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Catarina Fonseca, Head of International and Innovation Programme at IRC

Editor’s Note: This post is authored by Catarina Fonseca, Head of International and Innovation Programme at IRC. In her post, Catarina discusses different measures that aim to assess the affordability of WASH services, and ultimately, increase access. She highlights research that has been done on this topic and identifies several practical issues that make measuring and comparing affordability in WASH a difficult endeavor. The post originally appeared here on the IRC blog.

What happens when people cannot pay for water and sanitation services? Mostly, we hear about women and girls in low income countries and how they access polluted water from ponds, rivers or hand dug wells. This week, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (USA) made it to international news for disconnecting water services at a rate of 3.000 customers per week, in an area with high rates of poverty and unemployment.

The right to water is defined as "the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses." Affordability to households means the ability of households to spend on water and sanitation without reducing their well-being. It assumes that households have an income in the first place, of which they have to pay a part for accessing water or sanitation. Ultimately, the responsibility towards affordability rests with service authorities or with regulators, but measuring affordability is crucial for service providers to avoid budgeting based on tariffs or payment modalities that households cannot afford. Or, if tariffs are to be above the means of consumers, the poorer consumers need to be protected by other social mechanisms.

The existing literature on the topic is limited and related mostly to the percentage of overall household budget spent on water and sanitation services that is considered affordable. The most quoted amount is the 3 to 5 percent of household expenditure as an affordability rule.1 2 3 It has been recognised by, amongst others, the World Bank, UNDP, the Asian Development Bank and DFID that setting these percentages has been an arbitrary process but that, as an initial tool, they can provide a rule of thumb.4 5 It has also been proposed that the poor should not pay more than three times in relative terms what the average user pays.6

In many countries in the World, water and sanitation come at a higher financial cost to poor households than the 3 to 5 percent of their income. Smets has conducted a study on affordability in high, middle and lower income countries.7  Countries with low-income populations spending a high proportion of their income on water and sanitation services include Burkina Faso (29% of income of poorest of the population), Poland (10.8% for the poorest), United Kingdom (2% of households spend more than 8% of income). Several countries have measures in place to limit the financial impact of increased water pricing on the most vulnerable groups of the population.8  These measures include among others large subsidies, reduced VAT, social tariffs, targeted assistance, no disconnection, unmetered water and income support. For an overview per country see Water Academy.9

While policies exist and have been tested to mitigate affordability issues, measuring and comparing affordability has several practical problems. Firstly, there is a need to collect household expenditure specifically for water and sanitation. This includes, depending on the context, the expenditure on construction and on maintenance, purchase of bottled water, the tariff, etc. Only capturing the tariffs, as is common, fails to acknowledge all the costs incurred by the poorest with non-networked services, and these families are the ones that are supposed to be targeted by affordability mitigation policies.

Secondly, it is required to collect household total expenditure in order to calculate the expenditure on water and sanitation relatively to households available income. This is a known lengthy, costly and cumbersome process. An alternative cheaper proxy commonly used is to collect reported income.

Once income or expenditure data are collected from households, an appropriate maximum percentage of expenditure which is considered affordable (for example based on the 3-5%), needs to be defined and matched with what is a minimum level of service that is considered acceptable. But who is to judge? Who is to decide what the word "appropriate" means in each case?

Affordability measurements are difficult to collect and to measure. However, used in combination with other service level indicators (understanding for instance, if it is the money or the quality of the service that are preventing people to pay) it has the potential to be useful to measure progressive realisation towards reducing the proportion of those that do not have access because water and sanitation services are really not affordable to them. It is unclear from the case of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department who is actually responsible for ensuring that consumers are not excluded and where has the system failed to ensure mitigation measures.

1 Damme, H., Hans M.G.and White, A., 1984. Technology Choices for the Decade. In Water and Sanitation. Academic Press, pp. 151–172.  

2 Mcphail, A. & Bank, T.W., 1993. The "Five Percent Rule" For Improved Water Service : Can Households Afford More? World Development, 21(6), pp.963–973.

3 Saunders, R.J. & Warford, J.J., 1976. Village water supply. Economics and policy in the developing world. Washington, D.C.: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

4 Briscoe, J., 1999. The Changing Face of Water Infrastructure Financing in Developing Countries. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 15(3), pp.301–308.

5 Waughray, D. & Moran, D., 2003. Cost Recovery in Water and Sanitation Projects Volume 2 : Annexes to Main Report. Available at: [Accessed August 13, 2013].

