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IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre

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Yes, they will be able to No, this will never happen
Debate Score:10
Total Votes:10
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 Yes, they will be able to (2)
 No, this will never happen (6)

Debate Creator

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Will local governments ever be able to meet policy obligations?

 WASH in Schools SWASH+ logo

This is the final in a series of three e-debates on WASH in Schools, inspired by the SWASH+ Project.

The key question that we are raising in this e-debate is:  Will  local governments ever be able to generate enough resources to meet their policy obligations?

This debate will run until 23 November 2012.

For more information on this e-debate series go to:

In the first debate in this series we asked:  Are JMP Post-2015 indicators on WASH in schools a step in the right direction?

In the the second debate the question was: Does external funding for WASH in Schools undermine national & local commitment?

Yes, they will be able to

Side Score: 3

No, this will never happen

Side Score: 7
1 point

V. Kurian Baby, SPO, IRC

Empowered local self -governments (ELSGs) will be able to generate enough resources to meet their policy obligations. It depends on the depth and extent of decentralization; whether they are truly decentralized or only de-concentrated. Under genuine decentralization the powers, functions, finance and functionaries are fully devolved with a comprehensive empowerment /capacity building process on the basis of scientific need assessment to perform the devolved responsibilities. Responsibility drives capacity – if it can work at centralized level, it can effectively work at decentralized level too. However devolved responsibilities are to be determined through systematic activity mapping built strictly on the principle of subsidiarity – functions that could only be effectively designed and managed through decentralized delivery mechanism need to be devolved to the lowest appropriate level. Water and sanitation in developing country context is a typical case for local devolution whereas nuclear policy and defense shall not. Where participation and local ownership are indispensable for successful service delivery are to be devolved at the most appropriate level.

Most often skeptics argue that local governments have very little baseline capacity and hence devolution could be possible only after they gain critical mass of capacity threshold. This argument is the outcome of ‘’master morality of colonialists ‘’in history. There are global evidences of very successful wash delivery through decentralized management across the globe so also typical universal manifestations of service delivery failure through supply driven concentrated centralized delivery models in developing countries. There is also widespread scepticism about decentralization as a means to attain sustainable service delivery, as evidenced by the developing cracks in community management. The failure is not with decentralization but with the half backed process. The failure is systemic irrespective of centralized or decentralized institutional models. We have to take decentralized management further through deepening the process and professionalizing management. Professionalised management or professional support to management with adaptive local participation and ownership is the best delivery model for wash service delivery. One has to extricate himself from the conceptual shell of limited understanding of decentralization – synonymous to voluntarism and community management. There shall be a constitutionally/legally mandated local government in charge of governance for institutional anchoring and sustainability with a broad based and functional CBO network linked to the governance structure with transparency and role clarity. Voluntarism should give way to rational –economic human behaviour built on an incentive base in configuration to the degree and dynamics of social capital. It is quite illogical that an engineer or accountant working with private or government sector is well paid at the same time communities should contribute their labour voluntarily.

The decentralised model would reduce transaction cost, cost effective service delivery and maximize social welfare. Local governments are also ideal vehicles to manage very powerful informal governance structures typical for developing context.

Side: Yes, they will be able to
Nripendra(4) Clarified
1 point

But the main issues here are as follows:

(1) Importance on the policy obligation or their requirements.

(2) Accountability.

(3) Absence of "Do It Yourselves only.

(4) Convergence with others

(5) Monitoring

Side: Yes, they will be able to
1 point

Posted for: V. Kurian Baby, SPO, IRC

Please do not judge before the hearing is over………….

The next and most important question is whether an empowered local government mandated with responsibilities on the principle of subsidiarity would be able to generate adequate internal resources to meet its policy obligations?

The answer is obvious: Yes.

Let me be permitted to use the word ‘mobilize instead of generate’ because governments at all levels including in developed countries are mobilizing and not generating to discharge their obligations - through a combination of taxes, revenue, borrowing or deficit financing.

I would also prefer to substitute local government to Local Self Government (LSG) meaning constitutionally mandated democratically elected governments with powers of self-determination on the subjects devolved. In a well- balanced fiscal governance structure integrated with a normative financial devolution process, the local governments would be able to mobilize the needed resources through taxes, cost recovery and financial devolution – fiscal transfers not as a doll but as part of a legitimate fiscal federalism.

