Personal interests, responsible for failure of WASH projects – USAID Expert

Maxwell Samaila

The Small-Town Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (STWASH) program is a five-year (2020 – 2025), $13.9 million-dollar initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), covering the states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe (BAY) in North-East Nigeria. The goal of the program is to bolster the BAY state governments’ capacities to create and sustain enabling environments for Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation Agencies (STWSSAs) and Water Consumers Associations (WCAs). On the other hand, the Activity aims at improving access to water supply, sanitation facilities and ensure sustainability through system strengthening efforts.

 Recently, the Project was extended into Abia, Imo and Delta States with specific focus on urban water supply.

eWASH’s Babatope Babalobi spoke with Maxwell Samaila, who acted as the USAID STWASH’s Chief of Party for the Project between December 2022  and August 2023, on  STWASH’s activities, achievements, and lessons learnt so far.

What is the Small Town WASH project all about?

Maxwell Samaila

The Project is a USAID-funded activity, which rallies around water supply and helping people in the three small town states in the Northern part of Nigeria namely Borno, Adamawa and Yobe gain access to water supply and improved sanitation facilities. Our focus is on the construction of toilet/sanitation units, drilling of boreholes, and upgrading of water facilities.

Last year, we scaled up the intervention to three additional states in the Southern part of Nigeria namely Abia, Imo and Delta states, looking at the various water schemes and treatment plants with aim of improving production and distribution through rehabilitation, redevelopment and household connections. That is basically what Small Town WASH is all about.

So has the Project closed in those three Northern states?

No. There is still an ongoing post-construction activities of maintenance as well as the ongoing construction of water kiosk which is essential towards ensuring sustainability. The water kiosk is meant to support cost recovery efforts and ensure availability of funds for operations and maintenance going forward. It requires changing people’s mindsets towards access to free water in the community.

Gone are the days when you open a tap and get water for free and then expect the government to fix the insfrastructure when it is down. So the idea is for the community to be able to pay tokens when fetching water from the kiosk so that they can use the generated funds for maintenance when the need arises. A committee known as Water Consumers Association (WCA) in each of the small towns was established, registered and empowered to manage the WASH infrastrutures and ensure people key into the cost recovery efforts.

Once the kiosk is complete, it will serve as means for generating revenue for the maintenance of the WASH infrastructure. In some instances, major repairs which the available resources/funds cannot handle, the support of the government can be sought. However, if they are able to generate sufficient income to handle it, that’s all right too.

Most of these issues mentioned were also done in previous projects, with most of the facilities being unsustainable due to the high rate of failures of boreholes within a short time after the donors or financier pulls out, so what are you doing differently to achieve long-lasting results in those three states?

That is a very good question. What we’ve done that is different is the establishment of committees in the various small towns and capacity building activities provided to them and regular monitoring. We have also formed state project implementation units who go to these communities on a monthly basis to check and monitor the functionality of the infrastructures. Also, we are reviewing some of the WASH policies to see how we can push for the establishment of Small Town WASH Agencies like the one existing in Adamawa because there is none in Borno and Yobe.

In Adamawa, the Small Town agency has been up and running, and there has been a lot of field visits to check on these facilities. We are also counting on the state government to continue to fund the agency so that these infrastructures will not just be left without any maintenance and supervision.

Let’s take sanitation programming for instance, the record shows that it is just a little above 100 Local Governments out of 774 in Nigeria that are Open Defecation Free, what other approach do you think we can use to fast-track universal sanitation coverage and ensure ODF in Nigeria?

Thank you so much. Based on what I’ve seen across the BAY states, your statistic may stand to be correct. When you look at the number of sanitation facilities and the population, you can tell that it is very inadequate. Therefore, it can only minimize the rate of Open Defecation and not get rid of it completely.

