The Battle for Water – Access to water pays double dividends in conflict-affected states

Guest blog by Nathanial Mason, a Research Officer in ODI’s Water Policy Programme

This blog has also appeared on Alertnet here – http://bit.ly/11r9AiG

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Maper, on the outskirts of Aweil Town in South Sudan, is a host community in South Sudan, under stress from the influx of returnees from Sudan. Women return home after collecting water (2011, Layton Thomas/Tearfund)

‘Who is the government? Who are they? I have never seen them. They have not brought schools or clinics to the village.’

Frustration expressed by a Chef de Village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the lack of government-led development. Instead he turns to NGOs for help. But his questions also challenge NGOs, as well as aid agencies and the governments they aim to support. Immediate needs in a war-torn country like DRC are vast, and urgent.

In the long term these needs – for drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, and education – can only be met by a government that is trusted and able. Similarly the benefits of a water point, latrine or clinic can be undone if the local, root causes of conflict and peoples’ vulnerability aren’t addressed.

So how do you secure the double dividend: meeting immediate needs while making a positive contribution to peace and stability?

At the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) we’ve been working withTearfund, an NGO willing to ask this difficult question. It’s not the first time it has been asked, but good answers are few and far between. The question is also back on the table in a big way, thanks not least to the peacebuilding and statebuilding Goals agreed by some of the most fragile countries.

Funded by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), we asked the question specifically for water supply and sanitation, drawing on evidence on the ground in South Sudan as well as DRC.

Today is World Water Day – it’s theme is ‘water cooperation’. Our researchfound that water, and water services, can exacerbate tensions in communities: for example in North Kivu, DRC, resentment sprang up between host communities and the army about who contributed to the maintenance of facilities. But through careful negotiation, encouraging the army’s constructive participation, Tearfund’s staff were able to address this.

In and of themselves, water supply and sanitation are no cure-all. Meeting other needs, such as for education and rule of law, provide more obvious routes to supporting peaceful, stable societies.  But there are local windows of opportunity in the way that water supply and sanitation are delivered.

So, as Alertnet has urged, let’s get in the spirit of World Water Day with some ways water (and sanitation!) can help reinforce cooperation within communities, and between society and the state.

VISIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY MATTER

A first window of opportunity is in thinking through who is seen to deliver services. NGOs need to brand themselves to be accountable to communities. But where expectations are building for the government to lead service provision, they too need to play a visible role.

We found this in South Sudan, where the people interviewed tended to point to NGOs as their first point of call when things stopped working, rather than local government. In countries like DRC, where the state may be seen as absent at best, and predatory at worst, this is an even tougher dilemma. Still, gradually increasing the visible role for the state can be a goal in many situations.

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Potential tensions and trade-offs can arise when NGOs and donors are seen as most visible in delivering services. Aweil Town, South Sudan (2011, Layton Thomas/Tearfund).

A second window we identified is around the scope for collective action and collaboration. In more stable parts of South Sudan, Tearfund has adopted a ‘Church and Community Mobilisation’ approach. The aim is to engage local people and church leaders to lead communities in finding solutions to their own problems. The research suggests this community-driven approach is working.

Again, we’re not talking panaceas here: these approaches take time, which may be of the essence in emergencies. The long term impacts, in terms of better services and stronger community relations, need to be tested further.

WHO IS INCLUDED?

A third window of opportunity is to carefully manage the thorny issue of who is included and who is not when services are delivered. People move around in the aftermath of conflict and disasters, and we found the challenge was especially great in areas where displaced people and longer-term residents are living side-by-side.

As one resident in the Apada returnee camp in South Sudan put it, ‘the government has forgotten the returnee communities’. This points to the need to plan as best as possible for different users’ needs, but to remain responsive to the fact these needs change over time.

Many NGOs and relief agencies have good practice principles to minimise negative side-effects of their work. But we also need to consider the potential for positive side-effects, for local cooperation and community relations. Humanitarian organisations are rightly cautious about the messy politics involved – engaging too much with the wrong type of government, or stepping into community conflicts, can lead to loss of legitimacy or be seen as mission creep.

But there will always be a murky space between responding to humanitarian emergencies and longer-term development efforts. Tearfund have attempted to shine a light on this space, and their own practices.

The lesson for ‘water cooperation’? There will always be places where water resources themselves are at the root of conflict and cooperation, but it’s often the human part – the way water, and sanitation, are delivered – which we need to address.

 

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Relief to recovery – how can the international community get better at it?

This is a joint blog post by Sarah Pickwick, Tearfund’s Sudan and South Sudan Policy Officer and Caroline Maxwell.

We know that disasters and crises are becoming more frequent and prolonged. From the deep rooted conflicts in the DRC to crises currently in the news like Syria – many communities struggle to cope. The challenge is to meet both the immediate emergency needs but also develop longer term strategies so that those affected by the crisis can rebuild their lives.

When an agency like Tearfund responds to a disaster situation and then remains there for a long period, say over 10 years, the question inevitably gets asked; ‘how are you transitioning, from a relief context to recovery?’.  Surely just providing basic items such as food and shelter over a long period creates a culture of dependency. So how then do we resolve this challenge when we respond in a protracted and complex humanitarian situation, such as Darfur in Sudan?  These are key questions for NGOs like Tearfund as well as governments and donors that support agencies delivering aid.

A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report commended Tearfund’s DFID funded water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) work in Darfur, for a number of the aspects and in particular how Tearfund’s approach is community-led and focussing on addressing longer term needs.

