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Good one, Patrick!

Interesting to read Patrick Moriarty's Singapore International Water Week keynote in IRC's monthly blog: "How a systems approach can help us deliver SDG 6"

He starts off very honestly: "It’s April 2022, there are seven or eight years remaining to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the one thing that we can say – without any doubt – is that we are going to fail." And: "two reasons for failure are both born of our failure to see water and sanitation service delivery as a System."

I've sometimes found it hard to get my head around the 'systems approach' but now I think I understand that it is what we used to refer to as the need for an 'integrated approach'. Which I totally agree with but which all my experience suggests is remarkably difficult to deliver, particularly in 'uncertain governance' situations such as my own country of UK and quite a number of other countries where I have worked - though the Netherlands, IRC's home, are an exemplar of how to do integration/systems properly.

Which reminds me of the World Bank study tour comments from way back when, at about half way through the 'privatisation decade', they were wandering around Germany and the Netherlands, perhaps France also .... in Delft I remember the comment something along the lines that 'the Dutch water management system is fantastic/amazing .... but likely can only work within Dutch culture/governance approach.'

That was a digression, what I wanted to respond to was Patrick's comment, in the context of rural water supply developments in Uganda but as an example to be considered more widely, that: "the expansion of the urban water utility and the creation of the Umbrella rural water utility are hugely consequential. Indeed, we believe they provide some of the most hopeful signs we've seen in the past 20 years. Why? Because people who were formerly consigned to the low delivery and lower expectation “model” of community management (under which 30%+ of water infrastructure isn’t working at any one time) are being brought into the realm of professional service provision. They stop being recipients and become customers. We sometimes call this professionalisation or utilitisation – and it is a hugely important part of the answer to the question: how will we provide safely managed services to all."

So, very pleased to see IRC and Patrick following through on their understanding of the need for 'utilitisation', also referred to by some as 'professionalisation' (see also the IRC paper on utilitisation last year). It is a 'horrible made up word' but designed to make the sector stop and think about what might be the way forward when, particularly in a lower-income country context, there is relatively limited customer 'effective demand' for improved water. Patrick Moriarty's solution to that must be correct in doing everything possible to generate political commitment to delivering improved wash services ahead of customer effective demand and therefore ahead of citizen political demand.

Patrick's blog post includes this diagram from Huston et al 2021, based on IRC's involvement in western Uganda. What I find fascinating is the growth of NWSC's service provision area. All credit to them - but the point I've been making recently to other colleagues supporting work in rural Uganda is that at some point the new rural water utilities ('umbrellas' in Uganda terminology) will either have to take over and absorb NWSC's services within the District, in order to access the higher revenue flows and stronger professional staffing available from any and all urban centres, ...... or NWSC with have to become responsible for the entire District. The urban to rural cross-subsidies, funds and professional capacity, are critical to support sustainable rural services and will not be able to support separate urban and rural utilities.

At least that is my present research and professional experience-based understanding. Always pleased to be proved wrong!

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