SDC Water Blog

Mar 06
Building Resilient WASH Systems in Fragile Contexts - Geneva

On the 12-13 December 2019 in Geneva, a learning event on WASH systems in fragile contexts organized by Johannes Rück and Thilo Panzerbeiter from the German WASH Network brought together humanitarian and development actors. The question at the heart of the event was "How can we collectively strengthen the resilience of the WASH sector to ensure predictable emergency response while protecting SDG gains?".

The Humanitarian Development Nexus

To build a bridge between the humanitarian and development realms, the event brought together humanitarian and development actors and aimed to align on definitions, terminology and perspectives from both sides. With these elements in mind, development actors from the participants were invited to discuss the expectation from humanitarian actors, and vice-versa. cf the results of the discussion on the table below.

Table 1 Group exercise: What do development/humanitarian actors expect from each other's?

Humanitarian and development organizations should align from the beginning, and consider the fragility and conflict dynamics in which interventions take place. Short-term needs should be addressed while strengthening long-term capacity in order to in fine build the sector resilience. Some participants went beyond the need for effective coordination structures, mentioning that the binary distinction between humanitarian/development actors should be overcame and the wording 'WASH actors' should be favored.

Three topics presentations and group discussion

1.      WASH systems strengthening

Will Tillett (Consultant, Agua Consult), presented his plans for a paper on 'Applying systems strengthening concepts and approaches in fragile contexts'. Considering that there is relatively limited documentation in the sector on systems strengthening in fragile contexts, he would like to adapt concepts and approaches of systems strengthening to make them more applicable in such contexts. This will be addressed to both systems thinkers and practitioners, from a NGOs' perspective. Four questions were discussed in groups.

1) Is WASH systems strengthening still possible at all in contexts where the government is not adhering to humanitarian principles?

• We can identify other actors to engage with.

• Utilities offer a parallel system to the government's one.

• We can use water as a non-political entry point to discuss with governments.

• It is important to identify common ground.

2) In what ways does fragility and humanitarian contexts present an opportunity for systems strengthening? Coordination platforms increase the ability to dialogue with different segments of the sector. In addition, there are opportunities to innovate.

3) How can we adapt our programming in fragile and humanitarian contexts to strengthen systems?
There is a need to understand the market that exists: service suppliers and supply chain providers. Also, it is important to create demand before supply, which means working with communities instead of being supply-driven.

4) How to achieve durability in systems change? (Resilience of systems improvements)

• Influencing governments
• Having a single focal point in countries
• Inclusion of humanitarian principles

Regarding the question of mandate, do we add resilience to the mandate of humanitarian agencies; or should it stay under the mandate of development actors but with a joint planning with humanitarian ones? The conclusion was that if we think that way, we are back into silos. All should contribute to the same collective goal and think holistically.

Contributions and ideas of platforms for disseminations are welcome:


2.      Sanitation and Water for All strategy

Alexandra Reis (Sanitation and Water for All– Partnership, Communications Manager), presented the strategic objectives of the new strategy of SWA:

• build and sustain political will to prioritize the elimination of inequalities in WASH at all levels

• systematically use multi-stakeholder approaches to achieve water and sanitation for all

• rally stakeholders to strengthen system performance and attract new investments

SWA is an advocacy tool, which partners can use as much (or little) as they want. There will not be a WASH police from the secretariat, but a mutual accountability mechanism. The reformulation of the SWA strategy provides the opportunity to harmonize frameworks between SWA and GWC, and the participants discussed the kick starting of the collaboration between SWA and the Global Wash Cluster.

3.      Turning the GWC Roadmap recommendations into action

The Global Wash Cluster (GWC) has developed five overarching recommendations to refocus the sector in its strategic thinking. A global roadmap is currently being prepared to implement these recommendations collectively. Franck Bouvet (Deputy Coordinator, Global WASH Cluster), presented the five key recommendations:

i. Reposition WASH as a core sector for survival and protection. Get our fundamentals right!
ii. Quality WASH responses should be timely and efficient and reach the most inaccessible and difficult places. Get our capacity right!
iii. WASH responses are predictable and effective when robust protocols are in place. Give priority to preparedness and surge at all levels for WASH and keep it simple!
iv. The predictability of the WASH response depends on the timeliness and flexibility of the financial resources. Bridging between development financing and humanitarian response!
v. Build synergies between acute humanitarian situations, protracted contexts and development. Initiative a paradigm shift in the way of working in the WASH sector!

He also highlighted that it is not the Global Wash Cluster Road Map, but a road map that goes beyond, for the WASH sector. The vision of the roadmap is that by 2025 the humanitarian WASH sector has the capacity and resources to intervene in emergencies; everywhere and at any time. He mentions that after a consultation process, a final draft should be available early 2020 and followed by a second round of consultation.
The aim is to launch the Road Map for the World Water Day in March 2020. Watch out for it by following the twitter or subscribing to their mailing list. If you, or your organization, is interested in joining the cluster, additional information is available on their website.

Robert Fraser (Senior WASH Advisor, IFRC), elaborated on this pillar 5 on the Humanitarian and Development Nexus, and on the funding aspect more precisely. He expressed his doubts on the fact that a better-focused and marketed Humanitarian WASH sector will bring more money in the table. Development funding is far greater than emergency funding…we need to merge the two as complementary. To him, a better focused and restructured WASH sector, including humanitarian AND development, may be an even greater opportunity to unlock a broader set of strategic targets, tools, and capacities to better deliver all WASH needs, 'acute, 'chronic' and increasingly 'complex' and the larger investment it requires. We would not talk anymore about short or long-term interventions, or development or humanitarian actors, but WASH sector in general with pooled funding covering the Resilience Continuum in WASH (preparedness, localisation, mitigation, response, recovery, rehabilitation, sustainable development).

Following these two presentations, participants discussed the next steps to turn the roadmap into action. In terms of information, we should open an informal dialogue on the WASH sector and the need for a sector reform. In terms of action, we should host an event in 2020, most likely related to the Stockholm World Water Week. In addition, we should have a dialogue on the potential of the pooling of resources discussing e.g. the creation of a global fund or of a pooled-fund covering the resilience continuum in WASH, the setting-up of a performance framework and mechanisms to monitor engagement. There should also be a reflexion on how to become more attractive as a sector, the exploration of domestic funding/financing, and a discussion on cost recovery/financing in humanitarian WASH. Carefulness was recommended regarding financing and pooling, as we should pay attention to the fact that not everything goes for big infrastructures.


Overall, a consensus was reached on the fact that interventions should be context-dependent and that the binary development-humanitarian distinction is not relevant anymore. In terms of next steps for the group, it was agreed that an introspection work within the organisations should be done. Finally, at the end of the two-days meeting, every participant leaving the room had to answer to the following question "Coming out of the meeting, in/with my organisation I will …". This appeared to be an effective way to ensure everyone leaves the room with concrete next steps in mind, as an individual and as a group.

You can access the list of speakers and their powerpoints here.


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