Social Accountability in Water and Sanitation

  • F H Mughal
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Social Accountability in Water and Sanitation

Social Accountability in Water and Sanitation

I was looking at the aspect of social accountability in the field of water and sanitation. But, what is social accountability?

Sara Ahrari, Senior Programme Officer, WASH Asia, gives this definition:

“Social accountability is an approach that refers to the extent and capacity of citizens to hold the state and service providers accountable and make them responsive to needs of citizens and beneficiaries. Social accountability encompasses initiatives that focus on ordinary citizens as the ultimate stakeholders and is based on the human rights principles of transparency, accountability, and participation. Social accountability approaches and tools also strengthen the capacity of civil society organisation and/or non-governmental organizations, the media, local communities, and the private sector to hold authorities accountable for better development results. Social accountability mechanisms can be initiated and supported by the state, citizens, or both, but very often they are demand-driven and operate from below.”

Sara’s organization, Simavi’s ( www.simavi.org ) advocacy strategy at community level focuses on social accountability. According to the website, social accountability is an interactive process with three steps:
1 increase citizen influence to ensure improved access to WASH services
2 strengthen local WASH providers and decision-makers to meet citizens’ WASH needs
3 advocate for accountable and adequate WASH policies, laws and investments

“Social accountability in this context refers to the broad range of actions and mechanisms that citizens can engage in to hold the state (represented by public officials and service providers) to account, as well as actions on the part of government, civil society, media and other societal actors that promote or facilitate these efforts.”
(Source: Social accountability - A practitioner’s handbook Claudia Baez Camargo, Head of Governance Research Franziska Stahl, Public Governance Specialist, 2016)

Schedler’s definition is interesting: “Accountability describes a relationship in which A is accountable to B if A is obliged to explain and justify his or her action to B or if A may suffer sanctions if his or her conduct, or explanation for it, is found wanting by B.”
Schedler, A. (1999). “Conceptualizing Accountability”. In Andreas Schedler, Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner. The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 13–28.

Andreas in his paper goes a bit further by making distinction between horizontal and vertical accountability. He also gives an overview of vertical accountability across different world regions so as to give an idea of the sharp differences that exist.
(Source: Defining Accountability By Andreas P. Kyriacou, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Girona (Spain). Background paper prepared for Aids Accountability International (AAI) workshop on May 12-13, 2008, Stockholm

While the definition of social accountability slightly varies here and there, the bottom line is that despite the best efforts by the governments and international agencies in water and sanitation sector, there is still a huge backlog. Access to improved water supply and sanitation and effective hygiene remains a great challenge.

Around 2.4 billion people, one-third of the world’s population, are without access to improved sanitation in 2015 and 748 million lack access to improved drinking water. Major obstacles that hinder provision of water and sanitation are poverty, corruption, bureaucratic red tap, poor governance, low technical capacity and lack of appropriate institutions, among others

To remedy this and to improve water and sanitation coverage, the communities need to be empowered; right to water and sanitation should be stressed; NGOs, working in water and sanitation field, should form pressure groups; and giving people a voice and water and sanitation rights, will make a vast difference in achieving access to safe water and affordable sanitation.

F H Mughal

F H Mughal (Mr.)
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  • cecile
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Re: Social Accountability in Water and Sanitation

Dear Mughal,

The World Bank has established the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) in 2012 with the purpose of bridging the gap between what citizens want and what the governments actually do.

www.thegpsa.org/gpsa/

They are doing so by supporting the capacity of governments to respond effectively to the citizens' voice. The GPSA is based on constructive engagement between governments and civil society in order to create an enabling environment in which citizen feedback is used to solve fundamental problems in service delivery and to strengthen the performance of public institutions.

This program adresses many sectors including one project in Water and Sanitation: The Tajikistan Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Improving Social Accountability (TWISA) in Tajikistan. It is a 4 year project implemented by Oxfam from April 2014 to January 2018.

www.thegpsa.org/gpsa/project/improving-w...anitation-tajikistan

Social accountability is a constructed engagement with two sides. On the demand side, demand from citizens and Community Service Organisations (CSOs) is stimulated to put pressure on the state or the private sector to meet their obligations to provide quality services. On the supply side, efforts are made to build service providers’ (public and private) capacity and responsiveness. The two sides of this equation are important in the frame of social accountability projects.

I undertook the mid-term evaluation of TWISA in 2017 and the social accountability approach proved to be very effective in improving the quality of the services provided by the water agencies as it raised their awareness that they should provide not only water but also a good service. Users' understanding of the water agencies' constraints and involvement into mixed management committees resulted into significant increase in water bills payment rates which in turn contributed in increasing the service providers' capacity to maintain facilities and extend their services. Another interesting component of the program is the improvement of quality standards at national level as well as quality monitoring tools under the form of of users' satisfaction surveys.

One of the major challenges was to induce government's participation in a program which does not include infrastructures expenditures but the project successfully managed to create both service providers and users buy-in.

Cécile Laborderie
MAKATI Environnement
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  • F H Mughal
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Re: Social Accountability in Water and Sanitation

Dear Ms. Cecile,

Thank you for posting useful and interesting information. You undertook the mid-term evaluation of TWISA in 2017. Based on your evaluation, did you find the government as unwilling partner? Would that be a case in other DCs in South Asia?

After the 4-year period is over, what are the chances of its sustainability? - e.g., back out by the government.

In case of Tajikistan, GPSA brokered the deal/work. GPSA will not be there in every country. So, say, in Pakistan, how can the social accountability be achieved?

I again compliment you for your work and superb knowledge in this field.

Kind regards,
F H Mughal

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  • cecile
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Re: Social Accountability in Water and Sanitation

Dear Mughal,

There is currenlty a discussion on Social Accountability on the RWSN: click on the link here .

In my position, I cannot answer very precisely but I can say the following:

- Generally governments like to see infrastructures being built, so a lot of communication is needed for projects addressing governance (by the way I am sure that Elizabeth will move this discussion to "governance, markets etc.")

- About sustainability, from my experience, programs are more likely to be sustainable when they target both decentralised and centralised levels: implement at local level with local water agencies and report on successes (and limits) in a wider arena (professional groups), and advocate at national level. This was the approach adopted by this project.

Best regards,

Cécile Laborderie
MAKATI Environnement
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  • F H Mughal
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Re: Social Accountability in Water and Sanitation

Dear Ms. Cecile,

You have, no doubt, mentioned important points in your post - lot of communication; targeting decentralised and centralised levels; working at lower levels with an eye on wider arena.

I agree with your points. They can keep the project or program going effectively.

Kind regards,
F H Mughal

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  • muench
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Re: Social Accountability in Water and Sanitation

Hi Cecile,
I've moved this to the category on "advocacy", as it seems to me that it's an advocacy tool in sanitation - would you agree?

The term "social accountability" was also new to me, so thank you to you and Mughal for highlighting this term.
(as usual, I also took a look at the Wikipedia article about it: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_accounting - it might be neat to add some WASH examples into that article if someone is keen).

Regards,
Elisabeth

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum via SEI project ( www.susana.org/en/resources/projects/details/127 )

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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