Creating a SUSTAINABILITY ecosystem

This post was inspired by this article. When I was reading it, I was thinking about the WASH (water access, sanitation and hygiene) sector. This is not a surprise because I am pretty much constantly thinking about it.

I thought, what would a sustainability [meaning, simplified: the ability of an installed water system to function after the organization that installed it has left] ecosystem look like?

“In the ocean, a reef provides a structure that protects fish, provides food, and creates an arena for marine plants and animals to live and thrive.”

Using this example, the installed water system would be the fish (…or would the fish be the person using the water system?). What would the surrounding coral reef look like for the WASH sector? The ocean would be funding (as in the water would be the money…?). The coral would be local government. NGOs would be seaweed. Maybe the WASH sector right now would look a bit like the Great Barrier Reef and its current deteriorating state (sad…). The coral (local government) is being destroyed, weakened. The seaweed sustains the fish in the meantime but it is not a reliable source of food.

In the real world though (getting away from my marine metaphor) my initial thought is that the “ecosystem” would look something like this (yes, biased view, because I’ve been helping develop it). This is a platform for WASH sector stakeholders to promote the provision of lasting water services. It could be an on-line platform such as Or it could be a collection of organizations that give best practice advice for WASH project stakeholders. I also think WASH Cost and crowd-sourcing WASH data such as mWater and Akvo FLOW (FLOW is in development. Also I am planning a post about platforms such as mWater and FLOW) should be included in the ecosystem. They are tools that all stakeholders should be using.

As the article says:

Get the right people involved.

In this sector, that would mean promoting ownership by local government of water systems. It would mean getting donors to require long-term monitoring post project close-out (from when the grant agreement or contract is signed) of the system they are funding. One of the reasons that approx. 30% of WASH projects fail after 2-5 years is that the right people haven’t yet been involved in the sustainability dialogue. It’s donors and governments. They are the heavy-weights. NGOs will require monitoring of their systems if they are being required to by their donors.

In summary, there needs to be an environment (or ecosystem) in place that promotes WASH projects that actually last. Just what that looks like is to be determined. It something that I wholesomely intend to get to the bottom of.


Good night my WASH-y friends!