The political economy of sanitation How can we increase investment and improve service for the poor A report by Water and Sanitation Program

India Water Portal
Saturday, November 22, 2014 - 10:30

CoverThis global study attempts systematically to understand and thus help practitioners manage the political economy of pro-poor sani­tation investments and service provision.

It aims to provide practical advice to multi-lateral agencies and sanitation practitioners to help them better manage stakehol­der relations and effectively maneuver within the complex institutional relationships of the sanitation sector in order to enhance the design, implementation, and effectiveness of operations that provide pro-poor sanitation investments and services. The ultimate goal is to improve health and hygiene outcomes.

This study follows current approaches to political economy - interdisciplinary inquiry drawing upon social and political theory and economic principles - to understand how poli­tical actors, institutions, and economic processes influence each other. This study’s conceptual framework combines a diagnostic component with a typology of actions to help translate analytical findings into more effective support to operations and investments.

The study was conducted through a qualitative analysis of stakeholders, institutions, impacts, risks, and opportunities that was linked to processes and policy debate. The four country case studies were chosen purposively to represent a range of sanitation contexts. The India case study looks at the political drivers for the success of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in rural Maharashtra, contrasting it with earlier, failed attempts to implement TSC in most of the country’s states.

The report presents a number of significant operational les­sons designed to inform future interven­tions that support sanitation investment.

  • Several interlinked elements have contributed to the success of the sector process in the case study countries. Combining understanding of the political economy risks and opportunities in the sanitation sector with evidence marshaled on the economic, social, and political impacts of investment choices can promote greater accountability, partnership, and communication.
  • The case studies have shown that understanding the political economy of sanitation investment provides the basis for adequate timing, tailoring, and location of investment and operations. This process includes recognizing windows of opportunity for formal and informal engagement, identifying sector champions, and strategically sequencing development partner support levels to create incentives for long-term in­vestments and institutional reform.
  • Donors and international institutions have successfully used their comparative advantage in providing timely and rigorous analysis to inform pro-poor sanitation investments. Examples from the case studies show how donors and lenders can successfully facilitate an exchange of experience among countries and support local policy makers with studies that find resonance with national debates.
  • 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. It includes horizontal ac­countability mechanisms in which branches of the state engage in mutual oversight (for example, through performance contracts or regulations) combined with vertical accountability relationships between citizens and policy makers whereby more systematic support to civil society and grassroots organizations can suc­cessfully create a demand for sanitation services.
  • The study has confirmed that political economy analy­sis in the sanitation sector can support a partnership strategy that is based on sustained, flexible engage­ment with strategic external support of acknowledged government leadership.
  • Wider participation and clear communication of key issues are two important tools to address the power of vested interests who neglect the needs of the poor in sanitation investment and services provision. There is some experience of using related sectors (water su­pply, waste treatment) as an entry point for discussing sanitation provision with communities, particularly the poor.

The report presents a brief assessment of lessons learned from the retrospective political economy analysis of the case studies. 

Download the report here –

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