IRC WASH has been supporting nine districts in Ethiopia to prepare district roadmaps towards achieving universal WASH coverage by 2030. Some of the districts have already started implementation, while others are about to finalise the plans after completing the various planning processes. Each district has established a planning team of seven members from different government offices and sectors. This team led the planning process including vision and target setting, gathering data, data verification, completing the Excel based planning tool, and the writing up of the plan.
Negelle Arsi and Shashamane, both located in West Arsi Zone of Oromia Region, are two of the districts that IRC WASH has supported through the WASH SDG programme financed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The two districts’ master plans were validated and launched in a three-day workshop in Hawassa at the end of December with zone and district officials and other key WASH stakeholders, including community water supply representatives and development partners, in attendance.
District participants have said the planning process activities have stimulated and benefited them. These activities include capacity building through skill transfer in long term WASH planning, acquisition of more reliable and up-to-date WASH data, better insights about current WASH services in the districts, and an understanding of what the districts need to achieve universal WASH coverage by 2030 commitments. Participants from West Arsi zone have also suggested to scale up such planning processes to the remaining districts in the zone.
The district planning team members have gained experience in long-term, strategic planning for the WASH sector through multiple trainings and ongoing coaching on the planning process, data collection, verification, and outlining and writing the plans. Ato Kedir Tahir, the Negelle Arsi District Health Office Head, said no partner has shown the roadmap of where they are and where they need to be heading. He added that the master plan is a foundation for better coordination and guidance for WASH activities in the district. Previously, similar long-term sector development plans were mainly the task of the planning department and did not engage different experts from individual sectors.
Engaging key stakeholders through individual and group consultation through organising multiple meetings and using up-to-date data for planning are usually hampered by the shortage of planning resources and the urgency of planning. Districts are usually requested by the zone to prepare a plan without having the required resources for the planning process and within a limited time frame. Beyond engagement, the completeness of the plan in terms of full life-cycle costing of WASH service planning and the inclusion of software aspects of WASH, unlike the existing hardware focused planning approach, is another aspect that inspires the participants.
Another quick return from the planning process was establishing a baseline of comprehensive WASH data from the community and institutions such as schools and health care facilities. The WASH data collected for the master plan was given as an example for other sectors and useful beyond the sector, as mentioned by Ato Teshome, the Negelle Arsi Finance and Economic Cooperation Office Head.
The data used for planning has shown not only the existing poor WASH services and low access to services, but also the lack of equity among rural kebeles, the lowest administrative structure. For example, there are five kebeles in Negelle Arsi that do not have any protected community water supply. This was a surprise to some participants in the workshop and showed data can reveal the true picture of WASH in the districts.
There were some mixed feelings from the participants when they discussed the gaps and challenges in institutional and community WASH. Some were happy in understanding the current situation and the direction they need to go, but others felt frustration to mobilise all the required resources, including budget and staffing, to overcome the problems. For example, out of the 94 schools in Negelle Arsi, currently, only 2% have access to safely managed water, far below what the SDGs require by 2030. Frontline maintenance technicians and WASH focal persons like Bayisa Emashu from the Negelle Arsi Water and Energy Resources Development Office indicated that it is always frustrating when responding to community water maintenance requests due to the lack of spare parts, maintenance hand tools, and limited logistics .
The real picture of WASH services that was brought to the eyes of the local leadership through the comprehensive planning data will continue to push them to commit better resources for the sector to implement the plan and narrow WASH service gaps and maintain the data used for the planning process. However, the districts’ capacity alone, both technical and financial, is unlikely to deliver on these goals unless supported by the zone, region, and federal government, all higher levels of government as well as by development partners. Beyond the districts, zone officials have shown a keen interest to follow up the implementation of the district WASH master plans and have made this one of their agenda points in regular district cabinet meetings.