National policies and strategies: WASH coalitions in action

Date: 10th November 2010

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WSSCC-supported National WASH Coalitions operate in 33 countries. An increasingly prominent component of the coalitions’ work is the cooperation with governments to develop national policy documents. Through dialogue and review, they contribute to relevance and transparency, as well as stakeholder buy-in. Hereunder are three country experiences.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and 50% of the population lack access to safe water and adequate sanitation. The country is developing a National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) and the draft was reviewed by the national WASH Coalition, the National Task Group on Sanitation (NTGS). The coalition identified several weaknesses in sanitation plans and budgets, such as a lack of sanitation strategies, evidence-based costs for sanitation delivery, and mechanisms for inter-sector cooperation.

NTGS’s credibility comes in part from its composition, which includes ministries and civil society and development actors in sanitation. It is able to harmonise sanitation policies and make standards and methodologies consistent. Coalitions are uniquely suited for policy processes and strategy development, since all participating organisations are heard. Further, the different ministries in NTGS have a platform to negotiate overlapping responsibilities and agree joint positions without losing face.

However, negotiations are problematic by nature. Extensive discussions are required, and the lack of resources for most stakeholders is compounded by the lengthy process, sometimes dragging on for years. Once approved, implementation is hampered by bureaucracy and limited government budgets. Nigeria’s experience shows that while government participation in the coalition is vital and adds credibility, civil society members must be ready with advocacy and campaign efforts of their own — and government actors must be open to constructive criticism.

Access to basic WASH services in the Philippines is relatively good, but access is unevenly spread. Political instability has hindered development of the sector, which lacks clear guidelines and action plans.

In 2008, a Water and Sanitation Sector Road Map was drafted by government actors in close collaboration with the Philippines WASH Coalition. The Road Map elaboration involved the Coalition in meetings, reviews and debates in which it presented research and case studies to highlight a people-centred approach. Initially, Coalition members, many representing civil society organisations, were disappointed to be outnumbered by government representatives and found it difficult to influence the debate. However they paved the way for stakeholder participation, which was clearly increased in later processes involving adjacent sectors, such as elaborating national WASH emergency guidelines under the Department of Health, and a National Action Plan on Wetlands.

The Coalition’s greatest achievement has been the gradual institutionalisation of civil society involvement in political decision making. Contacts established through the national WASH Coalition built trust among members, strengthened by informal communication links, knowledge sharing, and the Coalitions’ connection to national and international actors such as WSSCC and WHO.

The National Diorano-WASH committee has been key in increasing public and political attention for WASH issues. Among others the coalition, which is located within the newly established Ministry of Water, has helped to elaborate a National Programme of Access to Potable Water and Sanitation. It also participated in the annual ‘presidential dialogue’ to evaluate implementation of the national Madagascar Action Plan for achieving the MDG water and sanitation targets.

Coalition members wrote parts of the document and facilitated stakeholder discussions and individual meetings with high-level ministerial staff. WASH coalition involvement improved sector and inter-sector coordination, helped to avoid conflict and duplication, and increased transparency. All relevant public and private national and local level organisations involved in the WASH sector are members of the coalition, providing nationwide legitimacy. The WASH coalition’s participation in such discussions is a big step towards participatory policy dialogue.

These brief examples show that the engagement of WASH Coalitions in policy development can avoid overlaps in responsibility, highlight different opinions, and pave the way for improved sector and inter-sector coordination. Yet, a common lesson is that these processes are not to be hurried. Building trust to facilitate the dialogue with civil society and government agencies is a time consuming, but rewarding process contributing to the harmonising of resources and efforts for increasing access to WASH services for all.

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