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Statistics on Water & Sanitation Failures

The above graph shows the trend in the average global failure rate for water points in developing countries. It was compiled from a painstaking analysis of over 124 functionality studies from around the world, done by Improve International. This amazing organization, founded in 2011, has taken on the mission of finding ways to improve the responses to the global water and sanitation crisis. Their list of failure statistics is highly recommended for anyone and everyone working in the WASH sector, or for any organization/agency that invests in clear water and sanitation projects.

We believe that people deserve to have high quality water and sanitation services, not just for life, but for generations. We believe that independent evaluation of water and sanitation programs in developing countries will identify objectively what’s really working well and what’s not (and why).  By promoting learning and innovation, we hope to help improve the work and coordination of international development organizations so that generations can enjoy safe water and convenient toilets. 

                                                                                      – Improve International

Perhaps among all the international development sectors, the WASH sector is the worst at admitting failures, which I believe is a prerequisite to learning from failures. As someone who has been working in the WASH sector for almost a decade now, I have been part of several failures myself – solar pumps being stolen, tree growing out of what used to be a water tank, and hand pumps breaking. I would like to think I have learned from those experiences, but I have to say I have never been availed a platform to admit to these failures and discuss them openly with others. The organizations I have worked with, were focused on inputs and outputs, not outcomes and impacts. Funding depends on success, mostly in the form of pictures of adorable children playing and washing their hands with clean water, and women using their new shiny sand filter. How can they let those few failures jeopardize funding, and their most noble mission. But what if a few turns out to be many – as this study demonstrates, over 40% ?

It is now time to re-evaluate our approach, and focus on proven practices. I am not saying I, or anyone for that matter, has the answer to a sustainable water project. All I am saying is that we need to promote a culture that admits to failure and strives towards systematic change. For all WASH enthusiasts out there, let’s make it hard for development organizations to hide behind PR pictures of success; let’s get them to admit to their failures, address them, and learn from them.

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