Learning from other sectors

A key component of this planning grant was to see if water and sanitation professionals could learn from how other sectors work in small towns. This was for two purposes:

  • To understand if there were ways that the health, education, telecommunications, energy or other sectors reach poor people in small towns that could be instructive for the water and sanitation sectors.
  • To determine if there were features of other sectors’ approaches on which the water and sanitation sector could piggyback – combining forces to allow for economies of scale, greater efficiencies, innovations or otherwise.

In each country we visited we held conversations with practitioners and policymakers from other sectors that were initially identified as the most relevant to our work. Admittedly, time was short but for the most part these discussions were not as helpful as we would have liked or expected. A few key explanations began to emerge. In many instances, it appears that small towns as a classification seem to only exist in the water and sanitation sector. Emerging towns, market towns and other classifications seem to focus more on the function of the town than on meeting the service needs of the town. This requires further thought and discussion, perhaps starting with the academic community. Indeed, even the literature review at the beginning of our process did not yield much on this angle of inquiry.

A further explanation may lie in the nature of the sectors explored. For example, the energy sector tends to be highly centralised with decisions taken far away from the remit of local decision-makers. The health sector provides services like the water and sanitation sectors but in such a way that the consumer usually travels to the provider rather than the more localised or household approach. The telecommunications sector also operates on a ‘pay as you go’ system but without the, often unrecoverable, capital costs of the water sector.

Whilst we are not giving up on the learning and piggybacking aspects, perhaps going forward the conversation should start by exploring how what happens in other sectors impacts on the water and sanitation sectors and vice versa. Does the availability of energy or microcredit, for example, create a greater demand for water for cottage industries? Is the availability of water a necessary catalyst for certain types of small-scale industries that increase the viability of investment in energy supply?