December 24, 2014 Society

Filling in WASH Human Resource Gaps – IWA Report Builds on UN-Water GLAAS Findings

african young girl and an elderly woman washing clothes in the yard

In its report on the challenges facing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) service delivery in developing countries: An Avoidable Crisis, WASH Human Resource Capacity Gaps in 15 Developing Economies, IWA addresses some of the key human resource issues that countries face in delivering acceptable WASH services. The findings of the report are reinforced by those coming out of the forthcoming UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) report to be launched by WHO in November 2014, that includes data from 93 developing countries and 21 external support agencies.

The WASH sector has for a long time recognized the need to build and retain human resource capacity: sound policies and funds on their own are not enough unless suitably qualified, skilled and motivated people are in place and empowered to act. People are needed to design, implement, operate and maintain WASH schemes that meet the needs of the users. Participation of the users in the various stages of the process is important and means the service providers, whether public, nongovernmental organizations or private operators must have social development specialists as well as the technical and financial staff in place in sufficient numbers.

The IWA report highlights the general shortage of data on WASH human resources, also drawing on GLAAS 2012 and 2014 data. A methodology was developed by IWA to collect pertinent data in response to this shortage whereby countries can assess their human resources capacity and needs to deliver on their WASH policy objectives to reach universal coverage. The methodology has been used to determine the human resource capacity gap in all 15 countries1, recognizing at the same time that the problems and solutions depend significantly on the particular context of each country. In Ghana there is considerable shortage of staff to work on sanitation schemes, while in Burkina Faso, the staff shortage is mainly for people to work on the implementation and operation of water supply schemes.

Data emerging from the 2014 GLAAS report shows that the impact of a lack of WASH human resources is most strongly felt in the areas of monitoring and evaluation, national and local planning, and operation and maintenance of WASH infrastructure – all vital activities for long term sustainability of WASH services.

But identifying needs is one thing, meeting the needs is quite another. The report clearly identifies the type of action needed for countries to address their WASH HR requirements. For instance, the country studies show a divergent HR demand in rural and urban areas and as reinforced by the preliminary findings from the 2014 GLAAS results, the second biggest constraint to attracting WASH staff, after that of inadequate remuneration, is the unwillingness of staff to work in remote rural areas. So suitable incentives to attract and retain staff to work in rural areas are required: both the Philippines with its focus on human resources excellence and a strong ethos of volunteerism and Sri Lanka, which prioritized the education and training of its workforce at the outset of its development plans, have been effective in doing this.

An important message that comes through in the report is that governments need to understand that investing in WASH is also investing in health and failure to invest in WASH staff and infrastructure will inevitably have a negative impact on, and increased costs for, the health sector.

Looking ahead to the future, there is clearly great potential for the GLAAS initiative to build on and work with IWA to take forward the whole issue of WASH human resources, including strengthening the collection and reporting of human resource data by countries and showcasing effective solutions to the challenges the different countries face.

1. Bangladesh, Mali, South Africa, Timor Leste and Zambia covered by Phase 1 of the human resources capacity gap study and Burkina Faso, Ghana, Lao PDR, Mozambique, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Tanzania in Phase 2.