Reflections on Kampala WASH Symposium

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Julia helped to design the agenda, facilitate and lead plenary sessions, here she provides some reflections on the latest symposium:

Two hundred WASH professionals from five continents gathered in Kampala last week to talk about “whole of system approach”, “system change” and how to be part of it. The first symposium co-organised by SUSANA and SustainableWASH.org, but more importantly the first time I hear so many people talking about a broader system they are part of rather than organisations promoting individual projects.

In addition to meeting friends and colleagues from all over the world, here are a few things I’ll remember:

  • We need to be accountable for services: Eng. Commissioner Kabrizi from the Ministry of Water and Environment in Uganda drawing everyone’s attention to the challenge of ensuring reliable services in his country and the importance of holding each other accountable for services delivered and not just infrastructure and access rates which say nothing about the actual quality of services.
  • We can support universal and sustainable services through the district: WaterAid, Water for People and Government of Rwanda coming together behind a “district wide approach” to achieving universal and sustainable services.
  • Apply complexity thinking: the complexity we live by needs to translate in our approach to WASH services. We need to map elements of all kinds which influence WASH services, understand our role in this multi-faceted system, identify problems, test solutions, learn from successes and failures and adapt continuously.
  • Money and politics are crucial: although we would want decisions to be evidence based, politics are driven by darker forces. We do need to push for more and better evidence, but we also need to engage with real politics and big money if we are to make a genuine difference.
  • As for all the WASH conferences I have been to, there was not many politicians in the room, mainly traditional donors were represented and there was no mention of BRICS countries which invest vast amounts of money into WASH, but still figure nowhere in our own little AID-driven vision of the world….
  • People want solutions we cannot offer: participants wanted “practical solutions” to take away, not just a vague understanding of a complex “system” we are in and principles to align to. Although we all love magic solutions, new approaches and funky tools, we need to figure out for ourselves where we fit in this system and find our own solutions.

It’s still a long way to go before political agendas and budgets align to people’s needs, but there is definitely recognition that business as usual has reached its limit and we need to evolve quickly and flexibly. 

On a much closer and bleaker note, let’s now see how the BREXIT vote translates
into complexity theory. We better start mapping.

To learn more about the symposium contact Julia here.