Case Study

Improving WASH Service Delivery in Protracted Crises: Case of South Sudan

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

In this study, we analyse humanitarian and development water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) approaches in South Sudan, and consider how and why siloes have arisen between the two. To improve complementarity, we identify a need for common principles for WASH in protracted crises. These common principles comprise a short set of pragmatic, mutually agreeable ways of working for all external agencies that support the delivery of WASH, whether they identify themselves as part of humanitarian or development communities.

We offer nine illustrative common principles in the report, but emphasise that to be relevant and useful, the Common Principles should be deliberated and agreed between stakeholders in South Sudan. Given its key coordination role in the WASH sector, the South Sudan WASH Cluster Secretariat could initiate the process, aiming to transfer leadership to government in the longer term. The nine illustrative examples are summarised as:

  1. Hold regular joint meetings to create space for cross-silo decision making
  2. Develop adaptive WASH policy and planning documents
  3. Strengthen WASH sector leadership within Government
  4. Encourage continuity within 5. Invest where money goes and between projects furthest
  5. Invest where money goes and between projects furthest
  6. Collaborate with those that are there to stay
  7. Agree common indicators and common reporting mechanisms
  8. Build capacity to think ‘outside the siloes’
  9. Engage and support local in-country capacity

Certain characteristics define the ‘Common Principles for WASH in Crisis’. They should be rooted in the common ground that already exists between humanitarian and development approaches, but take a common sense approach, respecting that differences in missions and values may be deeply held. They should be operationally focused on delivering equitable and sustainable WASH services, but also be operationally viable under wider humanitarian and development policy and financing architecture. They should be cost neutral to implement (wherever possible) and cost effective. Finally, the Common Principles should provide ‘just enough’ guidance, allowing decision makers and practitioners the space to innovate, and aim for outcomes that are ‘good enough’ in difficult circumstances.

Supporting the delivery of services like WASH during humanitarian emergencies and immediate recovery phases has been seen as essential in terms of addressing life-saving needs; at the same time, choices about how WASH services are delivered may undermine or support future development and peace. These difficulties become even more evident in protracted or recurrent crises, with confused, overlapping and often cyclical phases of emergency, relief, recovery and development. 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 argue that the problem is not so much about filling a ‘gap’ between humanitarian and development siloes. Instead, in each specific context, the challenge is to align the principles and practices of both communities to a sufficient extent that the overall response can meet changing needs and constraints. We develop this argument by considering the history of South Sudan and its WASH sector, how the humanitarian and development WASH siloes have manifested and been maintained, and the recent efforts to overcome ‘siloisation’.

South Sudan’s crisis is a complex one to describe, let alone to resolve, characterised by intricate internal and external political legacies which come from its status as the world’s newest nation, combined with very low levels of human development. Since 2013, more than 2.1 million people have fled their homes, and 1.5 million people are internally displaced. These numbers are expected to rise as tension remains high especially in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei States, notwithstanding the peace agreement. Low rates of WASH access have resulted in increasing health risks for the population. Combined with food insecurity this is likely also to contribute to accelerating malnutrition rates. The economic situation of South Sudan is also dramatically deteriorating, causing disruptions in government and non- governmental organisation (NGO) service delivery and affecting humanitarian operations.

External assistance, including humanitarian relief and development aid, has been provided in South Sudan for decades, including Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) and the efforts at stabilisation and peace-building through the South Sudan Recovery Fund after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. The supply and delivery of water and sanitation and other basic services has been a focus of both humanitarian and development interventions in South Sudan. Since the conflict resumed in 2013, donors have spent $73.6 million on WASH in South Sudan through the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF). However, funding levels started shrinking as of 2015, as crises in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Nepal have taken a larger share of international attention and resources.

The case of South Sudan reveals that there are strong reasons for the persistence of siloes. First, humanitarian and development WASH interventions pursue different modalities for service delivery, in turn stemming from their differing core missions. Secondly, humanitarian and development actors generally operate in different geographical areas; without adequate communication this can reinforce the lack of integration and complementarity. South Sudan’s unstable politics and widespread insecurity make international donors and agencies risk- averse, encouraging them to fall back on familiar ways of working that can be neatly compartmentalised into either ‘humanitarian’ or ‘development’ boxes. Programme planning, management and reporting frameworks are not usually aligned: development programmes have long-term project cycles and elaborate reporting mechanisms that do not allow for rapid changes of strategy; the short-term nature of humanitarian funding, meanwhile, reduces ability to invest long term in services and capacity, including capacity of staff and partners. Competition for WASH funds in South Sudan is intensifying, prompting a rush for resources and diminishing trust between agencies. And finally, while individual personalities and relationships often drive complementarity, it is a constant challenge to recruit and retain the right people.

In the face of South Sudan’s enormous difficulties, however, there is increasing awareness and recognition that short-term emergency responses are no longer enough. Some have attempted to achieve more complementarity between humanitarian and development WASH. For example, UNICEF in South Sudan articulated a case for sustained international attention and funding around the 2015 cholera outbreak in Juba; this funding has been invested in prevention activities, including hygiene promotion and behavioural change. Some bilateral donors maintained their development programmes despite the current insecurity, but included conflict analyses and regular monitoring, so as to be able to more rapidly adapt their interventions to changes on the ground. Other agencies have emphasised the importance of ‘thinking locally’, by building on and strengthening existing systems and coping mechanisms to implement an immediate response. These positive examples suggest that there may be more commonality and complementarity than is sometimes claimed – and that there is already a strong base from which to find Common Principles.


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