To cite a live example, there are 3500 LSGI centric community managed rural water supply and sanitation schemes in Kerala State of India function for more than a decade. About a third of the budget resources in the State are devolved to the LSGs through a normative process determined by independent State Finance Commission with a significant un-tied component. LSGs are spending a 10-12% of their annual budget on an average of wash service delivery.

There are similar examples globally. Any argument against the capacity of local governments is like passing a judgement before the hearing is over. Let us take the process of decentralization further through a deepening process to achieve a better democratic and just world.

Side: Yes, they will be able to
2 points

Posted for: Sumita Ganguly, Ex-national coordinator Sanitation & Hygiene, WES Section, UNICEF India

More than half of the 2.5 billion people without improved sanitation live in China and India. The MDG for sanitation is clearly not on track and it looks ominous when one looks at the numbers of people who are either compelled to or choose open defecation as a daily practice e.g. India 626 million, Indonesia 63 million, China 14 million (Global sanitation trends 1990-2010, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation – 2012 Update, UNICEF, WHO)

WASH in schools is the best way to reach children directly with the services of safe drinking water, clean toilets and demonstrations of good hygiene practices. One can argue that access to these is a child’s right and the state has an obligation to fulfill this right either by providing the facilities or by encouraging, facilitating local communities, local governments to include this in their long list of planned development tasks, or/and partnering with external agencies for resources and funding.

Reports suggest that globally school based drinking water coverage has increased to around 70 percent and school sanitation to 67 percent (UNICEF, 2010). But the unsettling fact is that most national governments are counting mere numbers (drinking water points and toilet units) that are reported by their own machinery which do not have the ability to report progress in terms of good O&M;of facilities and their actual usage; nor is there any reliable mechanism of capturing the knowledge gained and hygiene practiced by the children and promoted by the teachers.

Local governments are invariably struggling with infrastructure development priorities like construction of roads, bridges, culverts, and making provisions for drinking water and drainage, housing, employment etc. Resources are distributed to these areas which are seen as “immediate” and are also amply visible so that they catch the attention of people and help them to carry on with their lives and livelihood and in the process gain political mileage. Education especially running of primary schools and health centres are relatively less important and get pushed to the background. Quite often seen as the responsibility of national governments, local governments shy away from making demands and wait their turn to get the funds rather than proactively seek funds for improving school infrastructure with emphasis on water and sanitation.

In a resource competitive environment, whatever resources are available to national and local governments for schools, are used for construction of classrooms and salary of teachers. The issue of water and sanitation is neglected. Even if resources are to be available through private donations, in the absence of any “pressure” from higher authorities on the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene, and the fact that children are not vote banks, there is little incentive to analyze the benefits of this common-sense subject that has such a profound impact on lives of children, especially girls, influencing the overall public health arena. Rarely there is a funding provision for operation and maintenance and for minor repairs. It is as if once the facilities are constructed / installed they will carry on automatically forever. The effect of this combined apathy results in poor quality of structures and facilities, poor inappropriate designs, indifferent maintenance and finally children’s reluctance to use dirty and smelly toilets, or wash hands.

Side: No, this will never happen
1 point

I agree with Sumita Ganguly’s statement, especially as she hits the nail on the head in reference to infrastructure development priorities such as roads, bridges, culverts, etc. She also makes a good point by highlighting that local governments shy away from making demands and wait their turn to receive funds versus proactively seeking funds for improving school infrastructure. Where my organization works, this is all true in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic. Especially in Haiti where the government’s first priority is to address dysfunctional or nonexistent funding due to recent weather-related disasters, the local government may recognize WASH as a priority but when it comes to implementation, “urgent” or more visible needs are to deal with the fact that most citizens still don’t have a proper home, their businesses are still in ruin, roads impassable, etc. When the national government can turn its attention to schools in need, a first priority may be to ensure that the school’s building is in place, that the students have desks, books, and the teachers are paid and showing up everyday. Thus, WASH priorities falls to the bottom of the list.

In addition to considering if local governments will be able to meet policy obligations, this depends on where the communities are located. Looking at the Dominican Republic, my organization works with marginalized communities—Haitian refugees that are displaced from the DR by 1 or 2 generations to work as laborers in privately owned sugarcane fields. These refugee communities develop their own slums/neighborhoods known as bateys—and the local nor national government considers these communities to be proper citizens of the country, and will turn a blind eye to their needs. If the government does not even consider these communities to be country residents, that in itself poses a difficult challenge for external donors or WASH implementing organizations to work alongside the local government and ultimately, for local governments to ever be able to meet policy obligations.

