Debate Info

Yes it does No it doesn't
Debate Score:18
Total Votes:19
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Argument Ratio

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 Yes it does (7)
 No it doesn't (8)

Debate Creator

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Does external funding for WASH in Schools undermine national & local commitment

 WASH in Schools SWASH+ logo

This is the second in a series of three e-debates on WASH in Schools, inspired by the SWASH+ Project.

The key question that we are raising in this e-debate is:  Is funding for direct delivery of school WASH services from NGOs, donors and other stakeholders undermining the commitment of national governments and communities?

For more information on this e-debate series go to:

In the first debate in this series we asked:  Are JMP Post-2015 indicators on WASH in schools a step in the right direction?

Yes it does

Side Score: 8

No it doesn't

Side Score: 10
2 points

In its plainest terms; when donors directly fund WASH programmes they are assuming the responsibility for service provision, undermining the governance of public institutions. One consequence of is that community groups as well as local and national government become less and less accountable for the delivery of services and are “let off the hook” from fulfilling their public service responsibilities. The accountability of donors on the other hand often finishes at the point of project closure and a governance vacuum will remain, with services are unlikely to be sustained.

The problems outlined above are, if anything, more acute in the case of WASH in schools. This is because the responsibility to finance and maintain school WASH services is often complex and spread across a wide range of stakeholders from educational and health sectors, community organisations and district and national government. In this context the major challenge to donors is ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and that key stakeholders are committed and accountable to users. Putting infrastructure in place is the easy bit!

In the vast majority of cases, for the delivery of adequate WASH services to be sustainable - they must continue for a long period after donor funding has been withdrawn.

Therefore infrastructure put in place must be affordable to the socio-economic context and projects financing infrastructure development must co-ordinate with local, district or national institutions and take into the account the costs of operation, maintenance and eventual renewal of infrastructure. If infrastructure installed is inappropriate to the context and local and national governments cannot maintain them, ownership and commitment will be further undermined.

Direct donor financing may deliver infrastructure and short term gains in childhood welfare, however for these benefits to be sustained donors must seek to generate and reinforce the commitment of government stakeholders by ensuring that the project is aligned with government strategies, that there is local ownership of the projects, with clear avenues of responsibility and accountability defined after the donor withdraws.

Peter Burr

IRC WASHCost Researcher

[email protected]

Side: Yes it does
1 point

Coming from a major NGO, we are often tagged as "implementers," by which people often mean that we directly deliver services. However, we are making concerted moves away from doing so. The argument against external funding for school WASH services has been well made by Peter Burr. Put simply, and especially in the case of public institutions like schools, directly delivering services risks undermining the social compact, exchanging short-term small gains in capital costs for long-term political will, institutional architecture and funding to provide services every day.

How then, can external funding be productive? NGOs and learning institutions should embrace the fact that we are smaller than the major external donors such as the World Bank (I will leave it to others to debate the impact of large external funding from the Bank) and don't have to live with the political realities, constraints and snail's pace of government. Because smaller institutions with lower levels of funding can be fast and nimble and operate outside of the official institutions, we can have outsize influence.

This then is the challenge for many of the organizations now in the position of directly delivering WASH in schools services (and who shouldn't be): how can we position ourselves as learners, influencers and advocates? The transition involves some sobering realities: (1) Many donors are currently more interested in funding direct service delivery; we have to learn to say, “no,” or even better, “here’s how your funds could have more influence” (2) It is cheaper to do this kind of work—mainly staff and some research costs with limited to no hardware—so there will be less funding flowing through NGOs (3) The skill sets needed are different. We will need less project managers and field officers and more staff with research and analysis skills and the ability to network with and influence policymakers.

While these realities imply serious changes in the way we do business, the payoff is that progress in meeting school WASH goals will be more sustainable as the systems and funds for operations and maintenance are brought online. And when improvements happen, they will more likely be at large, sometimes national, scale rather than a few latrine blocks here and a rainwater system there.

Side: Yes it does
1 point

Brooks makes some good points - points that many NGOs will find scary. Rather than continuing to fix the symptoms of ineffective systems (lack of water, toilets, hygiene education, and/or handwashing facilities in schools and communities), we really do need to think about systems and the best place (if any) for external activities and/or funds to leverage changes. Changing the way we work, talk to donors and the staff we have on board will be daunting to most.

Side: Yes it does
1 point

In support what has been said above I want to suggest some issues that have to be brought up with those responsible for sanitation (not only toilets) on schools.