6 Roaf, V., Khalfan, A. & Langford, M., 2005. Monitoring Implementation of the Right to Water: A Framework for Developing Indicators. Berlin: Heinrich Böll Foundation.

7 Hutton, G., 2012. Monitoring "Affordability" of Water and Sanitation Services after 2015: Review of Global Indicator Options, Geneva: World Health Organisation. Available at: [Accessed December 11, 2013].

8 OECD, 2009. Managing Water for All: an OECD perspective on pricing and financing, Paris, France: OECD.   

9 Water Academy, 2003. Solidarity for Drinking Water, Paris: L'Harmattan.

Alix Zwane, Executive Director of Evidence Action

Editor’s Note: This guest blog post is authored by Alix Zwane, Executive Director of Evidence Action. In her post, Alix lauds the increased attention given to evidence-based innovations in development and describes the Dispensers for Safe Water initiative as an example of a WASH intervention grounded in this data-driven approach. 

Evidence-based development innovations are finally all the rage. The UK's Department for International Development and USAID announced the Global Development Innovation Ventures (GDIV) Fund almost exactly a year ago to focus development investments on “innovative approaches with proven, radically successful results.” Just a few weeks ago, USAID launched its Global Development Lab that aims to “test and scale breakthrough development innovations.” And even more recently, a senior policy advisor to the president of the European Commission argued that evidence should trump politics and diplomacy for deciding on aid investments.

One example of how aspirations for data-driven development translate into actual, real projects that improve millions of peoples’ lives is the Dispensers for Safe Water initiative. Chlorine dispensers currently serve over two million people in East Africa and are on track to grow to four million people by the end of this year, and 25 million by 2018.

Chlorine dispensers installed directly at the water source represent an important innovation in the rural water sector. They solve a number of challenges that have hindered sustainable, quality services for cleaner water to date -- despite the billions that have been spent on water and sanitation projects. And because the approach has been vigorously tested, we can say definitively that chlorine dispensers work at a fraction of the cost of typical water projects, and at high adoption rates by people most in need of clean water.

What Are Chlorine Dispensers?

Dispensers are installed directly at the water source and contain enough chlorine for a community using the water source for about a month. A person collecting water turns a knob that releases enough chlorine to clean 20 liters of water -- the typical amount that people collect from the source and carry home. The dispensers are rugged and durable, and maintained and marketed by local health promoters who educate the community about the utility of adding small amounts of chlorine to the drinking water, and check and refill the dispensers as needed.

A local health promoter in Teso district, Kenya, teaches community members about the health benefits of chlorinated water, and how the chlorine dispenser works. Credit: Andy Chen for Evidence Action

A local health promoter in Teso district, Kenya, teaches community members about the health benefits of chlorinated water, and how the chlorine dispenser works. Credit: Andy Chen for Evidence Action

Chlorine is very cheap and effective at killing most bacterial and viral pathogens. Safety concerns with dilute chlorine are minimal, and it is widely used as a disinfectant in water treatment plants around the world. Chlorine can also provide residual protection for up to three days (depending on storage conditions), which means that it not only disinfects water, but can also prevent re-contamination.

Are People Healthier Because of Chlorine in their Water?

So what do we know about improving water quality for people? There have been a number of review articles recently that have assessed the evidence for drinking water quality interventions in developing countries. One meta study that analyzed 65 separate evaluations concluded that point-of-use (or, in the case of dispensers, point-of-source) water quality interventions appear to be highly effective -- and indeed, more effective than water supply or source treatment in reducing diarrhea -- but that this is very sensitive to the ability of the program to sustain high rates of product adoption. Obviously, a product cannot provide health benefits if people don’t use it. Another systematic review of the evidence showed that there are reductions of up to 40% of childhood diarrhea among people using the product.

Are People Actually Using Chlorine Dispensers?

The case for cost-effective impacts for dispensers rests not only on the potential for health impact. People actually have to use water treatment products if they are to be effective. The sustained use of dispensers has been documented via a rigorous randomized controlled trial (PDF) in which adoption held at about 50% for three years in the treatment group assigned to dispensers. We continue to see average adoption rates over 40% in areas where baseline water treatment with chlorine is less than 10%. For anyone in the WASH field, these are impressive rates. Adoption of chlorine at the point of service is high because it is cheap, convenient, salient, and public.

