External funding for WASH in Schools does not necessarily undermine national & local commitment

Updated - Wednesday 17 October 2012

A narrow majority of participants in an e-debate did not think that external funding for WASH in Schools undermines national and local commitment. From 1 - 12 October 2012, 15 participants discussed the issue of external funding in the second of three e-debates inspired by questions asked during the implementation of the SWASH+ Project, an action-research school WASH project in Kenya.

There were some interesting points that came out and the discussion ended with a score of seven that agreed that external funding for WASH in Schools undermines national and local commitment, while eight disagreed with the statement. In terms of fundamental points that came out, the following key points have been cited.

Yes, we do agree

  • The responsibility to finance and maintain school WASH services is often complex and spread across a wide range of stakeholders from educational and health sectors, community organizations and district and national government. In this context the major challenge to donors is ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and that key stakeholders are committed and accountable to users. Putting infrastructure in place is the easy bit
  • Direct donor financing may deliver infrastructure and short term gains in childhood welfare, however for these benefits to be sustained donors must seek to generate and reinforce the commitment of government stakeholders by ensuring that the project is aligned with government strategies, that there is local ownership of the projects, with clear avenues of responsibility and accountability defined after the donor withdraws.
  • The challenge for many of the organizations, especially NGOs, now in the position of directly delivering WASH in schools services (and who shouldn't be) is how can we position ourselves as learners, influencers and advocates?
  • Many donors are currently more interested in funding direct service delivery; we have to learn to say, “no,” or even better, “here’s how your funds could have more influence”.  It is cheaper to do this kind of work—mainly staff and some research costs with limited to no hardware—so there will be less funding flowing through NGOs. The skill sets needed are different. We really do need to think about systems and the best place (if any) for external activities and/or funds to leverage changes.
  • We really need change in the way we work, talk to donors and the staff we have on board will be daunting to most. There are a number of issues that have to be brought up with those responsible for sanitation (not only toilets) on schools.
    • Sanitation facilities at school do not have to all look alike. There is a need for benchmarking and gradual progress to allow communities, school administrations and governments to improve school sanitation without being scared of  standards of external donors or rigid engineers
    • experience shows that in most school students pee more than using the toilet for poo. Urinals are easier to clean and less expensive to construct. Nevertheless, you will find few  schools with separate and relatively more urinals
    • school sanitation programs should first of all been targeted at people who  are building schools. It is simply unbelievable that schools are built without sanitation facilities
    • in most places parents and communities are proud to send their children to school and contribute to the success of the school. Experience shows that through donations, sponsoring, activities and saving schemes people can and do take initiatives to mobilize local financial resources to improve school sanitation
    • In principle effective delivery of WASH interventions to achieve expected outcomes depends on the synergy of the three levels: local, national and international. We need the local level commitment and whatever locally available resources, we need national level political, policy and budgetary commitment for going-to-scale and the international support to keep re-igniting the national commitments and linking to the international commitments

No, we do not agree

  • Direct funding should always be leveraged in such a way that it goes beyond serving the target schools and communities. Externally-funded projects should be designed to serve as models to demonstrate successful new approaches and principles (or even to demonstrate what doesn’t work)
  • External funding in most areas where WASH programs are needed most, has been the saving grace. If we really want to save our future generation and leaders, direct delivery of school WASH services should be prioritized for now
  • External funding as it is seen (by both local and national Government) is just a support to complement the effort of Government or local districts. External support has helped the Government to extend services and provision of WASH facilities to deprived and unreached local districts and communities
  • When used strategically, external financing can strengthen national and local commitment, rather than undermine it: (1) external donors should ensure they are “minor stakeholders” when it comes to financing direct delivery of WASH in schools projects. Securing the bulk of finance (>50%) must remain the responsibility of (local) government and school authorities. This way they remain accountable and cannot pass on responsibility to donors when projects don’t deliver; (2) donors should focus more on building the capacities of local stakeholders to live up to their commitments; (3) donors and local stakeholders should sign up to some form of (financial and institutional) sustainability clause. This would include an agreement to implement a transparent system to monitor the commitments of all stakeholders
  • As long as the 'on-ground' stakeholders don’t feel a sense of belonging during the implementation of a given project, even when the project ends, they cannot easily intervene to ensure sustainability of such services

One of the participants in the e-debate made a wonderful summary statement noting “It is difficult to place oneself on the yes or no side of this argument. In an ideal situation – that most of us are striving for – school WASH would be provided by governments. This is the end game, but we are clearly not there yet.”

View all of the contributions to the e-debate on ircwash.createdebate.com

Tags: funding


Sanitation on the other side of the wall

A passionate school teacher took the lead in making his school a model in sanitation. However, the ground in front of the school is an open defecation area. This is the case at the government primary school in Madanpur Khadar, a resettlement colony on the periphery of Delhi. The school headmaster, Shamin Ahmed, with the support from a local NGO, CASP Plan (a Program Unit of Plan India), has made tremendous efforts towards improving the water and sanitation conditions in the school, which had very challenging circumstances. The headmaster has been proactive in mobilizing funds to make school toilets functional and water accessible to the children and taught them hygiene practices.

Ironically, while the efforts inside the school are towards a sanitized environment, the school boundary wall on the outside is used by the community members for open defecation.

Sanitation on the other side of the wall