- sanitation at school do not have to look all alike. There is a need for benchmarking and gradual progress to allow communities, school administrations and governments to improve school sanitation without being scared of by standards of external donors or rigid engineers.

- experience shows that in most school students pee more than using the toilet for poo. Urinal are easier to clean and less expensive to construct. Nevertheless, you will find view school with separated and relative more urinal.

- school sanitation program should first of all been targeted at people order and are building schools. It is simply unbelievable that schools are build without sanitation facilities.

- in most places parents and communities are proud to send there children to school and contribute to the success of the school. Experience shows that through donations, sponsoring, activities and saving schemes people can and do take initiatives to mobilize local financial resources to improve school (sanitation).

Side: Yes it does
1 point

I would have to say I support this view although I don't have a great deal of experience of working on the ground in this sector. One point I would like to make though is that in many cases I have read about when external funding programs come to an end the operation and maintenance of such programs/infrastructure often fails to meet the required standards anymore. This cycle often has a relitevely short lifespan and once that external support network (and funding) has been removed there is no longer the drive to monitor progress, standards and achievements. Here is were I think the undermining comes in as national and local commitment are there for the longhaul and as such more of a focus of external funding bodies should be given to building the capacity of those national and local bodies. That way when the 'pot' of external funding money and support comes to an eventual end the national and local bodies have the ability to continue to support the maintainance and operatation of that WASH initiative well into the future.

Side: Yes it does
1 point

In principle effective delivery of WASH interventions to achive expected outcomes depends on the synergy of the three levels:Local ,national and international.We need the local level commitment and whatever locally available resources,we need national level political,policy and budgetary commitment for going-to-scale and the international support to keep re-igniting the national commitments and linking to the international commitments.Finally , it makes a huge difference with all three levels working complementarily and each adding value to the other.We should not underestimate the value-addition of any of the three levels !

Side: Yes it does
1 point

Is funding for direct delivery of school WASH services from NGOs, donors and other stakeholders undermining the commitment of national governments and communities? To me it seems so explicit that direct delivery of school WASH services from NGOs, donors and other stakeholders does undermine the commitment of national governments and communities. Is not the whole point of development work based on countries undertaking action themselves without the assistant of external funders.

It is wonderful to see such a dynamic discussion taking place. I agree with all the colleagues whom are for this statement. Sustainable development is about national, district and local level taking on their own responsibilities around WASH in schools If you have the chance do have a look at the video on the following link- getting the most local level involved in WASH in school:

Side: Yes it does
2 points

Direct service delivery for WASH in Schools (WinS) has its place in certain situations. In emergencies, for example, or – in some cases – in poor communities where government funding is limited or non-existent. However, direct funding should always be leveraged in such a way that it goes beyond serving the target schools and communities. Externally-funded projects should be designed to serve as models to demonstrate successful new approaches and principles (or even to demonstrate what doesn’t work). But this doesn’t happen automatically: external support for service delivery must be provided within a broader programme of cooperation with local and national government stakeholders that can capitalize on the demonstration potential of pilots. For example, if the project is properly monitored and assessed it can provide evidence on benefits accruing from WinS to help leverage new finance streams, or it can be an input to a process on modifying national standards for WinS.

Side: No it doesn't
2 points

It is difficult to place oneself on the yes or no side of this argument. In an ideal situation – that most of us are striving for – school WASH would be provided by governments. This is the end game, but we are clearly not there yet. One of the key ways in which international donors and NGOs can help to achieve this is through policy advocacy and through being part of the process to develop best practices. Implementing school WASH programs, when done properly through engagement with local partners, communities and government agencies, gives us the understanding of the sector, the challenges and context and the name recognition necessary to be a credible voice in effective policy advocacy at the country level. Basically, experience in the trenches gets you a seat at the table and can sometimes give you more credibility than those who may be seen as being in “ivory towers.”

Best practices in school WASH are still being developed and much of this would likely not have happened without programs from external donors. Development and refinement of these best practices can then be seen as another step toward the end game. Perhaps governments will see that the often quite small investments required for school WASH can have great benefits in a wide range of areas: directly, health and education of course, but also, indirectly, poverty alleviation, the local and national economy, gender equality, maternal and child health, in fact, most of the MDGs! Communities may also see what is possible and both engage further in improving the situation in their community and local school and in advocating for improved services themselves.

I would argue that external donors' use and refinement of good practices through implementation of school WASH should be part of the hand that they play in effectively advocating for both governments and communities to take on increased commitment in the sector.

