‘What you don’t cost, you can’t do’ – Ghana WASH coordinator assesses the impact of WASHCost
Updated - Thursday 29 November 2012
“If we did not cost something, it did not get done.” That is the blunt assessment of Charlotte Engmann, from Ghana’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA ), about life before WASHCost.
“If, for example, we required a certain amount of money from government, because we had not put it down, we could not ask for it. If this was needed at post construction stage, for example to monitor water quality, it meant that did not get done. If we needed money to go into the field to do technical audits and we had not costed this, it meant it did not get done.
“Also the fact that we did not have data gathered together meant that each time we were doing a new project, we had to assemble information from scratch and sometimes it was not very accurate.”
Charlotte Engmann is the water and sanitation systems coordinator for the CWSA, with years of experience of facilitating water and sanitation programmes in rural areas and small towns in Ghana. Victor Otum, communications officer for IRC, asked her what difference it made when CWSA joined WASHCost in looking at the life-cycle costs of water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.
They quickly discovered that there were many significant costs that nobody had attempted to quantify. “These costs were being ignored. Costs for example of CWSA total budget for supporting the sector. Costs of the district, their salaries, their admin budget and so on had not been born in mind. Operation and maintenance costs were also not fully known.
“Our experience was that even the data that was required was largely unavailable. It had to be assembled from scratch because nobody had bothered to gather that data. We also discovered that stakeholders had a lot of information to offer on costs, which nobody had bothered to ask them about.
“These costs also imply the way we do things – the way we carry out our projects. It is not just the cost of the projects; it is the costs of CWSA, the districts and all the associated costs in supporting these projects.”
CWSA helped WASHCost to select regions and districts to conduct research so that data would be widely applicable, and facilitated access to people and information. “[WASHCost] seeks to look at what costs have been incurred in the field in various projects over the years. It has also looked at the information we have in our completion reports and project documents. It has also interviewed people in the sector and gathered ideas from sector stakeholders on what these costs are likely to be.”
Some data coming from the project surprised her, but she quickly realised that it did indeed match information in their own documents. “We could not quibble with it because it had been obtained from the field and we were involved in the selection of the communities, so when we compared it to the little data that we had, we found that it was correct. As the initial findings started to come out, I saw that we had made the right choice, because it brought us the sort of results we wanted to know. We had no reason to doubt the validity of the data.”
The major frustration was simply the time it took to assemble and analyse accurate data so that it would be useful for planning and budgeting. “At the beginning we thought we would get a lot of information very quickly and when we found how difficult it was to get the final information in a usable form…that was frustrating for us.”
However, this careful approach allowed time to comprehend the costs that needed to be covered after a project had been constructed. “I believe its biggest achievement was in how it itemised the costs separately of implementation and post-construction issues; how it divided up the costs to enable everybody to see that this is the capital costs, this is the maintenance costs and so on because nobody had ever divided up the costs that way before.”
One legacy of WASHCost will be that CWSA will have the evidence to ask governments for more realistic funding. “Quantifying CWSA costs in supporting WASH projects is one very big legacy, because it has always been difficult to get Governments to provide the real amount of money that we need for our operations.”
Charlotte Engmann believes that NGOs in Ghana must also adopt the life-cycle costs approach and the CWSA is working with their consortium CONIWAS to familiarise them with the approach and impress on them the need to share data. “When the project publishes all its findings and everybody sees how useful it is, the NGOs will also see how useful it is to gather data. So we hope that in a couple of years’ time things will be a lot better.”
Watch the video of the interview given by Charlotte Engmann.
Peter McIntyre and Victor Otum
20 November 2012