Monitoring for accountability

Monitoring for accountability

Box 1: Possible sustainability indicators for sanitation

Water for People has learned over the past four years that counting beneficiaries is an inaccurate indicator of success and impact. The question is not how many people are helped at project completion, but how many of these people still have services in the years that follow. How many people never have to turn to an NGO again for support once the expected lifespan of their new water facilities or latrines, supported originally by Water for People, ends? How many communities actually have the ability to maintain and replace their systems so that they never have to go back to a dirty water point or seek new charitable support?

What is it?

The sector would be transformed, and the quality of NGO support to poor communities throughout the world would dramatically improve, if sector agencies, philanthropists and activists dedicated to transformative results changed the metrics from numbers of beneficiaries to actual measurements of sustainability (not just proxies or anecdotes).

For water supply, core sustainability indicators could include:

  • The quality of water meets host country government standards over time – with a focus on bacteriological parameters (E. coli and total coliforms) plus any other water quality challenges that are known in the area and that undermine household health (like arsenic in West Bengal, India).
  • The quantity of water available to households meets host country government standards over time.
  • That the water system is inoperable for no more than one day per month.
  • The number of users per water point meets host country government standards.

Linked to this could be a series of financial indicators, such as payment for water supply, as finance is the cornerstone of sustainable service.

How is it used?

Water for People is implementing a program called “3, 6, 10” which links the core sustainability indicators listed above (quality, quantity, access and limited down time) with the following crucial financial indicators so that we can really hold ourselves accountable for our work:

  • 3 years following project completion – evidence that money is available for repairs, that repairs are happening and the account is well managed (accurate financial management, no fraud, etc).
  • 6 years following project completion – enough money is available to replace the most expensive part of the system.
  • 10 years following project completion – enough money is available to replace the entire water system.
  • And ultimately, what percentage of community water systems and sanitation facilities supported in part by Water For People are actually replaced without the financial support of another external NGO, with the goal being 90%.

The final indicator identified above is the most important one. There is no time limit on this as different technologies have different operational life spans, but it will be critical to measure whether funds are available locally (between the community, local government and increasingly local private sources such as microfinance institutions and even private operators) that actually lead to replaced systems.

Further reading

Breslin E. (2010). Rethinking hydro-philanthropy: smart money for transformative impact. Water for People. [Online] Available at: [Accessed on September 2010].