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Let's stop the stink: Launch of the DFID water and sanitation policy

Time (GMT +00) 14:00 17:00

Session 1

  • Speaker:
    Douglas Alexander - Secretary of State for International Development 
  • Discussants:
    Simon Maxwell - Director, ODI
    Barbara Frost - Cheif Executive, WaterAid 
  • Chair:
    Steve Jones 

Session 2

  • Speakers:
    Jamie Bartman - Coordinator for Assessing and Managing Environmental Risks, World Health Organisation  
    Bai-Mass Taal - Executive Secretary, African Ministers Council on Water
    Letitia Obeng - Chair, Global Water Partnership
    Ian Curtis - Senior Water Advisor, DFID
  • Chair:
    Simon Maxwell - Director, ODI

  1. The event marked the launch of the Department for International Development (DFID) Policy on Water & Sanitation.
  1. The Secretary of State, Douglas Alexander, launched the Policy, which prioritises the following issues for tackling water & sanitation:
    1. Sanitation;
    2. Water resource management; and
    3. Governance.
  1. Douglas Alexander justified the reasons for prioritising the three issues, highlighting the need to bring sanitation back on the agenda given the linkages between health and sanitation and as a means to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. He also emphasised the need to focus on water resource management as a means to support countries build their resilience to climate change, and the importance of governance as a means to build political support for the achievement of all development goals.
  1. Douglas Alexander highlighted the need to both increase and effectively manage finances for water and sanitation. In this regard he outlined the following:
    1. The need for governments, donors and UN agencies involved in water to co-ordinate their efforts at national and international levels.
    2. He highlighted that DFID will continue to champion the ‘Five Ones’ strategy on water and sanitation to strengthen planning, target financing and monitor progress.
    3. He pledged that the government’s investment trajectory for sanitation would continue, with DFID spending 1 billon pounds on water and sanitation in Africa over the next five years & supporting at least 30 million more people to gain access to improved sanitation in South Asia by 2011;
    4. A further 30 million pounds over the next three years will be invested to support water resource management in Asia and Africa, in response to the impacts of climate change, to support economic growth and avoid conflict;
    5. He outlined that the government will work with partners to build political will in support of water and sanitation.
  1. Margaret Batty from WaterAid & Simon Maxwell from the Overseas Development Institute provided comments on the Policy.
  1. Margaret Batty outlined the strengths and challenges of the Policy. She said the policy was a welcome opportunity to renew efforts on sanitation and agreed with the three priorities outlined in the Policy. She outlined the following points with respect to the prioritised issues:
    1. Sanitation is not an outcome of development but a driver;
    2. Local needs must be the starting point for water resource management for climate change and development;
    3. Local priorities must be taken up in management and governance frameworks by supporting human, technical and financial capacity at the local level.
  1. Margaret Batty outlined the following challenges in implementing the Policy:
    1. She highlighted a need for a greater focus on gender;
    2. In terms of governance, she highlighted that DFID needs to adopt a department wide focus on WASH, which also needs to be integrated into broader policy frameworks.
    3. In terms of financing, she highlighted that DFID needs to work with other donors to fill the MDG funding gap.
  1. Simon Maxwell commended the Policy and highlighted the following three points in relation to it:
    1. He highlighted the role of leadership, which includes having a vision to deal with a difficult topic like sanitation and dealing with the politics of delivery, which requires long term commitment and engagement;
    2. He highlighted the difficult and dangerous moment in development driven by the financial crisis. He outlined that in order not to lose the commitment at this point there is a need to tell a story based on a ‘rights’ and ‘returns’ agenda – The rights discourse (water being a basic human right) has been influential in the water sector and cost benefit estimates in the water sector play an important role in highlighting the rate of returns from investments.
    3. He highlighted the multi-dimensional nature of water resources, which includes, secure water, virtual water, water and sanitation, and water resource management. In this context he highlighted that water is not independent of the larger aid effectiveness agenda and DFID has been successful in highlighting this connection.
  1. The launch and discussion was followed by a question and answer round where the following issues were raised:
    1.  How can a willing private sector be contracted by the public sector to provide service delivery?
    2. The policy needs to strengthen linkages between health and water.
    3. How will DFID engage with sectors that use water, e.g. agriculture and trade?
    4. How will the commitments outlined in the Policy engage and work with other international commitments?
    5. How will success be monitored? Douglas Alexander highlighted that input (in terms of allocated DFID advisers) is not the best way to measure commitment. Mainstreaming – where governments see WSS as the building block for achieving other development goals – is a more effective measure and will be DFID’s focus.
    6. The policy needs to focus on regulation, which is the biggest driver of change at the local level – Douglas Alexander highlighted that regulation can not be imposed externally and must be based on a country level approach.
    7. How does the commitment to spending on water and sanitation fit with the emphasis given to budget support? Douglas Alexander responded that while budget support does mean a loss of donor control over how money is spent, it can be a lever for greater policy influence.
