The WASH Sustainability Charter Report: Understanding Opportunities for Growth

Editors Note: This guest post was authored by Brian Banks, director of sustainability for Global Water Challenge. In it, he discusses the WASH Sustainability Charter and the results of a recent survey that asked WASH stakeholders to assess their effectiveness in implementing sustainability principles.

A Rwandan girl collects improved water from a source with ongoing financing in place to ensure sustainability. Credit: Global Water Challenge

A Rwandan girl collects improved water from a source with ongoing financing in place to ensure sustainability. Credit: Global Water Challenge

WASH Sustainability and the Charter

If you’ve been to the web site of nearly any WASH organization, you’ve seen powerful pictures of how water can change lives. Whether in a school, a clinic, or a community, few things are as moving as the images of the first sip of clean, safe water. Pictures perfectly portray the ribbon-cutting, the first glass of water, and the smiling community.

If you’ve ever traveled around Africa, you’ve probably seen what sometimes happens next: broken pumps, leaking pipes, and unrealized potential. As many as 50% of water interventions fail, leaving communities without water and squandering much of the limited donor funding that flows into the WASH sector.

Thankfully, donors, implementers, and other WASH stakeholders are mobilizing to rise to this challenge through the framework of the WASH Sustainability Charter. The Charter is the culmination of a 6-month process involving input from over 100 organizations from across the WASH spectrum and around the world. The development of this common statement of principles is a major step toward improving the way the WASH sector ensures lasting service provision. This document advances the sector by establishing best practices and promoting sustainability efforts. Since the launch of the Charter in July 2011, the response has been tremendous: Nearly 100 organizations of all shapes and sizes have endorsed the Charter and committed to strive toward its principles in the key areas of Strategy and Planning, Governance and Accountability, Service Delivery Support, Financial Management, and Reporting and Knowledge-Sharing.

While this commitment is a step in the right direction, it is still only the first step.

WASH Sustainability Survey — Building a Baseline

To continue building upon this foundation, Global Water Challenge (GWC) and Deloitte LLP designed and conducted the WASH Sustainability Survey, asking WASH stakeholders to assess their effectiveness in implementing the Charter. Understanding where we are coming from is an important next step to fueling improvements in the sector. The full report is available here.

With nearly 50 respondents, the survey results provide a baseline for WASH stakeholders, and a roadmap for continued improvement throughout the sector. Several broad trends were apparent, such as the importance of continued improvement in the areas of education, capacity building, and training. This finding supports the need for a specific focus on long-term education and knowledge exchange among stakeholders to foster sustainable WASH solutions.

A Way Forward on Sustainability

Looking more closely, several specific opportunities for progress emerge. First, the survey clearly demonstrated that stakeholders share a need for improved financial management in projects, particularly in relation to project life-cycle financial planning.

Additionally, almost 50% of respondents identified sharing data and lessons learned as a priority area for improvement, along with the use of improved metrics. This is directly aligned with the WASH Sustainability Charter, as well as the current development of a new sustainability hub. (The interim site at currently provides resources from sustainability events, recordings of the WASH Sustainability Webinar Series, and information about other sustainability initiatives.)

Lastly, the study outlined the critical nature of ensuring alignment and fostering conversation between implementers and non-implementing stakeholders. For example, while many non-implementing organizations identified “aligning… planning efforts with other stakeholders” as a principle most in need of improvement, very few implementers identified the same. This type of discrepancy demonstrates the varying priorities between implementers and non-implementers, as well as the clear need for continued collaboration among stakeholders.

Overall, the survey findings suggest several clear next steps:

  • Financial management is one of the more difficult challenges of sustainability. The sector needs to collaborate in order to develop robust tools and methodologies to beat this challenge.
  • As organizations become more committed to sustainability, including monitoring and evaluation, it becomes ever more important to find ways to effectively and consistently measure performance, while also meaningfully sharing data and information. By doing this, we will be able to truly advance as a sector.
  • Sustainability is not just a donor’s problem, nor is it only an implementer’s problem: It is everyone’s responsibility. To improve the sector, everyone — donors, implementers, and recipient communities — will need to work collaboratively to improve sustainability.

GWC, with many of our partners, is continuing to empower organizations to address the sustainability challenges facing our sector. Keep an eye on over the coming months for new assessment tools, sustainability resources, and insightful discussions.