Another thing is that the rate at which people are sensitized about it is not enough because most of the villagers are used to open defecation. Introduction of improved sanitation facilities to them needs a lot of time and behavioural change, and that is the actual problem in most of these communities. In order to address that, there is need to intensify community level awareness and eye-opening campaigns to see the importance of having latrines in their houses instead of practicing Open Defecation.

In schools and public places, most of these facilities are inadequate based on the population and the issue of access to water. If sanitation facilities are provided, and there is no water, the utilization of that facility will be zero. So these are some of the things that need to be put in place to address Open Defecation in some villages.

Let’s look at the Clean Nigeria Campaign that was initiated by the past leadership of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, which I also believe is still ongoing; how would you rate that initiative?

We can not conclude by saying that the initiative has not yielded any positive results. However, we can commend their efforts because the fact that it was initiated is worth commending. What we need to look at is the implementation of the initiative and its structure/framework. If the framework is not solid, achieving the desired results will be difficult. Suppose the Local Government is in the driver’s seat, and they don’t have the support and resources available to implement that initiative; it will amount to wasted efforts.

So it all boils down to the framework, the resources available and the monitoring system in place. What we have in Nigeria is the fact that when projects are being implemented, they are not monitored adequately, and maintenance is always a problem.

Facilities will be provided, and after a while, they will be vandalized. Even in public institutions like one of the hospitals we provided sanitation facilities; when we went for a visit, we discovered that some fittings for the doors were removed. These are some of the issues that need to be addressed for us to achieve lasting results in any initiative being introduced.

What can be done by the new administration to ensure that we have sustainable WASH?

One of the reasons we have  challenges in Nigeria is because people attach personal monetary interest into the things they do. They always look out for what they will personally benefit forgetting the impact on the general populace. If they are not benefitting from it directly, they will either frustrate the efforts or make it look like it is not working.

If we are looking at achieving desired results, we don’t have to create a different ministry for sanitation, it can be incorporated because it cannot go alone without water resources. If we integrate it into the Ministry of Water Resources and Sanitation, it will give us the advantage to ensure that there are specific frameworks or Strategies for sanitation interventions in Nigeria. We have policies which outline what is expected of each ministry, but sometimes it’s difficult to interpret those policies which leads to conflicts between different ministries. Therefore, specifics should be spelt out clearly to avoid further conflict.

So, talking about STWASH starting in the Southern states, how much is involved, and how many years will it run?

It is basically a continuation of what we have already been doing. The Project started in the Northeast in 2020 and has expanded into the Southern states in 2022. The project will end in March 2025.

 USAID previously financed the Effective WASH (EWASH) project in Delta state and there are concerns that the end result was not well achieved. How did you address these concerns from the stakeholders?

Stakeholders mentioned that, but as I said, this is just a continuation of the eWASH program, not a new one entirely as the implementing partner could not complete it so the last part  of EWASH was handed over to us for completion. In our interactions with the stakeholders, one of the things they mentioned is that  the end goal of EWASH has not been achieved. So they are worried that if this STWASH is completed and there is no result, USAID may not want to invest again. We have also interacted with USAID, and they have expressed their frustrations about the EWASH’s project’s end goal. So with these in mind, we know we have to do things differently.

One of the feedbacks we received is that stakeholders in the state were not really carried along in most of the things that were done under the EWASH project, so they felt they were sidelined and not informed properly.

So for our case to be different, we have to take that into consideration and ensure we collaborate with them, and that is what we are doing right from inception, assessment of the facilities, gathering information about the various schemes, identifying the components within the schemes, coming up with designs on how to upgrade the facilities and mapping out what is remaining to be able to achieve the desired results. Once that is done, we will start the main rehabilitation work across the schemes identified across the three states.

 Any final comments?

I will like to call on people implementing projects across Nigeria to look at stakeholder inclusion as a vital tool to ensure success. I know some state stakeholders can be difficult to manage. However, if we are able to manage a good relationship with them, we are sure of success. Thank you.


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