Average adoption rates in areas where chlorine dispensers are introduced exceed 40%. Credit: Andy Chen for Evidence Action

Average adoption rates in areas where chlorine dispensers are introduced exceed 40%. Credit: Andy Chen for Evidence Action

Dispensers are Sustainable and Cost-Effective

Chlorine dispensers are inexpensive, costing less than $0.50 per person per year at scale. This is considerably lower than the large infrastructure programs that may not be sufficiently invested in over time, and then fall into disuse. The low cost per person has also allowed us explore new financing models, such as using carbon credits. Chlorine reduces the need for boiling water, so dispensers can be financed that way. And because chlorine dispensers are inexpensive to maintain, carbon revenue covers the costs even as the initiative expands to serve 25 million people in 2018.

We believe that evidence and rigorous testing of new development approaches is critical in order to scale what works to reach millions, and are pleased that the global development field is moving in the direction of being more rigorously data-driven and evidence-based.  

A Call for Submissions

Are you a WASH practitioner, funder, or academic with an interesting take on the sector? Would you be willing to share insights based on your experiences as a grantmaker in WASH, lessons learned from implementing a program, or reflections on a particular conference that you’ve attended? If so, consider submitting a blog post to WASHfunders.

The WASHfunders’ blog aims to raise awareness about the critical issues of water, sanitation, and hygiene, with an emphasis on content relevant to the philanthropic community – and we accept submissions!

Guest blog posts should be around 800 words and can feature a variety of topics – from lessons learned working in water and sanitation to a discussion of your organization’s strategy for WASH.

To contribute to the WASHfunders blog, contact Anna Koob at for more information. And to become more familiar with the blog content we typically publish, sign up for our regular updates.

USAID Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy

In light of the recently released USAID Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy, WASH Advocates and 1,000 Days will be hosting a webinar on WASH and nutrition in the Strategy and its importance moving forward. The event will explore the relationship between WASH and nutrition, the process of creating the nutrition strategy, and implications for practical application of WASH and nutrition in the field.

Monday, June 30 (12PM – 1:30PM EST)

Panelists include:

  • Tom Davis, Chief Program Officer, Feed the Children
  • Smita Baruah, Director, Global Health Policy and Advocacy, Save the Children USA    
  • Helen Petach, Biomedical Sciences Advisor, USAID

To register for the webinar, click here.

Carmen da Silva Wells, programme officer at IRC

Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Carmen da Silva Wells, programme officer at IRC. In the lead up to the Fifth WASH Sustainability Forum in the Netherlands at the end of this month, Carmen writes about the increasing recognition of the importance of sustainability among actors in the WASH sector. Referencing a mapping of sustainability tools that IRC’s Triple-S project recently undertook, she highlights one of the key findings: that while there are many tools that have been developed to assess and promote sustainability in the WASH sector, work still remains around how these tools are applied. This post originally appeared on IRC’s blog here.

Registration for next week’s Forum in Amsterdam is full, but if you’re in the area, you can add yourself to the waitlist. And if you’ll be attending the conference and are involved in the WASH sector from a philanthropic angle, join the WASH Grantmakers Network at their orientation dinner before the conference on June 29th. Details on how to RSVP can be found here.

Sustainability is a hot topic in the development sector at large. In the water and sanitation sector, there have been a range of events, partnerships and websites dedicated to collectively recognising, understanding and addressing sustainability challenges. In March this year, for example, the Australian WASH sector organised the 'WASH for everyone, everywhere' conference in Brisbane exploring the topic in light of the post-2015 development agenda.

The Amsterdam Forum will be held on June 30 and July 1. It is the fifth in a series of international WASH sustainability events organised by a coalition of organisations. IRC, Aguaconsult, Global Water Challenge and WASH Advocates have been core driving members behind the WASH Sustainability Forum series. This year's event is also supported by UNICEF, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program.

Exploring sustainability tools

According to Harold Lockwood of Aguaconsult, one of the organisations behind the fifth edition, there is a definite shift in mind-sets since the first one in 2010: "There is a collective recognition, as well as growing momentum and support around moving towards a service delivery approach. We seem to be at a tipping point, where discussions initially focused on why we need to focus on sustainability, but are now moving to the 'how to' part of the equation for different actors.”

The 5th WASH Sustainability Forum aims to move donors, civil society and governments towards application of sustainability principles and tools. One of the significant inputs to the event is a study of WASH sustainability tools conducted by Aguaconsult as part of Sustainable Services at Scale, or Triple-S, an IRC-led initiative. A Triple-S Working Paper, 'Mapping of WASH sustainability tools' contains the findings of the mapping, as well as the outcomes of an online survey looking into demand for sustainability tools and a 2-part webinar series.

