funding & financing, Sanitation

Sanitation’s share of water sector aid is falling

I went to an interesting event at LSHTM last night run by Countdown 2030, on tracking aid flows to track global aid flows to reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH). Their dataset is here. Yet another reminder that the health sector is way ahead of the WASH sector on so many analytical questions, but also that they face many of the same problems.

For example, the four (!) different methods for tracking RMNCH flows all use, at best, the “long description” on the OECD’s creditor reporting system (CRS), in which donors report aid flows. In my experience these can often have as illuminating descriptions as “the WASH project”, even for multi-million dollar disbursements. Delving deeper into project documents underlying the headline figures, in order to allocate between sub-sectors / areas, is only possible for national-level analyses, and is tedious and hard to automate.

Last night’s event took me back to work I did at WaterAid in 2008 as part of advocacy towards establishing what is now Sanitation and Water for All (SWA). At that time, I became rather too acquainted with the CRS, being the lowly RA crunching the numbers for this report. Many of our observations still stand for WASH, but also for RMNCH. It was depressing to hear research presented last night that showed aid effectiveness has actually gone backwards on many counts since 2010/11. Five countries had >30 donors providing aid to RMNCH – such fragmentation involves huge duplication and unnecessary administration for government ministries.

Going back to WASH, at that time of our 2008 analysis, the OECD didn’t have separate reporting codes for sanitation and water, so it was not possible to see what was going on for sanitation specifically. One results of the advocacy around SWA and the “international year of sanitation” that year was that the OECD instituted separate codes for reporting from 2010 onwards.

So, on the bus journey back to Oxford I decided to check back what had happened since, within the water sector as a whole. See the graph below, which necessitated a few methods assumptions summarised below this post. For transparency, here’s the XLS. The results show that the overall share of water sector aid allocated to sanitation has been slowly and steadily falling over the past 5-6 years, while that for water supply has been increasing.


Other categories have stayed more or less the same. Sanitation’s share has been falling from around the high 20s in 2011 to the low 20s in 2016. It would take some more detailed analysis to look at what is causing this (which donors, which recipients). I did google for this analysis but nobody seems to have done it that I can find (though see re: GLAAS below) – if I missed something, please point it out in the comments.

Note that this is in constant US$ / real terms, i.e. inflation is accounted for in the figures, and that these are disbursement data from all donors to “developing countries” as defined by the OECD. They are also for ODA, so excludes anything that isn’t within the DAC definition (e.g. Gates foundation, which is sizeable).

The 2017 GLAAS report (p.30) has a figure related to this, pasted below. The right-hand panel has a 65/35 split between water/sanitation (when I do the 2015 split for the sanitation and water codes I get 68/32, a minor niggle probably resulting from which donors they included or some minor methods difference). GLAAS 2017 was on financing, so also has a lot more analysis on different aspects of aid flows and government WASH funding. I would argue that it’s only when more countries are producing National WASH Accounts, using the TrackFin methodology or similar, that we’re really going to know what’s going on with financial flows at the national level, from all sources, which is far more important.


In conclusion, the fact that sanitation’s share of water sector ODA is falling should be cause for concern. We don’t want the momentum built up after the international year of sanitation to be lost. Someone with more time than me should look into what’s behind this trend, and which donors/recipients are driving it, so that advocates can try to ensure that the share doesn’t fall further.
Methods points:

DAC purpose codes for 2016 are here. In the figure, the “WASH” category up to 2009 comprises six codes: two which are WASH combined (‘WASH – large systems’, ‘WASH – basic’,) and four which are separated by sector (‘Water – large systems’, ‘Sanitation – large systems’, ‘Water – basic’ and ‘Sanitation – basic’). Under “WRM” I grouped the codes for water resources conservation and river basin development. “Other” comprises codes for waste management and WASH education & training.

The key assumption is as follows: up to 2009, all water supply and sanitation aid is grouped under WASH (grey in the figure). From 2010 I used the newly-disaggregated codes to separate out sanitation (light blue) from water (yellow). However, even in 2016 there was still more aid under the combined WASH codes than under the separate sanitation and water codes. So the key assumption is that, where data are disaggregated between sanitation and water, the proportion of those values in that year can be applied to the WASH codes which are not disaggregated.

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