Case Study

Improving WASH Service Delivery in Protracted Crises: Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Beatrice Mosello
Victoria Chambers
Nathaniel Mason
Publication Year:
April 28, 2020
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation

Delivering Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services during humanitarian emergencies and immediate recovery phases is essential for saving lives and responding to basic needs, yet choices about how WASH services are delivered can undermine future development and peace. Longer-term interventions can also overlook how they equip communities, households and government to prepare and respond to future emergencies. This is increasingly evident in protracted or recurrent crises, in which overlapping and cyclical phases of emergency, relief, recovery and development interventions coexist. In these contexts, practitioners and academics alike have acknowledged the problem of reconciling the fundamentally different institutional cultures, assumptions, values, structures and ways of working that characterise the humanitarian and the development communities.

In this report, we analyse humanitarian and development approaches in a specific sector, in a particular country: WASH interventions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We consider how and why siloes have arisen. We argue that the problem is not so much about filling a ‘gap’ between humanitarian and development siloes, but about aligning the principles and practices of both communities in specific contexts so that the overall response can meet changing needs and constraints. We identify a number of ways through which improved complementarity might be achieved, differentiating between national and sub-national levels.

DRC has been in crisis for decades, facing conflict, outbreaks of epidemics, natural disasters, and food security emergencies at recurrent intervals. In this context humanitarian and development interventions, including in WASH, have tended to occur simultaneously, albeit with some geographical separation. Eastern DRC has received a high share of humanitarian attention due to the various and repeated instances of conflict it has faced. Other parts of the country have received large amounts of development aid, such as the ex- province of Katanga in which research was conducted for this case study.

Like many other basic service sectors in DRC, WASH receives limited financial support from the state, with substantial finance coming from both development and humanitarian donors. Financial support from WASH development partners in DRC has focused on building, maintaining and repairing water and sanitation infrastructure, and engaging communities and local governments and authorities in WASH provision. The Healthy Villages and School (VEA) programme, run by UNICEF in partnership with the government, is the largest development WASH intervention in the country. Interventions from humanitarian actors in the WASH sector have focused primarily on providing life- saving and emergency water and sanitation to people in conflict (IDPs and returnees) and during cholera and other epidemics. Recent funding, channelled through the pooled humanitarian mechanisms, has been has been increasingly directed to crisis prevention and community resilience projects. Several humanitarian interventions have also ‘stretched out’ to incorporate operational modalities and objectives that are more typical of development interventions, but this is far from the norm.

If different funding channels and implementation approaches maintain the disconnect, there are numerous other underlying reasons. The geographical and political characteristics of DRC render collaboration between the provinces and with Kinshasa challenging: the capital city and DRC’s provinces are separated by large distances, with poor communication channels and transport links. This reduces the capacity and political motivation of the government to ensure that interventions are implemented effectively, and prevents national- level teams from having effective oversight of provincial level interventions. It also limits the capacity of local and provincial offices and organisations to input into national planning.

Coordination between WASH humanitarian and development actors was also found to be challenging due to persistent differences in recruitment processes and reporting mechanisms and the incentives these create. Humanitarian organisations are characterised by high turn- over of staff which hampers their capacity to conduct longer-term programmes or inform their interventions with comprehensive socio-economic assessments and conflict analyses. Furthermore, accountability of humanitarian organisations to their country offices is based on reporting of short-term results (e.g. number of people reached by chlorine delivery) rather than outcomes and impacts. In contrast, development programmes generally have reporting which is more burdensome but focused on longer-term indicators of success.

Despite these differences, in some areas humanitarian and development WASH actors have been able to work effectively together on common problems. In Katanga, for example, repeated cholera outbreaks have offered a window of opportunity for humanitarian and development WASH actors to collaborate towards a common goal, coordinating to tackle root causes of cholera (inadequate WASH services) as well as to meet emergency needs.

Our analysis identified a number of ways in which improved complementarity between humanitarian and development WASH approaches might be achieved in DRC. These correspond to undertaking strategic, supporting reforms and innovations at the national level whilst making more operationally focused adjustments at the sub-national (provincial) level.

At the national level, a first step is to take a more differentiated approach to WASH, recognising the huge scale and diversity of the country. Agency staff based in Kinshasa should support sub-national strategies and approaches to WASH which take account of distinct regional political economies. This would ensure that interventions respond to the real needs on the ground, and provide greater flexibility to take advantage of windows of opportunities and focus on problem-solving. Second, WASH donors should examine how they might provide more flexible financing, for example that matches the flexibility of humanitarian funding modalities with the longer-term perspective of more programmatic development finance. Third, greater investment is needed in locally led initiatives with a meaningful role for Congolese organisations, for whom the humanitarian and development siloes may appear to be artificial constructs of the aid community. Fourth, both humanitarian and development organisations should more systematically document their experience of WASH interventions to identify the particular conditions, contexts and issues for which their approaches work (or do not work).

Our study also highlighted the need to improve complementarity of WASH approaches at the sub-national level through the identification of common principles. These are a set of pragmatic, mutually agreeable ways of working that can be agreed among agencies that support the delivery of WASH, whether they identify as ‘humanitarian’ or ‘development’.

To be relevant and useful, the common principles should be deliberated and agreed between a range of stakeholders at the provincial level, representing development and humanitarian communities and wherever possible involving local government and civil society organisations. UNICEF can play a central convening and catalysing role given its presence in Kinshasa and DRC provincial capitals coupled with its understanding of both humanitarian and development communities, as well as its leadership role in the WASH Cluster. However, encouraging and empowering the government to take a leadership role within the sector, with both capability and legitimacy, must remain an ultimate long-term ambition. Our paper sets out a number of common principles which can be taken as examples or adopted where they are relevant to different provinces.



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