The good news is that there are plenty of tools out there for understanding, measuring, or predicting sustainability. The assessment included a review of over 220 tools, and the 25 tools with clear content and methodology for understanding, measuring, or predicting sustainability have been presented as 1-page practical summaries in the Working Paper. Altogether these 25 sustainability tools have been applied 92 times in 52 countries, with most addressing the technical, institutional, and management areas that affect sustainability.

There are also notable gaps, such as tools that can be applied across all stages of the service life-cycle, tools that address sanitation and hygiene interventions and that can be applied to urban or peri-urban areas.

According to Ryan Schweitzer, Claire Grayson and Harold Lockwood, authors of the Working Paper, the emergence of clusters of similar sustainability assessment tools is a positive signal that a new paradigm is emerging in the sector. However, most tools are driven by external development partner organisations. Therefore, one of their key findings is that much more effort needs to be made to align tools with country monitoring systems and sector capacities and to use the data that these tools generate in order to improve services.

This challenge of linking tools with national systems – and indeed showcasing some national government tools – will be one of the core topics at the Forum. Representatives from government, private sector, donors and NGOs will engage in a panel debate to talk about how to improve the application and alignment of tools so that investments in the sector deliver services that last.

How to Spend a Penny

Last week, the UK-based Stone Family Foundation, in collaboration with New Philanthropy Capital, published a paper that summarizes 10 lessons learned as a WASH funder since the Foundation made the decision to concentrate much of its grantmaking in the sector in 2010.

How to Spend a Penny: 10 lessons from funding market-based approaches in water, sanitation and hygiene (PDF) presents lessons drawn from the Foundation’s experience that have helped it to target funding toward the most effective and sustainable solutions -- from the value of market-based solutions that go beyond the ‘toilets and taps’ approach to the importance of understanding customer motivations.

How to Spend a Penny also identifies challenges in WASH that philanthropy may be uniquely positioned to address. Noting the lack of high risk capital in the WASH sector, as well as the attendant risks of scaling up a solution too quickly, the paper describes how the Foundation identified one of its niche areas: providing support to projects that have gone through the pilot stages, but still need to refine their business models in order to become attractive to investors and other funders.  

To learn more about the Stone Family Foundation’s investments in WASH – and those of other foundations active in the sector – view our Funder Profiles.

Last month, organizations around the world working in WASH and women’s and girls’ rights joined forces to celebrate the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day. Created to bring attention to the challenges that many women and girls face during menstruation and to elevate innovative solutions, the event also hopes to help break the taboo surrounding a biological process that half the world experiences.

This infographic illustrates the ways in which menstrual hygiene is linked to education, the economy, and health, and highlights the misinformation and lack of facilities and hygienic materials that hamper good menstrual hygiene for many of the world’s women and girls. It originally appeared here.

Let's Start the Conversation About Menstruation
Are you a WASHfunders Power User?

Have you searched our map to orient yourself to the WASH funding landscape? Do you regularly read this blog? Are you familiar with our featured case studies or funder profiles? If you’ve visited WASHfunders, we’d love your feedback as part of our evaluation of the site.

Launched more than 2 ½ years ago, WASHfunders has been an experiment for our team at the Foundation Center. We hoped WASHfunders would facilitate knowledge-sharing, foster collaboration, and promote transparency related to foundation funding. But the truth is, we know relatively little about how our audience is using the site. Now is an opportune time for us to step back and take stock -- to understand where we can improve and how the site can be a better resource for the sector.

We’re currently working with an independent evaluation team to assess the impact and effectiveness of WASHfunders and want to hear your thoughts on the site.

If you’re interested in participating, the evaluation team will contact you to conduct a short one-time phone interview. If you would like to contribute to this effort, please contact Seema Shah at Thank you for your help! 

Allison Tummon Kamphuis, program leader for the Children's Safe Drinking Water Program at P&G

Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by Allison Tummon Kamphuis, program leader for the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program at P&G. In the post, Allison provides an overview of the company’s extensive engagement in the water sector and reveals how P&G’s approach to corporate philanthropy for WASH has responded to context and evolved in the decade since the initiative began.

More than 1,600 children still die every day from diseases caused by drinking unsafe water. At P&G, we believe we can help make a difference in the global water crisis. P&G is committed to the long-term, not-for-profit provision of clean water in the developing world and is engaged in the global drinking water crisis in four principle ways: as a technology supplier, water advocate, grant-maker, and program implementer.

The Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW) is P&G’s signature philanthropic effort to bring clean water to children and families throughout the developing world. Established in 2004, the CSDW Program has grown over nearly a decade into an initiative that has provided clean water in
more than 75 countries and is now supplying 1.3 billion liters annually to global emergency relief and development organizations. In April 2014, P&G announced that the CSDW Program had reached the seven billion liter milestone -- essentially the equivalent of a liter of clean water for every person on the planet.

Children's Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW)

The cornerstone of our non-profit initiative is the P&G water purification packet (formerly known as PUR Purifier of Water) that was invented by P&G scientists in the UK in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The powdered mixture in each small four gram sachet is like a mini-water treatment plant for 10 liters of water. With simple household implements -- a bucket, a stick, and a cloth -- each packet removes dirt, arsenic, and parasites and kills bacteria and viruses, making previously contaminated water clean and potable in only 30 minutes.    

P&G water purification packet

Originally launched by P&G as a commercial product for consumers in developing countries, the product proved challenging to market with sufficient return on investment given the need for interpersonal education and health related behavior change among consumers who regularly consumed contaminated water. Instead of abandoning the innovative technology, P&G started a philanthropic effort around the packets and built strong partnerships with many leading non-profit organizations who became the lead distributors and educators of users of the P&G packets. The lesson: be flexible with the plan and change according to the needs of the local market.    

These early challenges and lessons learned in the commercial market highlight the critical importance of partnerships. The rapid growth of the program to a cumulative total of more than 700 million water purification packets distributed has been achieved through a multi-focused strategy that includes: emergency response to major disasters; rural community, clinic, and school WASH educational programs; and integration with global health initiatives for the most vulnerable, including people living with HIV/AIDS and malnourished children. The lesson: identify where you or your technology is likely to have the most impact and build partnerships with experts in those implementation areas.

As a WASH funder and grantmaker, P&G has invested more than $50 million towards providing clean drinking water, including investments in additional plant capacity to provide more P&G packets as the program has expanded. Each year P&G grants also support community WASH education and capacity building projects, as well as emergency relief pre-positioning and training around the world. The CSDW Program continues to explore targeted grant programs for vulnerable groups and expand public-private partnerships with global donors who have the same objectives. While P&G’s grants are smaller than those of major international bilateral donors, they are intended to support the integration of clean drinking water, along with hygiene and sanitation education, into existing programs to make them more clinically and cost effective. Lesson learned: leveraging existing infrastructure to integrate health interventions can make already successful programs even more effective.

For the past decade, P&G has also worked with advocacy partners to raise awareness of the global water crisis while promoting a variety of solutions to help address the lack of safe drinking water. P&G was a founding member of the UNICEF/WHO Network for Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage and through the network has helped to establish household water treatment as a viable and practical means of improving access to clean drinking water in areas of the world where safe water infrastructure does not exist. P&G has also participated in the Global Water Challenge, the US Water Partnership, and has been a long-standing member of the Clinton Global InitiativeLesson learned: building awareness is a continuous effort and advocacy efforts are critical for local and international recognition and advancing the cause.

As the CSDW Program looks to its next decade, P&G continues to build on the lessons learned in the first 10 years of the initiative. The company is forging new partnerships with humanitarian organizations throughout the world and extending CSDW operations into more countries. The success of reaching the company’s 2020 goal is dependent on collaboration with governing entities and many public/private partners, complementary work with other technology solutions, and engagement with the P&G family of brands and employees.

As the target year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, Global Water Challenge invites you to the webinar, Elevating the Post-2015 Water Goal. The event will share perspectives from a diversity of stakeholders in the water sector on the process of establishing a meaningful goal around water as part of this next phase.

Tuesday, May 13 (11AM - 12:30PM EST)

Monica Ellis, CEO of Global Water Challenge, will moderate the discussion among the following panelists:

  • Cecilia Scharp, Senior Advisor, UNICEF
  • Francesca Bernardini, Senior Advisor, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN
  • Krishanti Vignarajah, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of State
  • Marco Daniel, Coordinator, Swiss Water Partnership

To register for the webinar, click here. And to learn more about country progress on MDGs and other national-level indicators on water and sanitation recorded in the 2012 GLAAS report, visit our funding map.

Webinar: Elevating the Post-2015 Water Goal

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