Our WASH projects both in Darfur, and in many other  prolonged crises where we are responding, can range from installing hand-dug wells, pumped water systems, constructing latrines and doing solid waste management to hygiene promotion activities through women and children’s groups and household visits. Not only do these projects play a part in meeting people’s immediate needs they also lead to more sustained ways of providing WASH services.

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Source: Paul Brigham, Tearfund

One way we’ve been adopting a sustainable community-led approach is by working with locals such as Ahmed Hashim Mustafa, a resident of Al Khanama village, who received awareness training about the importance of hygiene. Before the training Ahmed recalls that previously he did not know the importance of having a latrine and that every day he used to use the valley near his home as an open toilet. But after his village participated in a community-led sanitation campaign, he understood how dangerous this was, potentially causing several life-threatening diseases. As a result he dug his own latrine, and now says he will never go to the toilet in the open again. ‘I will also encourage others to dig their latrines to make their village an open defecation free zone’ he said.

Whilst we seek to respond with the most appropriate support according to the situations we are faced with, the key thread that runs through all our work is an emphasis on sustainability and engaging with the communities that we work in, so that they are empowered to analyse and respond to their WASH needs. It’s why years ago we started to move away from relief approaches to focus on early recovery for affected communities. We place a lot of emphasis on including the communities in our work, putting them in the driving seat and building on what they can do themselves by strengthening their knowledge. We strongly believe that this is what donors need to focus on supporting.

Ahmed’s story is just one example of  the approach we take – and we will continue to review and learn how we operate. The ICAI report had useful recommendations for donors as they consider delivery of water and sanitation in protracted crisis, including:

  • Flexibility in delivery: Donor’s initial response should be on emergency WASH service provision, but as the crisis develops and the needs and perceptions of the affected community changes, donors must adapt by changing how they work with partners and deliver aid that promotes longer term solutions.
  • Funding: Donors should have a balanced mix of funding mechanisms in order to spread the risk of working in crisis and for keeping track of how money is used at all stages of a response from strategic planning, allocating resources and monitoring impact. Multi-annual grants should be favoured to ensure a long lasting response.
  • Maximising impact and ensuring effectiveness: Donors should seek to support projects that are sustainable, directly engage communities throughout to ensure ownership (ultimately building their own capacity to deliver), promote learning and also take into account good environmental practices (such as solar powered water pumps etc). Only when these things are taken on board will people in these situations experience real change.

To contribute further to this debate Tearfund will shortly publish two pieces of broader research, one funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), looking at the best approaches to deliver WASH within complex emergencies, and the other funded by DFID, exploring whether delivery of WASH can contribute towards peace- and state-building.

We’ll be blogging more about this soon, with links to our reports so watch this space!

Why I support Global Handwashing Day

Addise Amado is Water and Sanitation Manager for one of Tearfund’s partner organizations, Kale Heywet Church, Ethiopia. He is currently completing a Master’s degree in water and environment management in the UK before returning home.

In the UK hand-washing is a perfectly normal thing to do. There’s nothing remarkable about seeing someone wash their hands. However, in many rural communities in Ethiopia, like the one I grew up in, washing your hands is not the norm. The normal thing to do, the accepted thing, is to defecate in the open because there isn’t a toilet, and not to wash your hands afterward.

So why the difference between these two countries? I believe that education is a huge part of the answer. Without knowledge, without understanding the impacts on health, habits won’t change.

Teaching someone to wash their hands sounds a simple enough task, but trying to change behaviour patterns or habits is always challenging. The need for hand-washing can be clearly demonstrated – washing your hands with soap and water reduces the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by nearly 40%. But although communities in Ethiopia know first-hand how destructive these diseases can be, they may not realise the connection with hand-washing.

People need to know the critical moments for hand-washing (e.g., after going to the toilet, before handling food, after cleaning babies’ bottoms) and understand why it is important. You need soap and water. When I was a child soap was something that we saved for clothes, it wouldn’t be ‘wasted’ on hands. People also need to dry their hands; wet hands are a perfect breeding ground for germs.

But why should anyone listen to people from outside their village, just because we claim that this is a better way to live? The approach that we use within Kale Heywet Church is to involve the community at every stage.

Community groups are created, they assess current practices and analyse what needs to change. Then they are the ones to work out solutions and implement them. Our role is to support and facilitate this process. And to provide the expertise needed, like with hygiene promotion.

But this process, village by village, takes time, and without follow-up and encouragement people can easily slip back into their old habits, even if they know they shouldn’t. For example, I conducted some research into hand-washing in one village: 60% of inhabitants said that they washed their hands with soap after going to the toilet; observations showed that only 10% of them actually did so.

For me, one of the best things about working in hygiene, sanitation and water is the way the community can get involved. Empowering a community to see the solutions to the problems they face doesn’t have to be finance intensive as they are supported to carry out the analysis, problem-solving and implementation themselves. They can take control of the situation.

Seeing the health benefits that come from improved hygiene is immensely rewarding, but so too is seeing members of a community take on leadership roles in their hygiene, sanitation and water projects.

The situation is improving across Ethiopia. Kale Keywet Church works in 23 districts across four regions of the country. However, greater advocacy and resources are needed if the simple, life-saving message of hand-washing is to reach every person. Global Handwashing Day may not mean much in the UK, but for millions of poor communities around the world it is a day that draws attention to the ongoing need for investment in this critical field.