Water and Sanitation Assistance:

USAID Has Increased Strategic Focus but Should Improve Monitoring

GAO-16-81: Published: Oct 6, 2015. Publicly Released: Oct 6, 2015.

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What GAO Found

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) missions in the 9 countries GAO selected for its review reported implementing a variety of water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) activities in fiscal years 2012 through 2014. WASH activities included capacity building, behavior-change communication, infrastructure construction, technical assistance, policy and governance, and financing. The missions' funding for WASH activities in these countries ranged from $4.4 million to $53.4 million.

Funding for Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Activities Implemented by Nine USAID Missions in Fiscal Years 2012-2014

Funding for Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Activities Implemented by Nine USAID Missions in Fiscal Years 2012-2014

Note: Funding shown generally represents allocations for activities through Sept. 2014.

USAID missions in these 9 countries are taking steps to develop and implement plans for WASH activities, with some missions making more progress than others. These missions are also generally taking steps to address long-term sustainability when planning WASH activities, as directed by USAID guidance, including the Water and Development Strategy . USAID is in the process of developing additional guidance to help all its missions address the sustainability of WASH activities.

The completeness and accuracy of USAID's monitoring of WASH activities varied in the 9 selected countries. GAO found that, inconsistent with agency guidance, these missions did not (1) consistently set annual targets for 6 of 16 WASH activities, (2) disaggregate beneficiaries by gender for 6 of 10 water supply and sanitation activities, (3) verify the accuracy of beneficiary data for 3 of 10 water supply activities, and (4) report accurate numbers of beneficiaries for 6 of 8 sanitation activities. Mission officials cited a variety of reasons for adhering inconsistently with agency guidance in some instances and in others the reasons for inconsistent adherence were not clear. These limitations in the completeness and accuracy of monitoring information for WASH activities may inhibit the effectiveness of USAID's oversight of such activities and affect its ability to accurately report on progress in increasing access to safe water and sanitation.

Why GAO Did This Study

Millions of people in developing countries lack access to safe water and improved sanitation. Congress passed the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 to improve access to safe water and sanitation for developing countries. In 2013, USAID released its first Water and Development Strategy , which includes the objective of improving health through sustainable WASH.

GAO was asked to review USAID's WASH efforts. Focusing on WASH activities in 9 selected countries, this report (1) describes recent activities and funding, (2) assesses USAID missions' efforts to plan and implement activities, and (3) assesses USAID's monitoring of activities. GAO selected a nongeneralizable sample of 9 countries from USAID's list of 22 priority WASH countries. These 9 countries received about 53 percent of funding attributed to WASH for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. GAO also selected 16 activities for detailed review in the 9 countries, primarily on the basis of levels of funding. GAO analyzed USAID WASH funding data for fiscal years 2012 through 2014 and reviewed agency documents, interviewed mission officials, and visited sites in 2 African countries.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that USAID take steps to improve monitoring and reporting of WASH activities, by identifying and addressing reasons for missions' inconsistent adherence with agency guidance. USAID generally concurred with the recommendations and, in particular, outlined steps it is taking to address the report's second recommendation.

For more information, contact David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or gootnickd@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID generally concurred with the recommendation. In response to the recommendation, USAID included these factors in training and guidance on WASH monitoring and reporting provided to mission staff between October 2015 and March 2016. USAID's training materials included a handbook for WASH indicators with reference sheets containing definitions as well as data collection frequency and sources for each indicator. For example, to ensure missions establish annual targets for WASH indicators, USAID's training material included an indicator template with sections for providing targets and baseline data. The WASH indicator reference sheets also note the requirement for disaggregating data by gender, among other things, for relevant indicators. Additionally, a USAID WASH official noted that USAID provided feedback to missions on WASH reporting in their 2016 annual performance plans and reports, including feedback on issues related to gender disaggregation and target setting for WASH. The official added that where significant monitoring issues were identified, the missions were required to address the feedback on their annual performance plans and reports. USAID guidance also emphasized that for indicators such as the numbers of people gaining access water and sanitation, USAID staff focus on verification through direct observation, count of beneficiaries, and household surveys . Additionally, the training noted that access to sanitation is measured at the household level and not include institutional facilities . Furthermore, USAID training also directly referred to GAO's latest WASH report and emphasized that mission monitoring and evaluation team conduct regular data quality assessments, especially for the indicators reported in their annual performance plans and reports .

    Recommendation: To effectively address limitations in missions' monitoring and reporting of USAID's WASH activities. Specifically, with respect to inconsistent adherence to agency guidance for establishing annual targets, for reporting gender disaggregated data, for verifying beneficiaries of water activities, and for accurately reporting beneficiaries of sanitation activities, USAID should identify factors contributing to missions' inconsistent adherence to agency guidance.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID generally concurred with the recommendation. In response to the recommendation, USAID identified training, guidance, and feedback on missions reporting as factors to help missions more closely adhere to agency guidance. For example, USAID provided training and guidance to a number of missions between October 2015 and March 2016 on WASH monitoring and reporting, including technical best practices for the design and monitoring of WASH indicators, and the requirement to report gender disaggregated data. USAID noted that it is also providing feedback to missions on their WASH reporting in annual performance plans and reports, including feedback on issues related to gender disaggregation and target setting for WASH. USAID added that the feedback that the agency is providing on missions reporting must be addressed by the missions when significant monitoring issues are identified, prior to approval of mission annual performance plans and reports.

    Recommendation: To effectively address limitations in missions' monitoring and reporting of USAID's WASH activities. Specifically, with respect to inconsistent adherence to agency guidance for establishing annual targets, for reporting gender disaggregated data, for verifying beneficiaries of water activities, and for accurately reporting beneficiaries of sanitation activities, USAID should take steps to address these factors.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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