Fixing the sector, not just the pump; a systemic intervention in Malawi’s WASH sector

by | Jun 6, 2013

In 2013, Aguaconsult with inputs from Engineers Without Borders (Canada) Malawi team, produced a case study as part of the ”Case Studies For Change series on interventions into Malawi”s WASH sector.This case study describes how EWB promotes sustainable rural WASH services in Malawi.EWB believes that the failure of the Malawi WASH sector to attain sustainable service is due to project-oriented thinking. Districts limited time and resources are often diverted into off-budget, NGO-driven interventions; as a result, district staff tend to act only when donor money is available, and they have little incentive to engage directly with communities to analyse local problems and develop effective responses that can be implemented with the limited resources available.EWB is working to shift the focus from projects to service delivery. Its staff have built close relationships with districts, national ministries, and major NGOs and development partners. EWB field staff learn the local language, live in the community, and get to know local government workers as individuals. Thus they come to understand the day-to-day incentives, challenges, and opportunities that drive their behaviour. EWBOs vision: The rural WASH sector shifts from a projectoriented to a service-oriented approach by thinking critically, learning, and innovating. Once service-oriented thinking is embedded, EWB believes, the sector will find more sustainable and efficient ways of operating.The key findings of this case study are:Donor and NGO-driven projects can distort incentives and discourage district-led solutions.Solutions developed with project money and resources are only sustainable and scalable if they reflect the low-resource reality of districts post-project.Sector learning mechanisms can be invaluable for bringing district realities to the attention of policy makers, but only if sector policy forums are designed around learning from district experience.Developing relationships with actors and understanding their constraints and incentives are fundamental to being a successful change agent.NGOs and donors can contribute to developing a stronger sector capable of delivering sustainable services at scalenif they take a systemic approach that builds on the sectors strengths and helps address its weaknesses. This kind of systemic change takes time and sustained investment.

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