows resulting from an extreme weather event may damage the intake. A “climate-risky” option might be to design the intake to withstand a flood of a given height with a 25-year return period, which is fairly likely to be exceeded within the useful life of the infrastructure. A “high-regrets” option might be to design for a 200-year return period, which would be more expensive, but increasingly worth doing as the probability of climate change-induced floods increases (Figure 1). A low-regrets option might be somewhere in-between. The reality is more complex than this, and there are many specific options within this scenario, related to, e.g. overflows, intake design, floating booms, early warning systems, etc. (Howard and Bartram, 2010).
There are some qualifications to make regarding this way of framing adaptation options. First, this framework does not make value judgements, e.g. high-regrets options are not necessarily a bad idea. However, since all investments have an opportunity cost (i.e. resources are scarce), high-regrets options may be less desirable from an equity perspective, because more people in a given year could be provided with WASH services under a low-regrets option. Second, while I often refer to these interventions as “adaptation options”, many might comprise what we should be doing anyway given existing climate variability, and the need to be resilient to risks other than the climate.
Third, many non-climate parameters in BCAs are also uncertain (e.g. costs, health effects, uptake, maintenance etc.), but this framework puts the focus on uncertainty about climate impacts. Bands incorporating uncertainty of many other parameters may therefore be more appropriate than lines. The low-regrets option from Figure 1 could be assessed in a probabilistic sensitivity analysis (PSA) per climate scenario. Such a PSA would posit plausible probability distributions for key parameters (Briggs, 2000), then run a Monte Carlo simulation with (say) 1,000 iterations. An uncertainty interval could then be posited by graphing the range of the middle 95% of iterations within a band, such as in Figure 2. This line of thinking is the main thing that is new in this post, as compared to the 2014 work (Oates et al., 2014).
Fourth, one challenge in undertaking such analyses is that, due to “deep uncertainty” in the context of climate change, it is hard to ascribe probabilities to many key variables (Hallegatte et al., 2012). Nonetheless, a Bayesian approach to uncertainty requires that the analyst makes their best estimate at the shapes of probability distributions (Briggs, 1999). Simply leaving variables out of the analysis, or not doing a PSA at all, is the same as assuming they are known with certainty. Assuming a uniform distribution for a given parameter only makes sense if the aim is to explore possible heterogeneity across settings, rather than estimating a realistic mean and uncertainty interval to inform a specific decision in a given setting. Expert opinion, tested in scenario analysis alongside the PSA, is therefore likely to play an important role. Fifth, in the real world, the “severity of climate impacts” is not a single continuous variable as in Figures 1 and 2. The IPCC provides multiple projections, and practically it would make sense to undertake scenario analysis using those.
In conclusion, I suggest that appraisal of investments in WASH infrastructure adaptation or resilience can be informed by a “regrets” perspective focused on climate uncertainty (Figure 1), but also taking account of uncertainty of non-climate parameters (Figure 2). Low-regrets options are those which generate net economic benefits under a range of the most plausible scenarios of climate impact severity.
*BCA combines all the consequences of an intervention (e.g. saved time, reduced disease, quality of life gained) and places a monetary (e.g. US$) value on them. These monetised benefits are then compared to the costs of an intervention over time, with discounting. Metrics for comparing options include the net present value (=benefits–costs) or the benefit-cost ratio (=benefits/costs). The benefit-cost ratio (BCR) is often communicated in terms of US$ X economic returns on US$ 1 invested. If the BCR is greater than 1 (the clearing rate or threshold) then the intervention has net benefits, and if less than 1 it does not. Benefit-cost ratios of different intervention options can be compared to assess their relative efficiency, although other factors should be taken into consideration (equity, feasibility, relative size of net benefits, etc.)
The World Health Organization (WHO) have issued a statement on menstrual health and rights during the recent 50th session of the Human Rights Council panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, … Read more
The World Bank’s new report – Seeing the Invisible: A Strategic Report on Groundwater Quality – describes why, and how, groundwater quality is vital to human health, agriculture, industry and … Read more