The challenge of targeting investments

I’m just back from a conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, organised by WaterAid in West Africa to discuss and promote its approach of working closely with decentralised local governments in the region to support water and sanitation provision. The most interesting part of the event for me was a visit to a peri-urban municipality of Ouagadougou. In a meeting at the mayor’s office, we discussed how the council had developed a local development plan for water and sanitation with support from WaterAid’s partners and discussion with community representatives. The local government then began the process of seeking funding for the plan’s implementation from central government, donors and the local private sector.

However, despite the intention that this planning process would help prioritise the areas most in need of improved water and sanitation services, the second part of our visit showed the difficulty of achieving this. We saw a community on the outskirts of the municipality, far enough from the city centre to be the beginnings of rural Burkina Faso, where over 1000 people were using a new handpump designed to serve 300 users – resulting in the queues shown below. Meanwhile in the part of the municipality closer to the city, funds had been allocated to a new public tapstand connected to the main water network, in an area which already had some other tapstands and household connections. There was not time to discuss the details of this case, but various possible reasons emerged for the apparent discrepancy. Connecting new tapstands to the existing piped urban network is usually cheaper than drilling extra boreholes in areas further away, so when funds are limited (and need to be spent rather than saved) the cheaper option becomes the priority rather than the area with greater pressure on existing services. Also, ‘rural’ areas like this which technically fall within urban municipalities may miss out on the funding allocated by donors to the rural water sector, but are not yet considered viable for connection to urban networks.

Queue 1

Queue 2

This example is a good reminder that targeting the poor and marginalised is always a challenge in development. WaterAid’s policy team is working on a much wider study about targeting in the water and sanitation sector which should be completed later this year.

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