  1. The Panel Discussion focused on ‘What’s Needed to Implement this Policy?’. The panellists were: Jamie Bartram from the World Health Organisation (Coordinator of the Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health Unit); Bai-Mass Taal (Executive Secretary of the African Ministers Council on Water), Letitia Obeng (chair of the Global Water Partnership) and Ian Curtis from DFID (Head of Profession for the Environment).
  1. Jamie Bartram highlighted why WSS is important for the WHO; discussed 2 points from the Policy and outlined 3 other issues of importance that should be considered:
    1. In terms of importance to the WHO, he outlined that 10% of all health failure globally is attributed to the lack of access to safe drinking water.
    2. With respect to the Policy, he highlighted that the Policy’s focus on sustainability and coherent financing was essential. He said that a greater focus on sustainability would help putting policy into practice and that coherent financing would help avoid a further dip in the commitment to WSS;
    3. The three additional issues that need to be taken on board include: i) A focus on the poor and vulnerable; ii) Ensuring that sanitation is everybody’s business and not a compartmentalised issue; iii) Drinking water should not be forgotten: he argued that if a higher standard was applied to the drinking water MDG target than accessibility 30 minutes from the home, the drinking water target would be as far off-track as the sanitation target.
  1. Bai-Mass Taal highlighted the following issues:
    1. He commended the Policy, especially the Five Ones framework and the fact that it reflects African priorities;
    2. He emphasised that water is a basic human right, yet is not prioritised politically: water is weakly represented in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, and therefore receives little budgetary allocation leaving the sector dependent on donors;
    3. He highlighted that financing for WSS needs to be predictable & sustainable to enable planning within the country;
    4. He highlighted that WSS agendas should be set at a national level and not by the donor community, and should also respond to the needs of communities;
    5. He highlighted a need to store and redistribute water, as well as ensure access to drinking water and integrated management.
  1. Letitia Obeng congratulated DFID on the Policy and outlined 2 areas where she agrees with the content and 2 areas that will pose a challenge in its implementation.
    1. She agreed that there is a need to bring sanitation to the fore and to focus on water resource management to manage existing and future risks.
    2. In terms of challenges, she highlighted that there is a need to respond to increasing urbanisation: in 2008, urban populations are expected to excess rural for the first time. She also emphasised the critical need to to engage with actors outside the water sector in order to have an impact.
  1. Ian Curtis highlighted that the Policy has strong political support and that strong partnerships exist for a collective effort to achieve its goals. He agreed that there is a need to focus on gender and ways to do this need to be articulated. He also agreed with the need to engage with external actors and look beyond the water sector. In addition, he emphasised the centrality of building capacity: he stated that the sector is estimated to be 10 million people short worldwide, and that those already working in the sector often struggle with low capacity. Looking ahead, he suggested that DFID must focus on sustainability and building resilience to climate change, including through increasing storage.
  1. The following issues/questions were raised in the floor discussion.
    1. The role of groundwater was highlighted and the current need to plug the data deficit to understand issues of recharge was articulated – Ian Curtis agreed with this but pointed towards the politics of groundwater management.
    2. A need to better articulate the difference between water resources and WSS was highlighted, as these were said to be confused in the document leading to potential difficulties in implementation.
    3. The role of partnerships was brought up. It was outlined that DFID has strong partnerships to deliver on the WSS agenda but a similar partnership for water resource management is lacking, and there was therefore a concern about the capacity to implement this aspect of the policy. In response, Ian Curtis highlighted that DFID has tied itself to the aid effectiveness agenda and the broader development context – potential partners should look into engaging with DFID within this context.
    4. The role of critical thinking was highlighted in assessing the effectiveness of a policy;
    5. Monitoring and Impact evaluation was highlighted as important – the need to develop different indicators for different levels was articulated.
    6. In response to a question about what are the major concerns for African Water Ministries, Bai-Mass Taal emphasised the need to ensure that donor funding is predictable and reliable, and to avoid shifting goalposts which delay disbursement of promised funds.
    7. Is budget support a friend or foe of water? Bai-Mass Taal suggested that it was a foe, because it is difficult for Water Ministries to negotiate with the Ministry of Finance.
  1. In concluding remarks from the chair and the panel, it was repeatedly emphasised that most important thing is the implementation of the policy, and the devil is likely to be in the detail. DFID called for a continued conversation and constructive engagement around the policy.


At this launch event in London, UK Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, launched DFID's new water and sanitation policy. This was followed by a panel discussion.

The event was jointly hosted by WaterAid and ODI. This was the precursor to a series of meetings, run by ODI, designed to raise critical water and sanitation issues and stimulate debate through expert panel discussions and engagement with a broad stakeholder audience. The meetings will look in more detail at issues around sanitation, aid effectiveness, climate change and water resources management.