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  • Bill Twyman

Aguaconsult Newsletter Autumn 2020

Ten Years to Reach the Sustainable Development Goal Six Targets – reinforcing the case to build strong WASH systems!

December 2020 marks ten years until the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are supposed to be achieved. SDG Six embodies our global commitment to ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation services for all by 2030. Despite progress made in recent years, 2.2 billion people still do not have a safely managed drinking water service, 4.2 billion do not have safely managed sanitation services and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has – more than any other event in recent history – highlighted the critical importance of WASH and the terrible impact not accessing these services has on billions of people worldwide. It goes without saying that safe water supply and sanitation services, along with hygienic practices, are a vital first line of defence to limit COVID-19’s spread and protect human health. In short, WASH is the best Personal Protective Equipment there is. COVID-19 has also put an enormous strain on the community service providers, utilities, private sector actors and governments responsible for ensuring and delivering WASH services. Put bluntly, COVID-19 not only draws our attention to the need to improve WASH services, it also demonstrates the importance of viable and robust WASH systems in the first place and the need for us all to re-double our efforts in supporting and strengthening them.  

Those of you familiar with Aguaconsult know we are committed to increasing the sustainability and scale of WASH services through strengthening WASH systems in all our work. The upcoming milestone of ten years to attain the SDGs – along with the stark reality check provided by COVID-19 – has caused us all at Aguaconsult to reflect on how much progress is needed in the next decade to support resilient WASH systems.

My name is Bill Twyman. I began working with Aguaconsult back in June 2018 as an associate and have been a permanent member of the team since January 2020. In this newsletter, I detail the work Aguaconsult has been doing in 2020 to strengthen WASH systems and, ultimately, support continued progress towards the SDG Six targets. This includes our continued support for implementing and upscaling large WASH systems strengthening programmes, alongside efforts to improve planning and budgeting processes to ensure the more effective and equitable utilisation of resources. It also includes work on increasing resilience and the application of systems strengthening approaches in fragile contexts, as well as helping to understand often neglected political economy factors. Throughout this newsletter, I provide my reflections, along with those of my colleagues, on some of the wider changes and developments in the WASH sector that will need to be accelerated in the coming years if we are to ensure that the SDG Six targets are met.



Systems strengthening approaches to WASH are increasingly common currency in the language of donors, national governments and international and local NGOs. However, knowledge gaps remain – especially at the practitioner level – around how to design and implement these approaches. Over the last year, Aguaconsult has continued to provide technical assistance and lead research on large multi-country systems strengthening programmes. Particularly interesting features of our work in this area include an increased focused on the strengthening of market-based actors as valuable permanent components of WASH systems, as well as systems strengthening in fragile contexts.

Supporting Welthungerhilfe with the upscaling of their Sustainable Service Initiative. Since late 2017, we have been providing ongoing technical assistance to the German NGO Welthungerhilfe with its global Sustainable Services Initiative, which takes a system strengthening approach to increasing the sustainability and scale of WASH services. This initiative has been applied in Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, Somaliland, Ethiopia and Malawi since its inception and, based on promising results, is now in the process of being upscaled to five further countries (India, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Zimbabwe) as part of a large four-year multi-country programme funded by BMZ. We have been supporting this process through conducting feasibility studies for the planned activities in each country, as well as supporting the overall design of the global programme.

Sustainable WASH Systems Learning. As rural water supply coverage rates increase in many countries, attention is increasingly focused on finding effective ways to ensure this initial access is sustained over time, including maintenance of schemes. Aguaconsult is providing support to the USAID-funded Sustainable WASH Systems (SWS) Learning Partnership in assessing evidence from a number of alternative approaches to providing professionalised maintenance, often involving the aggregation of water supply schemes under larger, geographically based arrangements with professional providers.  We have developed insights into these maintenance approaches, which seek to pool risk, some of which can deliver high levels of performance (e.g., mid-90% average functionality rates and repair times of less than three or four days), which are far better than conventional community-management approaches.  But most still operate at a relatively small scale and require significant subsidies, often provided by development aid, to bridge the gap between service revenue and overall operating costs. 

At this year’s virtual UNC Water and Health Conference, we co-hosted a session exploring this topic and asked what it will take for governments and their development partners to support the establishment, financing and expansion of such professionalised maintenance providers?  We heard from governments, regulators, and donors working in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda as they work to strengthen the national and local systems that can help us tackle the water supply maintenance challenge. Read the session brief here and watch the session highlights.



Even before COVID-19, there was a huge financing gap between the available resources and those required to meet SDG Six – the World Bank estimates that achieving the SDG Six targets will cost some US$ 28.4  billion a year up until 2030 just to build new infrastructure, and a further US$ 87 billion for safe management and long-term maintenance. Ensuring the effective use of resources will be key to maximising progress towards the SDG Six targets, and especially for ensuring WASH service provision is equitable and caters to the needs of marginalised groups. At Aguaconsult, we continue to provide substantive support for planning and budgeting processes by developing and piloting new tools and supporting district (or equivalent) WASH planning processes.  

Supporting the development and application of the Citywide Inclusive Sanitation Services Assessment and Planning tool. Aguaconsult, in collaboration with Athena Infonomics and the  Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation Regulators Association, has provided ongoing advisory support for the. This tool helps decision-makers compare the outcomes of different sanitation interventions or investments based on equity, financial sustainability and safety criteria. Learning briefs providing an overview of CWIS SAP and examples of its use can be viewed here.

