Installation of drinking water and sanitation facilities in developing countries on schedule, but figures not entirely reliable

Many good projects, but results are not always counted properly

Between 2016 and 2022 the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation spent some €670 million on projects to secure access to clean drinking water and sanitation for people in developing countries. The aim is for 30 million people to have access to clean drinking water and 50 million to sanitation facilities by 2030, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We were pleased to note that a concrete long-term strategy has been set, as well as to see all the good work being done by local implementing organisations. Nevertheless, our audit also found that results were not always being properly counted and so did not always provide a complete and reliable view of progress. On top of that, facilities could not always be guaranteed to remain in service for the intended period. 

Foto cover rapport Resultaten tellen

Decision to set concrete goals is positive

The minister has set policy for the years to 2030 in the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) strategy. This is being implemented locally by various non-governmental organisations and multilateral organisations such as UNICEF. It is positive that policy has been set for the longer term and that the goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). Indeed, the Netherlands is one of the few countries to specify how many people should have access to the stated facilities by 2030. We view this, too, as positive.

More than just taps and toilets

As well as physical drinking water and sanitation facilities, projects with a broader scope have been initiated. These include sharing knowledge with water companies on improving a country’s overall water and sanitation systems. Or helping create a market for such facilities. 

MDG goals for 2015 partially achieved

Figuur 4 rapport Resultaten tellen
What is going well? What could be improved?
  • Opting for a long-term strategy and concrete goals
  • Direct connections, and broader-ranging projects such as creating a market for facilities
  • Lack of clear instructions on counting
  • Higher prioritisation of policy goal to ensure facilities remain in service for 15 years 
  • Policy on certain aspects is insufficiently detailed

Figures do not present a complete and reliable picture

Between 2016 and 202, around €100 million was allocated each year to these types of projects (2022: €70 million). If the goal for 2030 is to be achieved, it is important for the minister to have correct and comprehensive information on how implementation is progressing. However, an audit by the Court of Audit has found that the figures used by the minister (and on which reporting to parliament is based) are inconsistent and do not provide a complete and reliable picture. 

What results count?

The minister’s monitoring of progress is based – and consequently reliant – on information provided by organisations implementing the projects. The Court of Audit found, however, that these organisations do not always use the same methods to count the numbers of people benefiting from a project. And there is some double-counting. We also found examples of implementing organisations achieving good results, but results that cannot be aligned with the goal that has been set. These include cases where, for example, compost is being made or faecal waste processed. These results consequently present an incomplete picture of reality on the ground. And that makes it difficult for the minister to monitor progress accurately. 

Indicators provide limited insight into what happens in practice

Figuur 10 rapport Resultaten tellen

While the minister wants only physical connections such as toilets and taps to count, other facilities are sometimes included. And there are no checks. 

Not always 15 years of assured availability

The minister has stated that all new drinking water and sanitation facilities should remain in service for at least 15 years. That means they will need maintenance. But what the minister expects implementing organisations to do is not clear. Who, for example, should check whether a toilet or tap is still working? And who should take action if it is not? From a legal perspective, it is not generally possible to impose any such requirements on the organisations implementing projects. In many cases, therefore, we simply do not know whether facilities are still working. This, too, makes the figures provided to parliament less than optimal.

The Court of Audit visited three countries – Ghana, Mozambique and Bangladesh – where the Dutch government is funding projects aimed at ensuring access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities and providing information on hygiene. While some good results were identified, we also found cases where facilities were no longer in good order because of being broken or parts being stolen or for other reasons. 

Accumulation of objectives makes implementation more difficult

The minister has set six objectives for the policy. However, two of these – sustainability and reaching the very poorest people – are conflicting. On the one hand, as mentioned above, the minister wants facilities to be sustainable for at least 15 years. The resultant costs will often then be passed on to users. On the other hand, however, the minister also wants to reach the very poorest people. And those are precisely the people lacking the money to pay these costs. We recommend, therefore, that the minister should specify which policy objective(s) to prioritise.

Too little done with earlier recommendations and reports

Fifteen years ago, we audited the approach used at the time in clean drinking water projects and reached largely the same conclusions as now. With one exception, however, the recommendations made in 2008 for improving the implementing of policy were largely disregarded. Similar shortcomings were also previously identified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Policy Operations and Evaluation Department (IOB). On top of that, the interim evaluation promised by the minister for the current projects was never carried out.