By Digbijoy Dey (Programme Officer, IRC) and Erick Baetings (Senior Sanitation Specialist, IRC) in collaboration with WAI WASH SDG sub-programme in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in eliminating open defecation. As a result, it achieved most of the targets of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, the momentum of progressing towards safely managed WASH services in line with the Sustainable Development Goals seems to have slowed down. It seems that the high-level political commitment had lost some of its thrust after the country’s success in the MDGs era. The new SDG targets failed to have generated concern among the policy makers about the quality of services.
New strategies come into play
SDG target 6 focuses on two key issues. The first is ensuring access to services for all (leave no one behind) and the second is concern over the quality of the services. At present, there is still a small segment of the population without access to WASH services, but many others do not have access to quality WASH services. To address this situation, two new strategies were developed. Firstly, the 2020 Pro-poor Strategy for the Water and Sanitation Sector and secondly, the 2021 National Strategy for Water Supply and Sanitation.
The National Strategy for the Water Supply and Sanitation is expected to guide service providers in providing quality water and sanitation services as it is revised to align with the SDG indicators from the 2014 National Strategy for Water Supply and Sanitation.
WASH service delivery at subnational level
The programme carried out a study on local level WASH service monitoring in Bangladesh. The study revealed that WASH service monitoring at the local level primarily falls under the responsibility of the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), as the prime responsible actor for Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) service delivery in small towns and rural areas.
According to the Local Government Act 2009, operation and maintenance of the WASH services fall under the responsibility of Local Government Institutes (LGIs) i.e., City Corporations (cities), Municipalities (smaller towns) and Union Parishads (rural areas) except for the four large cities where separate Sanitation and Sewerage Authorities exist. DPHE constructs piped water networks and water treatment systems and then hands them over to the Municipalities. The Water Supply Departments of the City Corporations and Municipalities (supported by DPHE) take care of the operation and maintenance of these systems. On the other hand, Union Parishads have no separate department responsible for water and sanitation. Sanitation is the responsibility of individual households (self-supply) with most people relying on onsite sanitation facilities.
Now let us have a look at the Pro-Poor Strategy. The strategy defines standards for basic minimum water and sanitation services. It also includes a step-by-step process to identify eligible poor households and a mechanism to administer subsidies. The strategy has a provision to provide 100% subsidy to the poorest households. The strategy encourages LGIs, NGOs and CSOs to work together to identify the eligible households and provide them with safe water and sanitation services.
Role of WAI WASH SDG programme in implementing the pro-poor strategy
In the WASH SDG programme, Simavi and its in-country partners are strengthening the capacity of the LGIs to implement the strategy. As part of that, the programme has organised advocacy workshops in Dhaka and in respective programme areas together with LGD executives and elected representatives of the LGI. The workshops were primarily for raising awareness among the LGIs and identifying bottlenecks to implement the strategy. The programme is continuing its work on this, such as for issuing a guiding letter from LGD to the LGIs to enhance the implementation of the strategy (it was identified in the workshop in Dhaka that such a letter can act as push for the LGIs to start implementing the strategy).
Challenges of implementing the Pro-Poor strategy
At the subnational level there are WASH standing committees that, according to the pro-poor strategy, are responsible for the selection of eligible poor households. The selection has to be done in accordance with the basic minimum service criteria of the strategy. The question is whether the standing committee members have the skills and resources to carry out their responsibilities. To date, no training or resources have been provided to these committees.
Another question is whether these committees have access to information that provides insight into the households without access to drinking water and sanitation services. The study revealed that this type of information is not readily available at subnational level. There are reporting systems in place that try to provide insight in access and coverage but that do not provide insight in quality and services levels.
JMP WASH Service Ladder
DPHE is in the process of developing a Sanitation and Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) dashboard which will include information on sanitation service levels. However, the dashboard is only meant to be used by municipalities (urban areas). In the absence of quality information, Upazila chairmen and Union Parishad chairmen control the process of water and sanitation infrastructure resource allocations as the subsidy applications are to be approved by them. After approval by the Upazila or Union Parishad chairmen, the Upazila water, sanitation and hygiene (WATSAN) committee takes care of the actual distribution of handpumps depending on the availability of funds. Practically the Union Parishad standing committees cannot play a strong role in the selection of households and allocation of handpumps.
How service monitoring plays a role in the implementation of the Pro-Poor Strategy
It is important to introduce a subnational level WASH service level monitoring system that can support the process of local level planning and resource allocations. Furthermore, it can provide information for national level planning purposes. At present, local level planning (where targets and costed activities are present) is absent.
Different levels of effort for WASH service monitoring
Another point that came up during the study and its follow-up discussion with the LGI representatives is the fact that there is a gap between the process of grant distribution of DPHE and LGIs. DPHE works following a circular issued in 2007 by the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives. The Union Parishads on the other hand operate in accordance with the 2009 Union Parishad Act and its operational guideline issued in 2018.
The 2007 Circular and the 2009 Act provide opposite or contradictory guidance to the Union Parishad. According to the 2007 Circular, Union Parishads should have WATSAN committees at Union and Ward level. These WATSAN committees are responsible for identifying the eligible poor households.
However, according to the 2009 Act and its operational guideline, there is no provision for Union and Ward level WATSAN committees. Instead, there is to be a standing committee for sanitation, water supply and faecal sludge management. To create the needed clarity, it would help if the DPHE updates or substitutes its 2007 Circular to align the allocation/subsidy process with the 2009 Union Parishad Act.
It is unlikely that the Local Government Division can develop a subnational WASH service monitoring system within days. But continuous lobby and advocacy is needed to ensure LGD understands the urgency for subnational service level monitoring to inform planning and resource allocation processes.
During the period where there is no service level monitoring data available, LGIs need to work closely with NGOs and CSOs working in their areas to obtain relevant service level information. For example, WASH SDG programme partners are using social mapping tools to collect service information on the community level. In some areas, LGIs have started to use this information for local level planning. These LGIs are developing list of hard-core poor households eligible for the WASH subsidy with support from the WAI WASH SDG sub-programme partners.
Institutionalising such use can be an interim solution until LGD develops and commissions a local level WASH service monitoring system of their own.