U.S. advocates for water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) have reason to be proud. The U.S. government contributed over $800 million to WASH related efforts in 2009. More than half of these funds were allocated by USAID, tripling the agency's WASH expenditures from $160 million in 2003 to $482 million in 2009.
At the same time, new funding challenges have emerged. The current financial and political climate casts doubt on the potential to increase or even maintain existing government appropriations. Much of the current funding is directed to regions of political priority rather than to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where the need is most severe. The ultimate use of funds depends on the unpredictable interactions among multiple decision makers in USAID, the Department of State, Congress, and the Administration. Non-financial challenges are equally troubling, including the lack of a strong evidence base about the effectiveness and sustainability of WASH programs and services to support advocacy efforts and to improve practice in the field. Many past WASH interventions have fallen far short their promise. Recent studies suggest that as many as one-third of the wells drilled in sub-Saharan Africa are now inoperable.
Given these challenges, FSG's research suggests that it is important for U.S. WASH advocates to broaden their goals beyond an exclusive focus on Congressional appropriations. FSG recommends a new framing of the opportunities for U.S. WASH advocacy by focusing on five interdependent goals:
- Increase the sustainability and effectiveness of WASH programs and services
- Focus U.S. Government and multilateral aid on populations in need (sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia)
- Maintain current U.S. Government funding for WASH
- Advocate for greater funding from non-U.S. Government donors (i.e., corporations, foundations, multilaterals, and general public), and highlight sanitation as a sub-strategy
- Improve data quality, demand, access, and dissemination across the WASH field
Pursuit of these advocacy goals will focus the field on promoting more effective utilization of WASH funds by influencing practice toward more sustainable and effective practices, and redirecting existing funding toward the regions of greatest need. In addition, this advocacy can focus attention on the importance of better data and shared measurement systems to strengthen the case for support and to encourage greater sustainability and effectiveness in the field. Advocacy can also highlight the linkages between WASH and other social issues.
While continued advocacy will be needed to maintain U.S. government funding, other non-government actors could provide additional funding and support. Multilateral organizations, for example, contributed nearly $10 billion in financing to WASH related projects in 2009, a $2.5 billion increase over 2008. The importance of WASH to issues including global health, economic development, the environment, and gender issues suggests that U.S. foundations might be persuaded to increase the proportion of their WASH funding, which in 2008 represented just 1.2% of their international giving. Similarly, despite the importance of WASH issues to a sustainable business environment, only a handful of corporations have been active supporters to date. Finally, the recent momentum of NGOs such as charity: water and water.org suggests that the general public can also be a source of funds.
Pursuing these goals will require an expanded set of advocacy resources. Targeted advocacy toward USAID, the State Department, and the Administration, as well as to foundations and corporations, will require high profile leadership and personal relationships that enable direct access to the key decision makers. A robust evidence base and the ability to communicate data persuasively depend on much more consistent access to research, analysis, and communications expertise. Finally, an expanded team of highly experienced advocates is needed to lead and coordinate the efforts of multiple organizations and to ensure that Congress and the agencies maintain funding in this difficult economic climate.