Simon Mead, WaterCan

Side: No it doesn't
1 point

No, especially when starting up new initiatives external funding is essential to demonstrate the problem and its potential impacts. In many developing countries, certainly the initial capital costs for construction of WASH facilities will not be covered by national or local government budgets unless they (and the people who vote for them) are convinced of the importance of WASH in Schools.... we all know that people learn more from experiencing that something works than from being told that something will work.

Side: No it doesn't
1 point

For the sake of argument, I think that external funding for WASH in Schools projects does not undermine national and local commitment to providing these services. In theory, I would prefer to say “yes” but, in practice, I say “no”. All too often in my travels in the developing world visiting schools and their respective water supply and latrine systems I see poorly maintained and dilapidated systems that show no signs of cleanliness and maintenance long after funding has ended. Local and national governments are just not putting the necessary resources into these systems. Could it be because of external funding opportunities? Perhaps. Could it be the cultural viewpoint of adults towards children? I think more likely.

Who hasn’t visited a school where the students get excited to see a visitor and congregate at the classroom door and windows to gawk at the visitors only to get shooed away by teachers and other adults? I think there is a lack of respect of adults towards children. Children are seen as a drain of resources, especially financial and food, and play a subservient role to adults instead of being seen for the potential positive inputs to the household and community they can bring as they grow into adults. Until this potential is recognized by adults, especially adult leaders and educators, children will not be provided with the services (i.e., improved water supplies and sanitation) that they require to succeed in school and live healthy, productive lives.

Side: No it doesn't
1 point

That fact that most national and local funds on WASH ends up embezzled does not in any way means that they are undermined by external funding. External funding as you would agree with have been in most areas where WASH programs are needed most, the saving grace. if we really want to save our future generation and leaders, direct delivery of school WASH services should be prioritized for now.

Side: No it doesn't
1 point

No! I think it is obvious that external funding for WASH in School does not undermine national and local commitment. The budget from the Government to the responsible institutions at the local or District level is not adequate to ensure that every school benefit from the program. There is limited resources competing for large number of programs and projects in the country. Therefore, there will be the need to source for external funding to top up the Governemnt budget or local District budget to achieved comprehesive WASH program for school. No District or community should be left behind in the program delivery. External funding as it is seen (by both local and Governemnt) is just a support to complement the effort of Government or local districts. The external support has help the Government to extend services and provision of WASH facilities to deprived and unreached local district and communities. The communities and local Government recognised the contribution and external funding support from Donor, Developed Nations, and individuals for WASH in school because a nation without good and healthy pupils will result in weak human resources capacity at the base. The local people and Governement do not only see these funders as friends, partners but also as shareholders. Lastly external funding to the Government unconciously strengthens bilateral relations between countries and Donors. All effort should be put in place to ensure continuous support to the weaker countries and Governments in the other continents.

Side: No it doesn't
1 point

When used strategically, external financing can strengthen national and local commitment, rather than undermine it.

First, external donors should ensure they are “minor stakeholders” when it comes to financing direct delivery of WASH in schools projects. Securing the bulk of finance (>50%) must remain the responsibility of (local) government and school authorities. This way they remain accountable and cannot pass on responsibility to donors when projects don’t deliver.

Secondly, donors should focus more on building the capacities of local stakeholders to live up to their commitments.

Finally, donors and local stakeholders should sign up to some form of (financial and institutional) sustainability clause. This would include an agreement to implement a transparent system to monitor the commitments of all stakeholders.

Side: No it doesn't
1 point

I think it depends on how the resources have been provided. For example; in the provision of this form of support, has the government and or the concerned service provider been involved? If yes, at which stage of the project?

If the concerned stakeholders are not included from the beginning of the project, they feel left out and somehow they consider their efforts being undermined.

It is true that in most countries poor WASH services are mostly among other factors attributed to financial contraints. But, it has also been realised that even in some cases where finances have been provided, the WASH situation has not changed much. This is due to a number of reasons. Among these, is lack of involvement of stakeholders from the beginning of the project.

As long as the 'on-ground' stakeholders dont feel a sense of belonging during the implementation of a given project, even when the project ends, they cannot easily intervene to ensure sustainability of such services.

In conclusion therefore, I think the way and point (stage) of involvement of either the government and or local communities may (or may not) undermine their levels of commitment.

Caroline Murungi

Researcher in the field of Water and Sanitation

UNESCO-IHE, Delft-The Netherlands

Side: No it doesn't