From charity to solidarity and sustainability

Grant and donor programmes

The importance of water can be traced back to the 1977 Mar del Plata conference in Argentina where an Action Plan was created on “Community Water Supply”, declaring that all people have the right to access to drinking water in quantities and quality equal to their basic needs. The importance of water was further raised by pronouncing the 1980s as the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. This period was characterised by grant and donor driven aid programs, where the focus was on low-cost water and sanitation technologies to enable Village Level Operation and Maintenance (VLOM).

Policy developments

The Mar del Plata Water Conference report can be found here

The founding of WaterAid, from UK leading water industry firms, as an NGO during the launch of ‘Thirsty Third World’ conference in London in 1981 marked the start of the Water Decade 1981-1990. Many national governments of developing countries adopted the goal of "Water and Sanitation for All" by 1990. This decade was characterised by a very top-down and supply-driven approach, in which the end users did not play a significant role in planning, implementation nor financing. 

When the Berlin Wall fell, aid changed its political motivation and budgets reduced (like USA from 2,7% in 1949 to 0,1% in 1993). The economic motif changed, export of technology and building capacity went hand in hand with rapid population growth and increased urbanisation.

A sharper difference is visible between urban and rural: a utility and technology-led  urban piped water approach occurs parallel with a foundation and NGO-led decentral peri-urban/rural approach.

Within the UN a special division on Water was founded in 1990: the WSSCC (the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council). In Stockholm, the Stockholm World Water Week (SWWW) conference became an annual conference on Global Water issues from 1990 onwards. Several years later the World Water Council was launched as a platform, holding its World Water Forums (WWFs), every three years, starting in Marrakesh (1997). In 1993 World Water Day was designated on the 22nd of March by the UN General Assembly, and in 2013 World Toilet Day on the 19th of November.

The WWF in The Hague in March 2000 paved the way for the UN Millennium Summit in New York in September 2000 where the Millennium Declaration was adopted, declaring 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) for the period 2000-2015 including MDG 7c, calling on the world to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water as well as the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation by 2015. 

In 2000 the Millennium Development Declaration called for the world to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water as well as the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation.

The effects of these global developments on Dutch policy and implementation choices can be found here: Dutch WASH choices from 1980 to 2000

Note: During much of the 1990s, water utilities worldwide experienced a wave of privatisation, often by encouragement from the World Bank and led by French and English utilities. The rationale for the wave of privatisation of state owned enterprises and other government services, was largely based on two hypotheses: the fiscal hypothesis and the efficiency hypothesis. The fiscal hypotheses suggests that privatization will relieve governments of the burden of investment financing particularly in the context of fiscal pressures faced by many developing countries in the 1980s. The efficiency hypothesis on the other hand suggests that water utilities performance will improve under private ownership because it is ‘obviously’ more efficient than the public sector. These two hypotheses – widely supported by donors, think tanks and economists – were based on the assumption to increase efficiency and introduce new ideas of finance but above all to require a new emphasis on proactive, performance oriented commercial management that aims to match the demand of its customers with their willingness to pay realistic charges and tariff. Due to global protests as well as practical bottlenecks, changes in policies and large problems with so called Non-Revenue Water this privatization of utilities failed. However the lessons learnt from this privatization gulf worked through in the new concepts on PPP in the utility world and affected also WASH activities in peri-urban and rural WASH services (non-piped services).

Actors and instruments

It is in this period that new players start coming up in the WASH arena, such as WaterAid mentioned above. Within the UN a special division on Water is founded in 1990: WSSCC (the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council). It is also in this period that WASH is directly acknowledged by The Netherlands (and others) in its nexus with gender (the role, position and impact on women/girls) and sanitation (equally important for health impact from safe water and hygiene, comfort and environmental impact perspective). Initially this was coupled with heavy resistance from male-dominated countries (political, cultural and/or faith based).

Specifically addressing peri-urban/rural wash,  the disasters in rural Africa-Asia were responded by World Bank-Technology Advisory Group with emphasis on hand pumps for ‘drought affected area’s’. Later on follow up by WSP (Water and Sanitation Program) and their standardization of hand pumps India Mark 1 and 2 and the development of Afridev. The WB publication (the handpump option, 1985) provided guidelines and recommendations. Please refer to the Rural Water Supply time line for details on water pump technology development.

Sanitation and hygiene options were developed only from about 1985 onward when a VIP Latrine (Ventilated Improved Pit latrine) was developed by the Blair Research laboratory Institute Zimbabwe (Peter Morgan) and Technology Advisory group World Bank (Duncan  Mara). CLTS (Community led Total sanitation) started in Bangladesh in 2000 (now applied in 64 countries) to end open defecation.

Appropriate technology in the 1980 until about 2000 focusing on small scale robust solutions improved in technology, design, handbooks and testing, certificates and tender procedures, while changing its name over the years: appropriate technology (1980s),  smart solutions (2000) up to re-inventing the toilet (Bill and Melinda Gates foundation 2004).

Within the specific WASH arena we find quite some private philanthropy initiatives (PIs), often structured like a foundation and with very low overhead costs, compared to professional NGO’s. In the Netherlands numerous small scale PIs came up in the 1980s but a considerable growth appeared from 2000 onward, partly addressing the transparency and cost-efficiency debate. The granting schemes for NGOs changed with these new players taking their share. The debate eventually subsided when private sector engagement became a threshold criteria for (blended) financed programs.

Developments and lessons learned

In Stockholm, the Stockholm World Water Week (SWWW) conference became an annual conference on Global Water issues from 1990 onward. The 1st  World Water Day, designated by the United Nations, was in 1993.

The World Water Council was launched as a platform, holding its World Water Forums (WWFs), every three years, starting in Marrakesh (1997). Already in 1988 the IPC sounded the alarm concerning global warming and climate change but it took until 1995 when the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) was launched, to gain international attention and to give an impulse towards signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 on climate action including an appeal for an integrated approach to water challenges.

The WWF in The Hague (2000) paved the way for the UN Millennium Summit in Johannesburg (2000) where the Millennium Declaration was launched, setting 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the period 2000-2015 including MDG 7c, addressing the urgency of access to improved water supply and sanitation facilities.

In 1990 the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) was initiated by the WHO and UNICEF. The JMP was set up to monitor progress on WASH at country, regional and global level.