Water Credit A new approach to WASH Solutions

11 Aug 2017


Access to safe water and sanitation for all has been one of humanity’s most intractable challenges, particularly in most developing countries. Government and non-government organizations have generated innovative mechanisms to enhance the quality of health of millions of people in these parts of the world.

UNICEF and World Health Organization’s 2017 report shows that 2.1 billion people, (3 in 10) lack access to safe water, 4.5 billion people, (6 in 10) lack access to a restroom. Several studies show that there are more people with a mobile phone than a restroom.

Due to that nearly one million people die from diseases related to lack of sanitation each year. Globally, one child dies from a water-related disease every 90 seconds. Diarrhea is the 3rd leading cause of child death worldwide, and a majority of those cases are communicated by contaminated water.

Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Although Ethiopia has a low level of urbanization, with only 17 percent of the population living in urban areas, the annual rate of migration to urban areas is growing at 3.57 percent and straining both the government’s and ecosystem’s capacity to provide people with basic services in its cities.

Sources indicated that while Ethiopia has made important strides toward improving access to safe water despite millions are still facing challenges in this regard. Government and donors alone cannot provide water and sanitation for the population. The sector needs fresh thinking and bold approaches to accelerate progress.

When we see the figures globally, annual aid for water and sanitation amounts to only eight billion USD, far short of the one trillion USD needed to solve this crisis and maintain the access on long term basis. The challenge is further compounded by the high cost of infrastructure, poor management of the existing structures, lack of proper operations & maintenance, poor water utility management, poorly targeted subsidies and misguided development assistance.

These realities and other insights should inspire us to think of other alternatives rather than delivering heavily subsidized water and sanitation solutions. There would never be enough charity and government subsidy to deliver WSS to everyone in need, we need to set out to find approaches that connect with the private sector to work towards self-supply options as highlighted by the Government of Ethiopia in the One WASH National Plan. The One WASH National Program (OWNP) is the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) main instrument for achieving the goals set out in the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

Water supply and sanitation is the top priority of Ethiopian water management policy and strategy. The_second growth and transformation plan (GTP-II) clearly articulates to reach 85% from current 59% in rural areas and 75% from current 58% in urban areas.

The GTP II is also an important vehicle to achieve the universal access to water supply and sanitation in line with the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Charity alone is not a long-term solution. We seek sustainable financial solutions that will last and grow. The government cannot discharge its responsibility alone. Several stakeholders are part of these activities. Water.org, an American none for profit organization, founded by the famous film actor Matt Damon and Gary White, a water engineer is one of these organizations.

Water.org’s model of WaterCredit, working with MFI’s to bring about sustainable solutions to the global water crisis could easily be replicated in Ethiopia. As to Salfiso Kitabo, Country Director for Water.org, “The cost of bringing safe water and sanitation to the needy in Ethiopia is staggering. Government has many competing priorities to address and there will never be enough charity to solve the water crisis. Involving microfinance institutions can help the Government achieve its self-supply target”

Microfinance loans can be offered by many actors. This could include banks’ supports. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia as well as private banks could do that. These banks collectively cover a large geographic portion of the country, allowing for many of interested people to take action on their own behalf without waiting for the arrival of government programs. Therefore, multitude of actors offering water and sanitation microloans create the potential for the Government to achieve its targets for water and sanitation access at a faster rate.

Those living in absolute poverty will continue to require assistance from the government and the philanthropic community. However, for poor families with some financial means, microfinance institutions enable them to step up and accelerate change in their communities. With more of the poor being empowered to finance their water and sanitation solutions, governments and charities can target their scarce resources more effectively at the absolute poorest of the poor, stretching limited budgets further.

What is more, the role of microfinance to create job opportunity is vital. Under a microfinance model, families take loans and then are responsible for hiring local labor and purchasing water and sanitary materials. These activities stimulate the local economy and can create substantial markets for water connections, toilet construction and the vending of the necessary materials on levels that were not previously needed.

Water-fetching can occupy hours of a day, usually for women and/or female children. With household access to water and sanitation, hours that previously were occupied by water fetching and attending to sanitation needs can be redirected towards other productive works and schooling. These pure economic impacts can be combined with the gains in time achieved by higher levels of health from access to safe drinking water and sanitation, which also provide people with more energy to dedicate to work and school in addition to savings incurred from medical expenses that are no longer needed.

Household access to water and sanitation contributes to women’s empowerment, additional important aspect. Globally, women and girls bear the majority of water fetching responsibility and suffer more from lack of proper sanitation facilities.

Microfinance for water and sanitation contributes to financial inclusion. Microloans for water and sanitation are generally smaller than those disbursed for income-generation loans. Because these loans are smaller, people at lower income levels who might have been intimidated by larger loans are more likely to see these loans as within their means of repayment. In this way, microloans for water and sanitation can be seen as gateway loans that attract people who were previously excluded from formal financial systems. In addition, from repaying these water and sanitation loans, the poor establish creditworthiness that enables them to take out additional loans from commercial lenders.

Microfinance contribution to sustainability is the other significant role for the economy.

In many situations, resources provided by the government or via charity are not maintained properly and abandoned the moment they need repair (if they were used at all). Under a microfinance model, however, borrowers have a financial stake in their water supply and sanitation solutions, which creates a greater incentive to ensure proper operation, maintenance and usage.


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