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Cartwright, B, 2015 –– Improving accountability in water and sanitation service provision in the context of WaterAid’s work in Nepal

Project overview

Ben Cartwright

My final project was about accountability. The notion of accountability arises as a process to ensure that those who wield power on behalf of others are answerable for their actions. I undertook my research project in collaboration with WaterAid. I spent a few weeks at their offices in London doing desk research and literature reviews, then I flew to Nepal to carry out field research based on the work of one their partner organisations, a civil society organisation called FEDWASUN. The field research involved 20 interviews with state departments, service providers and user groups to understand how accountability processes work and how they could be improved in the context of WaterAid's work in Nepal.

My project found that ways of improving social accountability are context-specific and need capacity at both citizen and state level, along with the space for citizens and state to engage, and a regulatory body to enforce legislation. The research showed that water and sanitation services in Nepal are often delivered through contracts that incentivise upward accountability. To improve downward accountability and engagement of the marginalised a range of tools can be used, and civil society organisations such as FEDWASUN represent user groups at a policy level. However, the voluntary nature of user groups brings equitable representation into question.

"Weak accountability might be mitigated through an effective oversight body that can regulate and enforce equitable service delivery."

Weak accountability here might be mitigated through an effective oversight body that can regulate and enforce equitable service delivery and provide an independent route to accountability for citizens. Further research is recommended to look at how representative user groups actually are. Innovations in long-term contracts that encourage downward rather than upward accountability should also be further explored.

The choice of my final project topic originated from a desire to give people greater control over decisions that affect them in terms of WASH provision. This starting point led me to research many topics to do with power, accountability, democracy and how aid is delivered. In collaboration with WaterAid, I chose to focus on accountability in the provision of WASH services in Nepal as a theme. However, it was very hard to keep this theme separate from the many other influences on the supply and management of water and sanitation. As such I found it very interesting and learned a great deal, but from an academic point of view it was not easy to form coherent conclusions.

The highlights of the final project experience were therefore the chance to work in a real environment with WaterAid and FEDWASUN, and to explore some of the key issues in integrated water management that I have encountered during my career.

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