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Responding to the tsunami: A public–private partnership for water and sanitation in Asia Good practices in brief

Responding to the tsunami: A public–private partnership for water and sanitation in Asia

The Asian tsunami of December 2004 provided an opportunity to explore innovative approaches to improve service delivery. Arun Kashyap describes how a public–private partnership has assisted communities across the region to build better water and sanitation systems.

Even if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water and sanitation are achieved by 2015, there will still be more than 800 million people without access to clean water, and a further 1.8 billion people without adequate sanitation services. It is estimated that up to US$25 billion in additional funding will be required each year to meet the enormous demand for basic services – including water and sanitation, healthcare, education and energy.

While the demand clearly exists, it is often not communicated through conventional market mechanisms. For the poorest communities that fall outside the core markets, public–private partnerships – between government, civil society organisations and the private sector – offer a promising means of providing better services, and could improve the chances of achieving the MDGs.

Innovative approaches

The Asian tsunami of 26 December 2004 prompted an unprecedented outpouring of assistance from across the world, and provided an opportunity to explore innovative approaches to service delivery. Building on the mandate provided by the governments of the tsunami-affected countries to assist them in the recovery process, UNDP teamed up with the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and the Coca Cola Company. This public–private partnership set out to rehabilitate water and sanitation infrastructures, and in the process to provide better, more widely accessible services for communities in Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Following initial needs assessments, conducted in collaboration with UN agencies, the national UNDP offices brought together local stakeholders to develop demand-driven projects in the affected areas. This process resulted in proposals for a wide range of projects, including the rehabilitation of wastewater treatment plants, extending water distribution networks, constructing gravity-fed water supply systems, artesian wells and farm irrigation systems. Other projects involved building check dams to capture excess runoff during storms, soakage pits and biocells for waste treatment, and watertight septic tanks connected to local sewage networks.

The collaboration between the partners during the planning stage has continued throughout the implementation of the projects. At UNDP’s request, Coca Cola seconded a staff member to work for one year at the UNDP Regional Centre in Bangkok to support the recovery efforts, and to assist in identifying and managing new partnership activities. National bottling companies, for example, have been encouraged to become actively engaged in implementing projects.

Transparency and accountability

Projects are designed and implemented in partnership with local authorities and community leaders to ensure local relevance, ownership and sustainability. Project staff are working with communities to develop their capabilities in many fields, through courses in basic accounting and project monitoring, practical training in rainwater harvesting, and raising awareness of the need for hygienic practices in all water and sanitation projects.

In Sri Lanka, for example, the partnership is applying UNDP’s ‘AidWatch’ strategy to ensure that monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are built into projects from the start. Monitoring the implementation of planned activities and regular reviews of progress and results can promote transparency and accountability. The AidWatch initiative aims to empower all members of the affected communities, as well as advocacy groups and civil society networks, to enable them to engage effectively in the recovery process.

In a community-based water resources management project in Thailand, the emphasis has been on ensuring dialogue. The project has set up local water user groups, as well as a multi-stakeholder steering committee that includes community leaders and government representatives. In Indonesia, Coca Cola’s technical specialists have worked with an international team of hydrogeology experts to conduct a survey to assess freshwater resources in Aceh province.

Building effective multi-stakeholder partnerships takes time. At the outset, besides establishing a shared commitment, it is crucial to define clearly what each partner is to bring to the table. Successful mobilisation of communities will ensure that activities are demand driven and firmly anchored in the local context. Such inclusive partnerships, in which all the partners work towards a shared agenda, are most likely to be able to unlock the potential of new opportunities for local delivery of basic services.