After a year’s break, the Ethiopian Ministry of Water Resources convened the 3rd Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF) on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) on 15-16th October 2009 in Hawassa, the capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) Region in Ethiopia. One of this year’s big topics at the forum was the draft monitoring framework for WASH integrating reporting in the water, health and education sectors.

Right now, knowledge about water supply coverage in Ethiopia is poor. Ato Tesfaye of the Ministry of Water Resources, who presented this year’s sector performance review, acknowledged that “nobody can tell water coverage at this point in time”. Officially, 54% of Ethiopians have access to water supply but the real figure might be different and probably lower. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Universal Access Programme (UAP) intends to achieve 98% access to safe water by 2012 – in three years time. In order to achieve this target, the Ministry of Water Resources recently reviewed the UAP to focus efforts on promoting self-supply and low-cost technologies at the community level such as the rope pump. This strategy has a number of implications, including for monitoring.

Focusing on self-supply is the most feasible strategy for increasing access in a short period of time but it also poses new challenges for water supply delivery. Open hand-dug wells fitted, for example, with a rope pump, are more prone to contamination. Ropes are exposed and this can impact negatively on water quality. This means that a lot more emphasis needs to be put on sanitation and hygiene education. The promotion of self-supply also coincides with promotion of latrine construction at household level in line with the national sanitation and hygiene protocol. Latrines and wells may be constructed in or around a compound thereby increasing the possibility of contaminating groundwater – a risk that is not yet very well understood in Ethiopia.  However, high and repeated incidences of acute watery diarrhoea over the last years in parts of Ethiopia mean that this is an issue that needs urgent attention.

How will low-cost technologies be captured by the government WASH monitoring framework? According to the draft monitoring guideline presented at the MSF in Hawassa, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committees (WASHCos) are responsible for monitoring their water supplies. However, self-supply schemes at household level do not have WASHCos and reporting of these types of supplies needs to be integrated into the draft monitoring strategy. As self-supply schemes are dug at household level, government agents who are in close contact with households – such as Health Extension Workers or Development Agents of the agricultural sector – may be the first port of call in terms of monitoring. Water officers, on the contrary are based at woreda level and may therefore not be able to closely monitor household self-supply schemes. Maybe, therefore, the new strategy presents an opportunity for closer collaboration between health, education and water at the local level? The need for greater attention to water quality with regard to self-supply could be another entry point for increased inter-sectoral cooperation on monitoring.

Furthermore, the current emphasis in the UAP is on increasing access at the expense of sustainability aspects. According to the revised Universal Access Plan for rural water supply of February 2009, water supplies are counted as ‘access’ regardless of their functionality as long as schemes are deemed repairable. This definition supports an emphasis on building new schemes at the expense of maintaining the functionality of existing schemes. However, anecdotal evidence e.g. from research carried out by RiPPLE in Alaba and Mierab Abaya in SNNP region suggests that approximately a third of all water points may be non-functional at any point in time. Sustainability is thus a big issue when it comes to increasing access to functional water points – but will this be reflected in the monitoring activities of the government? In theory it could be as functionality is one of the proposed indicators of the new M&E guideline. It remains to be seen which indicators monitoring will focus on in practice.

The Ministry of Water Resources plans to roll out the national monitoring inventory starting from November 2009. Of course, not all aspects can be dealt with at any point in time and implementing the inventory at national scale is, in itself, an immense undertaking. The next months thus offer a great opportunity for learning on how to use monitoring to maximise existing resources to achieve universal access to water supply, sanitation and hygiene in Ethiopia at the earliest possible.