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Socially Sustainable WASH

A lack of sustainable WASH services has large economic and social impacts. In Africa, at any given time 50,000 water supply infrastructures are out of order due to lack of maintenance. When a borehole fails, women may have to resort to walking several hours to collect water each day, damaging livelihoods and health.

Conventional approaches to improve access to WASH services by providing financial subsidies to construct facilities don’t always result in appropriate usage. User-led approaches have proven to result in better performing, more sustainable water supplies plus sustainable sanitation and hygiene behaviour improvements[1].

Icoon Sustainable WASH

The Simavi Approach

The driving force for successful sustainable development is the aspirations and will for advancement of a community, supported by awareness, knowledge and resources from external sources. Simavi works with:

  1. Local partners to foster and facilitate social process;
  2. Relevant international, national and local governmental agencies to ensure the process is supported with appropriate implementation of laws, public policies, administrative procedures, controls and governmental incentives.

User organisation
The participation of end users in the design, implementation and operation of the system builds self-esteem and responsibility and ownership. It’s vital that a community organises itself for this participation to take place efficiently. End users are facilitated to set up health committees that include representatives of different social groups across lines of gender, age background and social status.

Multi-stakeholder consultations
Simavi works with local NGOs to facilitate a consultative multi-stakeholder process that ensures a balance between technical options, budgetary/regulatory restrictions and the demands, needs and wishes of end users.

Rural village level management
To achieve sustainable, positive results in the social, cultural and governmental organizational setting of developing countries, Simavi sets up WASH service management systems at the lowest institutional level, just above end users.

Tariff setting
This is an important initial aspect to discuss within the multi stakeholder setting. The operation, maintenance and replacement costs of the WASH services need to be accurately calculated and a financing plan to cover all these costs must be developed to ensure sustainable service delivery.

Urban neighbourhood level management
A priority of Simavi’s work in urban areas is to facilitate inhabitants to organize themselves. Urban neighbourhoods often already reflect different social groups, otherwise subgroups can be formed along relevant social lines. These neighbourhood groups are strengthened to enable them to participate in a similar manner as in the rural area context.

Household sanitation
To stimulate households to construct or improvement their own household latrines, Simavi combines Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) strategies with social sanitation marketing and WASH behaviour change programmes. We use tailor-made, context specific, urban and rural strategies to meet the needs of every community.

Latrine types
The main type of latrine promoted by Simavi is onsite, dry latrines with emptying possibilities. Water-based sewerage systems are not suitable for most developing country situations as these require a sludge water treatment system and use a lot of water. Simavi always offers several types of latrine, from basic pit latrines to ecosan latrines, to suit the demands and aspirations of people at different income levels.


Sustainability cannot only be reached by taking social sustainability aspects into account. The other FIETS values – Financial, Institutional, Ecological, and Technical – must also be considered when developing and implementing WASH programmes. For more information, please see our Theory of Change document. For a more detailed explanation of how we create socially sustainable WASH services to empower marginalized communities in Africa and Asia, please download our factsheet here.


[1] Taking Community-Led Total Sanitation to Scale: Movement, Spread and Adaptation, Andrew Deak IDS Working Paper 298, Feb 2008


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