What will the WASH sector look like in 2020?

A team from IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre has been “horizon-scanning” – trying to identify the possible trends in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector leading up to 2020. The analysis combines predictions of how key on-the-ground programme issues may develop, and anticipates their interplay with national and international political and economic changes, especially changes in approaches and levels of funding from international donors. Putting together these trends suggests four possible scenarios for 2020:

  • Scenario 1: “Two steps forward; one step back for the sector.” An increased focus on aid effectiveness means that donor funding is reduced for unstable and middle-income countries. Support continues towards poor but stable countries, and better indicators and monitoring are adopted which focus on sustainable services rather than simple coverage – but the “maintenance backlog” and limited accountability mean that sustainability is still a long way off.
  • Scenario 2: “New players in a less stable environment.” Financial and food price crises return, but traditional donors continue give similar levels of aid (perhaps because of political inertia). However the sector as whole becomes more chaotic as newer donors with differing priorities emerge more powerful from the crises.
  • Scenario 3: “Towards a post-aid WASH sector.” Political stability, worldwide economic recovery and growth – aid is reduced and focused on a handful of very poor and fragile states. The global focus shifts to water scarcity and resources management.
  • Scenario 4: “A multi-polar WASH sector.” Economic growth leads to more new donors, especially through increased regional cooperation. Financing becomes more haphazard although there are some efforts between donors to seek effective division of labour and specialisation in their activities.

The full document is worth reading to see how the authors arrive at these scenarios. One of the key uncertainties identified (and reflected in the scenarios) is how investment levels in the sector will change. Current data on investments from different sources is limited (more detailed for donor spending, much less clear for investments by national governments and users), and it is difficult to assess what is really needed. The Water Services That Last blog had a good discussion of this point (in response to a Guardian article arguing that the water sector lacks funding because it is ‘unsexy’), arguing that the sector needs to make better use of existing resources before asking donors for more money. My previous discussions about understanding what water and sanitation facilities people actually use and how sustainability can be improved are just some examples of this.

Finally, the authors allow themselves a bit of creativity in fleshing out possible details of developments to come in the sector before 2020. My favourites: voice recognition software in mobile phones for remote monitoring of tube wells will win the Water Innovation Award at the 2013 Stockholm World Water Week; the SAMBA (South Africa, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina) countries will become key researchers on the water scarcity crisis from 2015; and Namibia will be the first sub-Saharan African country to become independent from aid, in 2018. Let’s see what happens.


2 Comments on “What will the WASH sector look like in 2020?”

  1. [...] or be reduced in unstable countries where failure is seen as more likely. This is probably the “two steps forward; one step back” scenario that IRC suggested as one possible vision for the sector in [...]

  2. [...] last point is one of the key questions raised by Melamed and Green: if international aid money becomes a less important part of the funding mix, what post-MDGs agreement might influence national governments to invest more in sustainable WASH [...]


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