The WASH Factor: Oxfam's experiences with humanitarian coordination for water, sanitation and health

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In the humanitarian coordination system of 'clusters', the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) cluster is widely acknowledged to be among the best functioning. This report, based on interviews conducted with more than 50 individuals with experience of the WASH cluster in more than 25 countries, focusses on evidence of improved humanitarian response from the WASH cluster and what helps or hinders improvement. On the whole, Oxfam staff felt that the WASH cluster had improved the effectiveness of humanitarian response, but that there was still much that could be done to improve the cluster. Their reflections may also be useful for other clusters.
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    www.oxfam.org.uk  The WASH Factor   Oxfam’s experiences with humanitarian coordination for water, sanitation, and health Aimee Ansari and Bethan Montague-Brown  24 February 2010 In the humanitarian coordination system of ‘clusters’, the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) cluster is widely acknowledged to be among the best functioning. Interviews were conducted with more than 50 individuals with experience of the WASH cluster in more than 25 countries, focusing on evidence of improved humanitarian response from the WASH cluster and what helps or hinders improvement. On the whole, Oxfam staff felt that the WASH cluster had improved the effectiveness of humanitarian response, but that there was still much that could be done to improve the cluster. Their reflections may also be useful for other clusters. OXFAM RESEARCH REPORT    The WASH Factor  , Oxfam GB Research Report, February 2010 2 Contents Executive summary .........................................................................................................3 1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................4 2 Background ...................................................................................................................5 The cluster approach .............................................................................................5 The WASH cluster .................................................................................................5 Oxfam and water, sanitation and public health promotion ............................6 3 Oxfam’s approach to the WASH cluster ..................................................................7 4 Experiences in the WASH cluster .............................................................................8 Information sharing – the case for dedicated cluster coordinators, information officers and the 3Ws ......................................................................10  Joint approaches and standards ........................................................................11 Connecting preparedness, risk reduction, response and reconstruction ....13 Partnership ...........................................................................................................14 Working with local structures ...........................................................................15 Flexibility ..............................................................................................................15 Dependency on UNICEF ...................................................................................16 Accountability .....................................................................................................18 5 Conclusion ..................................................................................................................19 Notes ................................................................................................................................21  The WASH Factor  , Oxfam GB Research Report, February 2010 3 Executive summary The water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) cluster is widely acknowledged to be among the best functioning within the humanitarian coordination system established in 2005. It is commonly believed that it is easier for the WASH cluster to function well because the standards are agreed, water and sanitation are fairly straightforward interventions, and outcomes are tangible and measurable. While these factors have helped the WASH cluster, they alone have not led to the relative success of the cluster. Interviews were conducted with over 50 individuals, the majority of whom were staff of Oxfam International affiliate organisations, with experience of the WASH cluster in more than 25 countries. Many of the Oxfam views were validated by other NGO colleagues, UNICEF, and other WASH partner staff in the field and at headquarters. The discussions focused on evidence of improved humanitarian response from the WASH cluster and what helps or hinders improvement. On the whole, Oxfam staff felt that the effectiveness of humanitarian response had improved as a result of the WASH cluster, but that there was still much that could be done to improve the cluster. Oxfam’s culture and management directives encourage staff to coordinate with others in their sector on all levels, and most of the Oxfam staff interviewed intrinsically feel that coordination must be done. Thus, even before the roll-out of the cluster system, Oxfam staff were encouraged to start coordination mechanisms at least with other NGOs and, when possible, with government and United Nations (UN) actors. The introduction of clusters has established a recognized, formal and predictable forum in most humanitarian responses. According to Oxfam staff, the WASH clusters excel when they  manage and share information well;  have full-time coordinators who are dedicated to and understand the purpose of coordination;  change their roles as a function of the context, the phase of the emergency, and/or the needs of the cluster members;  include local/national government when appropriate;  create an open forum for discussion and some decision making or consensus building;  are not felt to be ‘beholden’ to UNICEF; and  try to be accountable to affected people. Oxfam believes that the WASH cluster has enhanced coordination and, as a matter of policy, Oxfam will continue to support further improved efforts for humanitarian response using the cluster approach. However, coordination is only the means to an end. Oxfam staff, from field to headquarters, want evidence that the cluster (as opposed to other coordination mechanisms) improves the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian response. If the cluster approach appears to mean an ever-increasing number of meetings with little or no evidence of improved response, staff commitment to the cluster may wane.  The WASH Factor  , Oxfam GB Research Report, February 2010 4 1 Introduction In 2005, the then UN Emergency Response Coordinator, Jan Egeland, launched the reform of the humanitarian system. A review of the system, the Humanitarian Response Review, was commissioned, and three key areas in which reform was needed were highlighted: leadership, coordination, and funding. Later, as a result of the perceived UN-centric nature of the reforms, a fourth area was added on partnership. As a part of this process, in September 2005, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) agreed to designate ‘cluster lead agencies’ in nine sectors of humanitarian activity (later expanded to eleven) specifically to address the area of coordination. The 2006 IASC guidance note on the use of the cluster approach called for the application of the cluster approach in all countries with Humanitarian Coordinators and stated that at a country level, clusters should provide ‘high standards of predictability, accountability and partnership in all sectors or areas of activity.’ 1  This research report concentrates on the coordination of humanitarian response, focusing primarily on field-level implementation of the WASH cluster. The purpose of the research was to document Oxfam’s experiences as one of the major actors in WASH, actively participating in the cluster at the global level, as well as in almost all countries in which the cluster approach has been activated. Oxfam hopes that this report will provide a perspective on the cluster approach that has been largely missing: that of a fairly large NGO which has committed to supporting a cluster on all levels and which has dedicated significant resources to the cluster in the hope that humanitarian response is improved as a result of coordination. It is hoped that these reflections will feed into cluster evaluations and discussions on the cluster approach and into thinking about the future of clusters. The report begins by laying out the foundations of humanitarian coordination and Oxfam’s commitment: what the cluster approach is, the reputation of the WASH cluster, and Oxfam’s approach to WASH and to coordination. Based on this, the experiences and reflections from Oxfam staff are outlined. This section highlights the eight areas Oxfam staff feel are key to ensuring that the WASH cluster functions well. Five country case studies are examined to give practical examples of the findings. Lastly, the report sets out the recommendations that Oxfam staff see as necessary for the future success of the WASH cluster. These recommendations come from Oxfam staff members who have worked in the field, both before the roll-out of the cluster approach and since. They are purposely formulated to reflect their words. Other clusters may find them relevant.
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