Side: No, this will never happen
1 point

Posted for: Sumita Ganguly, Ex-national coordinator Sanitation & Hygiene, WES Section, UNICEF India

The role of NGOs and external funding agencies is paramount. On the one hand resource requirement by way of hard funds is a big issue; Funding from external funding agencies are usually matched with funding from local governments under mutually agreed but rigorous conditions for definite periods. Once the external fund flow ceases the activities slacken (often less staff, inadequate supervision, weak monitoring) and the inevitable decline starts. Country experiences show that a variety of collaborations between governments and either NGOs (both national and local) or external funding agencies, or private sector generates a pool of not only funds but also creates a whole bank of advanced skills, tried and tested methods, innovations and good ideas towards sustainable solutions. This type of resource bank is invaluable for taking projects to scale and institutionalizing the key processes in the larger implementation framework.

One report from Peter van Maanen (UNICEF) states that globally the annual new coverage capital costs for sanitation is estimated to be around $14 billion. The previous WHO estimate was 9.5 billion (Hutton and Haller 2004). This highlights the need for local governments to not just generate and use resources judiciously but to also take steps that are strategic in nature e.g. forge partnerships with other sectors such as education and health so that the WASH in schools targets are selectively owned by these sectors. One should not only limit to these two sectors. Other government departments such as Environment ministry, Science and Technology, Cottage and Small Industries, Culture, Communication have roles to play in evolving appropriate technologies, teaching-learning materials, local child-friendly designs and fabrication and communication techniques that are popular among communities and are appropriate to the local culture.

Local governments look for handholding and interpretation of policies for implementation. This means training and skill building of a workforce spanning a layered implementation hierarchy from management to hands on functions such as quality toilet installations, inter-personal communication etc.; in addition there are other tasks such as development of manuals, handbooks, setting up or strengthening monitoring systems, creating provisions for independent reviews and evaluations and documentations. Few countries would have the capacity to do all of these in an efficient and effective manner all by themselves. Governments look for flashy gains that reflect well their ‘achievement’; Policies that take long to fructify and that too in terms of gain in children’s school days, lesser absenteeism, improvement in girls’ attendance, improved learning curve, reduction in diarrhea, better privacy, security etc. lie in the category of ‘hard to measure’ and therefore hard to tom-tom. “Only 5% of students are washing hands with soap, even when facilities are available,” said Murat Sahin citing UNICEF statistics. Consequently the inclination is to shy away and resort to tokenism. Policy obligations remain a distant goal.

-Sumita Ganguly-

Side: No, this will never happen
1 point

I agree with Sumita Ganguly's argumentation. Where in the world do local governments have the power, the money and the capacity to implement School construction programmes that include decent toilets for girls, boys and teachers? After having worked on advocacy and communication at IRC for nearly 30 years I find it a scandal that we have not been able to shake governments into action for well-maintained sanitary faciliies at all schools in the developing world.

Supporting Evidence: We have failed on WASH in schools (
Side: No, this will never happen
1 point

Governments are in power in order to stay in power. Their first mandate is to themselves and secondly to those who can keep them there. Those who live in extreme poverty live on the edge of survival. Their voice is not heard at levels that create policy. They are not invited to the table. The key to creating adequate policy that demands action is to create strong local governments that can put pressure on provincial and national legislators. Where democracy is in place there is a chance that over time the needs of the poor may be met. Education for all and to the highest extent possible remains the only solution.

Side: No, this will never happen
1 point

Dear All,

This question always remains, while implementing WASH in Schools.

The one and only obligation of Government is the coverage and this obligation is considered to be met up, once the provisions for the WASH facilities are just existed in the Schools.

In the context of proper WASH in Schools, the most neglected / least bothered issues are as follows:

(i) Proper Operation & Maintenance (O&M;) of the WASH facilities.

(ii) Ensuring involvement of School Management Committee through active community / Parents - Teachers Association.

(ii) Habit formation for WASH activities & regular practice of the same.

(iii) Build up "Take to Home & Community to disseminate" approaches among the students.

(iv) Monitoring & Evaluation of bottlenecks and location / region specific solution approaches.

(v) Child friendliness and capacity building efforts.

With regard to the above said issues, there is the utmost need to formulate appropriate policy and implementation approach to make WASH in School more effective.



Nripendra Kumar Sarma

Guwahati, Assam, India

Side: No, this will never happen