Gates Foundation backs €9.86 million reality check for water, sanitation costs

What does it really cost to extend and sustain safe water and hygienic sanitation to poor communities in developing countries? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the IRC's project, WASHCost: Quantifying the cost of delivering safe water, sanitation and hygiene services, with a US$14.48 million (Euro 9.86 million) grant over five years to answer this question and to transform information, learning and performance in the sector...

DELFT, Netherlands, Feb. 7, 2008 -- What does it really cost to extend and sustain safe water and hygienic sanitation to poor communities in developing countries? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the IRC's project, WASHCost: Quantifying the cost of delivering safe water, sanitation and hygiene services, with a US$14.48 million (Euro 9.86 million) grant over five years to answer this question and to transform information, learning and performance in the sector.

IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre and partners in four countries -- including Burkina Faso and Ghana -- will work to identify the real, disaggregated costs of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in rural and peri-urban areas, and the range of physical, social, economic and political factors that influence those costs. The project will be implemented through a process that embeds responsibility for developing and using unit cost data at local and national levels, which should increase the relevance and impact of the data.

Partners include national and local governments, community-based organisations, the local private sector, non-governmental organisations and international agencies. Data developed by the WASHCost project will help these partners and others in the sector to predict what WASH services should cost in different contexts, thereby supporting better governance and technology choices and more efficient use of funds in a sector that is all too often constrained by inadequate and confused information.

By the end of five years, national and international decision makers will be able to access and use good quality data and benchmark information from the four countries, representing a range of contexts, to support their planning and budgeting of WASH services.

Water, sanitation and hygiene services are critical to the Millennium Development Goals, the global effort to assist people in lifting themselves out of poverty. Water and sanitation not only have their own targets, but are central to health, education, economic activity and poverty reduction. Yet there are still a billion people who lack access to improved drinking water and 2.6 billion -- more than half the population of the developing world -- lacking basic sanitation.

About the project
Ben Lamoree, Director of the IRC, said: "I am delighted that the Gates Foundation has backed this work to improve efficiency and transparency in WASH services. This is not only about better data but also about people improving their lives and livelihoods."

Catarina Fonseca, WASHCost project director at IRC and a global expert on the economics of WASH services, said: "This work will provide benchmarks for the real life-cycle costs of services. IRC and country partners will be pioneers in embedding cost-effective pro-poor decision making in WASH organisations."

Louis Boorstin, senior program officer, Special Initiatives, Global Development Program at the Gates Foundation commented: "Accurate cost information is essential for governments, NGOs and private companies that are working to provide the poor with access to safe, affordable water and sanitation. IRC will work with a range of partners both to develop this data and to use it to make better choices to serve the poor."

The grant is being made by the Global Development Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Global Development Program works with motivated partners to create opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.

IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre is a not-for-profit organisation with 45 staff, based in Delft, the Netherlands. IRC develops and shares knowledge with water sector partners around the world and backs innovation and capacity development with southern partners. It assists national and international aid organisations and donors to develop sustainable WASH policies and strategies and backs integrated water management at local level in developing countries.

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people -- especially those with the fewest resources -- have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.

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