Calls for increasing transparency and accountability for water supply and sanitation have been voiced in different sessions at the Istanbul 2009 World Water Forum. But what does that mean and how can it be achieved?
A key element behind increased transparency and equity is monitoring – be it in the form of project-level monitoring of development impacts, sector monitoring and information systems for measuring access to water supply and sanitation facilities or monitoring of increased aid effectiveness for delivering services.
However, challenges to collecting and making relevant data accessible for public scrutiny are considerable. The national government, who is key for ensuring effective sector monitoring, may face the problem of ensuring that sector data is reliable or of not being able to release sensible information according to Mutaekulwa Mutegeki from the Tanzanian regulatory authority. Miguel Solanes who advises the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean on water law and related public utilities, highlighted that there is a significant relationship between perceived levels of corruption and quality of water and sewerage service delivery in Latin America. He warned that, in countries where corruption is high, citizens tend to be intimidated and, in consequence, participatory approaches such as budget monitoring or citizen report cards may be less feasible.
This notwithstanding, such participatory approaches are the most commonly suggested solutions to increase transparency and accountability of service delivery in the water sector promoted e.g. by the Water Integrity Network who heads the discussion of fighting corruption in the water sector.
It was therefore refreshing to also see new approaches to monitoring presented at the forum. Amadou Diallo from PEPAM presented a pilot study in Senegal where PEPAM together with WSP are exploring monitoring of rural water supply schemes performance through mobile to web services. The company has developed a new mobile phone interface that allows for an easy input of data on bulk water production, balance of current and savings accounts and the days per month that services are available. The information is sent to a website on a monthly basis.
Another innovative approach to monitoring is currently supported by google.org under its H2O Inform and Empower initiative. According to Alix Peterson Zwane, representative of google.org, the organisation is less interested in getting sector monitoring perfectly harmonised but rather wants to explore new ways of thinking about monitoring based on tools available through google. The organisation is supporting UN Habitat and others to pilot projects in East Africa that will enable citizens using the GoogleEarth search engine to enter and find out about service levels in their localities. The initiative hopes to use technological innovations such as GoogleEarth to interact with the multiple sources of data and address the increasing complexity faced in the sector today. The H2O initiative’s new and totally decentralised approach to monitoring could go beyond the traditional citizen-government relations. This means that the government cannot hide sensitive data any more and citizens may be able to assess services anonymously.
One important caveat remains though – in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa access to the internet remains limited and applications such as GoogleEarth may be difficult to access particularly for marginalised citizens. It will be an interesting spot to watch.