By Richard Gledhill, ICAI lead commissioner for WASH review
62.9 million people – almost the population of the UK – that’s how many people in developing countries DFID claimed to have reached with WASH interventions between 2011 and 2015.
It’s an impressive figure. And – in our first ever ‘impact review’ – it’s a figure the Independent Commission for Aid Impact found to be based on credible evidence.
We assessed the results claim made by DFID about WASH, testing the evidence and visiting projects to see the results for ourselves. We concluded that the claim was credible – calculated using appropriate methods and conservative assumptions.
But what does reaching 62.9 million people really mean? Have lives been transformed? And have the results been sustainable?
Research shows WASH interventions can have hugely positive ramifications for people’s lives. Access to water and sanitation and improved hygiene are obviously vitally important in their own right, but they can also contribute to improved school attendance, better nutrition and greater gender equality.
It is often women and girls who do most of the water collection – we met women on one of our visits who spend up to five hours a day fetching water. And distant water sources and inadequate sanitation can expose women and girls to sexual violence.
Research also shows that to achieve lasting change calls for intensive engagement with beneficiaries, and local institutions, over time.
So what knock-on difference did the £713 million UK aid spent on WASH between 2010 and 2014 make to education, to health or to inequality? And was the impact sustained?
Unfortunately at the moment, across its overall WASH portfolio, DFID doesn’t really know.
For some programmes evidence has been collected – for example a £48.5 million Bangladesh project reached 21.4 million people with hygiene promotion, 1.8 million with access to clean water and more than one million children with clean water and latrines in their schools. At the end of this project evaluators were able to ascertain that there had been an increase in school enrolments, a reduction in school drop-out rates (particularly for girls), and a drop in the diarrhoea rate for under-fives from 11% to 5.1%.
Similarly in Nigeria a DFID impact study found significant reductions in infant diarrhoea and resulting increases in school attendance. It also found that women were spending less time fetching water and taking care of sick children.
But despite these positive stories, our review found crucial impact data is not routinely collected at the programme level, and it is not aggregated at the international or the country level.
Many programmes simply are not set up to generate the evidence that would allow impact to be measured.
More surprisingly, even when broader impact data is readily available, our review found it is not being collected. We went to both Mozambique and Zimbabwe during our fieldwork, and discovered the local authorities kept detailed health statistics and school attendance data in the areas where DFID was investing in WASH. But this data was not collected or used by DFID.
Not collecting this data makes it harder for DFID (which concentrates its WASH investments in the poorest areas) to target its investments towards the most vulnerable, including women and girls, the elderly and people with disabilities.
Looking ahead, the Global Goals commitment to ‘leaving no one behind’ is likely to increase the imperative for DFID to obtain more detailed baseline data and monitor the impact of its programmes on different groups, including the poorest or most vulnerable.
Another crucial aspect to successful WASH projects is sustainability. But our review found that DFID is not doing enough to monitor if the results are sustained.
Concerningly, in none of the programmes we reviewed did DFID require its implementers to continue monitoring beyond project completion. In some instances, DFID’s partners (such as WaterAid and Unicef) were actually carrying out extended monitoring for their own purposes, but the results were not being passed back to DFID.
We acknoldge that sustainability is a real challenge, particularly for WASH programmes in the poorest areas. But DFID needs to do more to tackle this challenge – it is lagging behind some other leading donors in this area. We have therefore recommended that DFID takes urgent remedial action on the issue of sustainability.
And it is important that improvements happen soon, as last year DFID committed itself to ‘reaching’ a further 60 million people with sustainable access to safe drinking water or sanitation by 2020.
This is a welcome pledge, but to ensure this aid really has a transformative effect, DFID now needs to improve how it embeds sustainability in its programmes, and how it maximises their impact on people’s lives.
ICAI, 2016. Assessing DFID’s results in water, sanitation and hygiene : an impact review. London, UK: Independent Commission for Aid Impact. 37 p. : 10 boxes, 3 fig. Available at: icai.independent.gov.uk/report/wash