Strengthening the WASH System through Live and Learn in Papua New Guinea

Strengthening the WASH System through Live and Learn in Papua New Guinea

Strengthening the WASH System through Live and Learn in Papua New Guinea 1280 961 Agenda for Change

Under the Agenda for Change Technical Assistance Facility, IRC provided technical assistance to support the WASH work of Live and Learn in Papua New Guinea.


By Arjen Naafs, Programme Officer IRC

Live and Learn has been implementing WASH programmes in New Ireland Province (NIP), Papua New Guinea (PNG) since 2002. Since 2017, with support from IRC, the focus has shifted from traditional WASH service delivery to supporting and strengthening WASH systems in public institutions at province-wide levels. The programme contributes to the National WASH Policy targets for 2030. With more than 800 languages spoken, PNG is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Less than 15% of the population live in urban areas, and an estimated 40% have a self-sustainable natural lifestyle with no access to global capital. Access to basic water services comes in at just 45% and access to basic sanitation at just 19% (JMP).

Part of the technical assistance consisted of an analysis of the financial flows for WASH services, which showed the following:

  • WASH services have not been a priority either at the national or provincial level. Although technical structures within the government are aware of the importance of WASH services, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) still need to become a political priority. This lack of prioritization is partly linked to the abundance of water resources in New Ireland Province, where abundant rainfall allows the population to access freshwater. As a result, access to water is not considered a priority, although the risks of contamination remain serious, as indicated by the large population (65%) using unimproved services.
  • Provided that WASH increases in priority, this assessment found numerous potential financial channels for WASH infrastructure and services for the provincial and district level as well as directly for PNG Water. Several programmes and grants could be used to finance WASH services in terms of capital investment and maintenance. Mining could also be an important source of funding through royalties and the tax credit scheme.
  • Budget execution may be an issue in the province at all levels of government. However, most interviewees indicated a substantial difference between budgets announced by the central government and the budget effectively transferred to provinces. This discrepancy prevents provinces from carrying out their plans and activities as budgeted. Another issue is the delays in receiving the budgets. For example, in 2019 budgeted funds arrived two weeks before the end of the fiscal year, making it impossible to spend it on time. At the end of a fiscal year, funds that are not used have to be returned to the treasury.
  • Poverty may also represent a challenge in extending services. Overall, despite the wealth of the province in terms of natural resources such as gold, most of the population lives in poverty. This represents a major challenge for the introduction of WASH services due to a lack of willingness and ability to pay for safe water services.

Financial flows for rural WASH in New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea

The next step was to quantify the identified financial flows using a newly developed Excel tool – but then the COVID-19 pandemic started. As a blog written at the onset of the pandemic explains – gaps in data are terrifying – and PNG is a case in point. COVID-19 cases in Papua New Guinea remain poorly reported till date. Officially there are 26,731 coronavirus cases and 329 deaths but it is believed many more cases and deaths are going unreported as data is lacking and with just 1% of the population fully vaccinated.

Due to COVID-19, in-person support could not take place, and this has seriously hampered partners in working on detailed and extensive financial flows, leading to a rethink of IRC’s support. To continue WASH system strengthening from a distance, Live and Learn and IRC pivoted towards strengthening the monitoring building block.

The Department of National Planning and Monitoring (DNPM) has established a national WASH Management Information System (MIS), based on mWater. This process was supported by UNICEF, the European Union, and WaterAid. The MIS is administered by the government of PNG and linked to the national M&E framework and WASH monitoring manual. To support the subnational planning process and enhance monitoring, IRC provided six virtual support sessions to Live and Learn. This resulted in improved analysis skills, dashboards (see below), more complex consoles, and has enabled support beyond PNG to cross-sectorial data analysis in Vanuatu.


Dashboards such as the above, allow capturing, analyzing, and sharing of information and data between multiple partners and actors. The example shows that data from communities on health, education, and WASH can be combined and analyzed together. It is believed that such monitoring initiatives across various areas enhance system thinking and collaboration.

Overall, a new phase of technical assistance may be needed to continue to support the work of Water for Good in the area. This has been more or less disrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the political instability and deteriorating security environment in the country since the end of 2020.

In conclusion, the experience shows that policy support to the provinces remains mostly un-resourced, but there are possible financing streams available. There is potential to explore these further, but now with the ongoing pandemic is not the right time. In the meantime, monitoring the existing assets and getting a completer picture, will inform potential new technical assistance.

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