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New Report Shows Catalytic Potential of Factoring Political Economy into Sanitation Investments

A better understanding of a county’s political and social processes and entities that determine the extent and nature of investments in sanitation could catalyze a sharp increase in numbers of people with access, especially for the poor, according to a new report released by the World Bank and the Water and Sanitation Program.

According to the UN Joint Monitoring Program, 2.6 billion people - about half of the world’s population - lack access to basic sanitation. There is ongoing concern that governments, at many levels, are not devoting enough attention and resources to sanitation services, particularly when compared to spending on water supply and other infrastructure services.  Additionally, existing sanitation investments and service provision rarely place sufficient stress upon the distinct and urgent needs of the poor.  Recent World Bank research shows that this limited focus on sanitation is driven largely by political motivation in the context of competing demands for resources, and to a lesser extent by technical or economic considerations.

Based on an analysis of experiences in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Senegal, The Political Economy of Sanitation, proposes an approach to address the political economy of sanitation in a given country in order to more effectively advocate with policy makers to invest more and to better target services for poor people.

“This study provides practical advice to sanitation practitioners to help them better manage stakeholder relations and effectively maneuver within the complex institutional relationships of the sanitation sector,” said WSP Program Manager Jae So. “If practitioners are better equipped to do this effectively, it will enhance the design, implementation, and effectiveness of pro-poor sanitation investments and services, with the ultimate goal of improving health and hygiene outcomes.”

Combining an understanding of the political economy risks and opportunities in the sanitation sector with evidence marshaled on the economic, political, and social impacts of investment choices can promote greater accountability, partnership, and communication, the report says.

Some key lessons from the report for sanitation practitioners:

  • The case studies show that understanding the political economy of sanitation investment provides the basis for adequate timing, tailoring, and location of investment and operations.
  • Donors and international institutions have successfully used their comparative advantage in providing timely and rigorous analysis to inform pro-poor sanitation investments.
  • Strengthening accountability in the delivery and accessibility of sanitation services is a vital element in the successful management of the political economy of sanitation investments.
  • Wider participation and clear communication of key issues are two important tools to address the power of vested interests that neglect the needs of the poor in sanitation investment and services provision.

Watch a recording of the session, Levers of Change in Sanitation from World Bank Water Days which discusses the report with a view to increasing sanitation investments in general, and services for the poor in particular.