How can we monitor WASH services in an extremely resource constrained environment: the example of Madagascar.

Posted on 09/11/2015 by Julia Boulenoaur

The WASH sector in Madagascar is undergoing significant changes: the sustainable WASH strategy laying out priorities for the next decade has recently been approved and officially initiates discussions on the operationalisation of the Sector Wide Approach (SWAp); a new “code de l’eau” emphasising  decentralisation is being re-visited; a functional regulation authority might see the light of day, regional planning is being rolled out and an agreement has been signed between ministries for the creation of technical WASH positions at the communal level... and these are just a few.

All these developments either point to the need for more data for decision making (on effective management models, cost of achieving full coverage); or the establishment of new roles for monitoring, which begs the question: does the current monitoring system have the capacity to really address these needs?

Over the past few weeks, I have been assessing sector monitoring capacity in Madagascar to identify limitations and suggest practical and realistic ways of improvement. I have been probing stakeholders about resistance to share data, use of results, indicators, data collection, people and money. Not surprisingly, the system has many weaknesses which range from lack of vision to resource limitations. The result is insufficient buy-in and a sector evaluating its performance and planning future investments based on obscure mechanisms...

In Madagascar, like many other countries where organisations are more willing to invest in tools than people, monitoring has long been equated with IT systems, with little consideration for the minimum needed for decision making, human resource capacity and realistic mechanisms for data updating. More worrying is the current focus on new systems with little or no information on existing services, although the high rates of non-functionality and related questions on management and financial viability are known to all.

Large investments have been made, but the whole system relies on either partners’ willingness to share or local volunteers to collect data. The regions in charge of data verification often lack capacity but use data verification as a mechanism to resist partners who do not involve them in implementation. This situation results in large volumes of data waiting for approval, neither shared nor used for decision making, thus feeding the vicious circle of not using- not  incentivising and not collecting data.

So what can be done and where to start?

A lot needs to be done for monitoring to be effective in Madagascar, but the message I have been giving is the need to work equally on top down and bottom up approaches:

- At sector level, stakeholders need to agree on i) a vision for sector monitoring taking into account ongoing reforms and ii) a results framework made of a limited number of indicators.
-    At local level,
we need to think of simple ways of collecting data when it is needed. This will differ for water, sanitation and hygiene and should be guided by planning needs, existing human resource capacities and linked to immediate action whenever possible (maintenance, local planning).

In parallel, the Government has to start seriously questioning partners and adopting sanctions for those resisting sharing data.  Once the system is populated with simple but reliable data, through mechanisms linked to action; the sector should immediately start using this data for planning.

Behind all this is the idea that the sector should be transparent, its performance openly discussed and planning evidence-based; all of which is debatable.

With current levels of investment at $1.36 compared to the required $5/person/year, the real starting point seems to be for Government to recognise the need for more public investment!