Supporting the inclusion of sanitation and hygiene into district WASH planning in Rwanda. As a founder and active member of the Agenda for Change initiative, Aguaconsult provides technical support to its members. Reflecting the need to put more emphasis on the sanitation and hygiene sub-sectors that have historically been under-represented, Aguaconsult is developing guidance documents in Rwanda and globally, to incorporate sanitation and hygiene into the district WASH planning process and broader approach to system strengthening. Guidance documents are currently under development.


Development of the Sanitation Roadmap. Agenda for Change developed a district-level roadmap for universal access to sustainable WASH services in 2017. Although the roadmap relates to water, sanitation and hygiene services at large, the historic focus of Agenda for Change has been on water, largely in rural areas. The existing roadmap reflects this focus. However, with less than ten years left to reach SDG target 6.2 on ensuring universal access to sanitation and hygiene services and 4.2 billion people still lacking access to basic sanitation facilities and 673 million still practicing open defecation, Agenda for Change members have decided to produce an updated roadmap reflecting this focus on sanitation (and, to a lesser extent, hygiene). Aguaconsult is leading this process. The document will complement the existing WASH roadmap by presenting stepwise guidance and available tools specifically related to sanitation and hygiene services.



WASH systems strengthening is vital not only to help ensure sustainable services at scale but also to increase actors’ resilience to ongoing stresses and shocks. Indeed, COVID-19 highlights the importance of strengthening  resilience in all contexts. There is also a need to expand and adapt systems strengthening approaches to fragile contexts, where shorter-term approaches are often implemented for extended periods.

Climate Resilient Urban Sanitation. The linkages between water and climate change are well documented; however, there is much more to be done on the linkages between sanitation and climate change. In September Aguaconsult started a consultancy launched by GIZ and Resilience Cities Network to improve the understanding of the interlinkages between climate change and urban sanitation systems, as well as climate change’s critical impact on urban resilience. The research will include brief case studies of four cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The team at Aguaconsult is excited to be doing more of this critical work in the in the area of climate change resilience and mitigation.

Systems Strengthening in Fragile Contexts. Fragile states are often the countries struggling most to keep on track towards SDG Six. And indeed, failing to find effective means to improve the sustainability of WASH services in fragile contexts will likely mean our collective failure to meet SDG Six globally. Aguaconsult recently collaborated with several organisations and led in the development of a paper on systems strengthening in fragile settings, which incorporates case studies from a wide range of organisations. The discussion paper is intended  to deepen sector thinking and dialogue on applying WASH systems approaches in fragile contexts and more broadly in integrating aspects of resilience into systems thinking. The paper can be accessed here.



We continue to learn more about how WASH systems function. As we do so, it is increasingly clear that an understanding of the formal and informal inter-relationships between people, political and financial institutions, laws, private companies, technologies, markets and regulations (actors and factors) is key to diagnostic assessments and arriving at effective solutions, based on collective efforts. In 2020, we have conducted two particularly interesting studies in this area.

Study on Linking Data to Decision-Making in the Water and Sanitation Sector for the Osprey Foundation. Aguaconsult is conducting research for the Osprey Foundation to better understand data’s complex role in decision-making in the water and sanitation sector. The first phase of the research has focused on identifying existing conceptual frameworks that describe the link between data and decision-making and investigating six “data initiatives” centred on data production, collation, or presentation. The second phase of the research will focus on testing the conceptual framework by assessing the role played by data in a number of key water and sanitation-related decision scenarios. For details of this on-going study contact Harold Lockwood.


Corruption and Integrity Issues in Lusaka’s Urban Sanitation Sector. This research study conducted in collaboration with Ison Simbeye for the Water Integrity Network provides a comprehensive overview of the regulatory framework for urban sanitation in Lusaka. This sector has undergone substantive reforms in recent years and offers an exciting blueprint for regulating off-site sanitation services. The study details a variety of alleged instances of corruption and integrity failures (i.e., corruption in public financial management, corruption at the citizen-institution interface) and links these to weaknesses in the regulatory framework that provide the space for these abuses of power to occur. Several recommendations are detailed for further strengthening urban sanitation regulation in Lusaka. The report is not yet published but is expected to be released in coordination with the Water Integrity Global Outlook 2021.



A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR. Twenty-twenty has proven to be a turbulent and disruptive year for the whole world and none less so here at Aguaconsult. Because of the sudden brake on all travel and the slowdown of contracting due to Covid-19 we have sadly had to say goodbye to Nic Jones who worked on the administrative team. Nic is now devoting more time to her burgeoning pottery business here in Wivenhoe, so please check out Clayshape. During the lockdown period Will Tillett took the opportunity to consider some new directions and has taken up a post as global advisor at United Purpose; Will continues to provide limited TA support to existing clients as an Aguaconsult associate. Finally, we are also sad to say goodbye to Delia Sánchez Trancón who is moving to Paris to take up an exciting new role at the OECD. Delia started with us as an intern in early 2016 and worked out so well that she joined us a year later. We wish Delia every success in her new position and hope to see her again in future at the Wivenhoe office.

On brighter news, our dear colleague Julia Boulenouar has gone on maternity leave and is expecting a new arrival in early December, so we are all wishing her well and looking forward to meeting her expanded family.

We are also very happy to announce the imminent arrival of a new staff member, Elise Jabagi, who will join us in early 2021. Elise is an environmental engineer and a recent graduate of the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been working with SIAPP, the Greater Paris Sanitation Authority. Prior to her time in France, Elise worked with Action Against Hunger as a WASH programme manager in Lebanon. We are looking forward to having Elise join our team and are excited to introduce her to our clients, partners and associates.


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