Strengthening WASH systems in Rwanda: An interview with Water For People’s WASH Sustainability Manager

Strengthening WASH systems in Rwanda: An interview with Water For People’s WASH Sustainability Manager

Strengthening WASH systems in Rwanda: An interview with Water For People’s WASH Sustainability Manager 1024 528 Agenda for Change

Bruce Uwonkunda sharing Water Resources Management practices as part of the District Wide Approach experience in a regional conference of WaterAid (WaterAid).

Background: Water For People has been working in Rwanda since 2008.  In 2010, Water For People received technical and financial support from the Ministry of Infrastructure to scale water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) service delivery in Rulindo district (later reframed as the ‘District Wide Approach’). Planning is now underway for a nationwide roll-out of the District Wide Approach. Water For People is working closely with other NGOs to replicate the experience from Rulindo and scale the District Wide Approach. Below is a summary of an interview with Water For People Rwanda’s WASH Sustainability Manager.

Alec Shannon (AS), Content Strategist, Agenda for Change: Tell me about the history of WASH services in Rwanda. How is your work different now than 10 years ago?

Bruce Uwonkunda (BU), WASH Sustainability Manager, Water For People: Rulindo district was the first district where we tried a new approach, and we learned a lot in the process of working there. For instance, early on we realized that water service levels were not improving, even with some initial investment. We began to identify some things that would help, like water resource management, capacity building, and community mobilization. Eventually, we started to see results. Through this process, we created a model for reaching universal and sustainable services called the Everyone Forever model which later became the District Wide Approach, which the Government of Rwanda is in the process of scaling up nationally.

Right now, all the WASH infrastructure has been constructed, though the level of service is not sufficient yet – we are still building the capacity of the service authority and the service providers in hopes of improving service levels. We still support continuous monitoring and direct support expenditures. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure continuous, sustainable WASH service delivery that is not disrupted in Rulindo district. Meanwhile, we are already supporting the district governments in Karongi and Gicumbi with replicating the District Wide Approach.

AS: What is your working relationship with national and district government?

BU: The Ministry of Infrastructure leads our coordination and we have regular meetings under the sector working group. There’s a coordination unit that brings together all the stakeholders and we have a thematic working group where we discuss specific topics like technology, finance, monitoring, etc. The District Wide Approach is discussed across all of these.

AS: Who else is helping you scale the District Wide Approach?

BU: We were lucky to get funding from the Vitol Foundation for country-wide interventions around systems change. That’s how Water For People, WaterAid[1], IRC[2], the Ministry of Infrastructure, and the Water and Sanitation Corporation came together to implement some of the District Wide Approach activities. Together we are working in five districts, and we also have an intervention at the national level. After seeing the progress we were making, UNICEF has recently joined, as well as World Vision – both are helping to strengthen the WASH system at the national level.

AS: What are some next steps?

BU: In the next three years, we are going to continue building on the District Wide Approach. We are planning countrywide dissemination workshops where we can share the concept, the lessons learned, and the process of what it takes to implement in a single district. This workshop will also include cost estimations of how much funding is required (for example, to have a capital investment assessment). We also need things like engineering design, and we will need to begin setting up an annual monitoring system, because each district will need to do data collection.

Right now, we are focused on identifying additional funding opportunities from USAID, UNICEF, or others to cover the implementation activities (e.g., lifecycle assessment, development of plans, monitoring). To cover this assessment phase for an entire district normally requires 70,000 to 100,000 USD. Funding is going to be a challenge – most districts are not ready for that expense.

AS: Do you feel optimistic that Rwanda will reach SDG 6 by 2030? There are still 24 districts to scale to across the country.

BU: I might not say all Rwandans will have water in their premises by 2030, I do not think that will be feasible. It will take time, but at least the basic targets will be achieved. The good news is we have an approach to follow, we have the political will and government support, and we are in a stable country. At this point, we know what is expected, and our approach is something that other countries could replicate and advocate for, too.

AS: Speaking of other countries, do you have any advice for those who are just starting a system strengthening approach?

BU: You need to understand what is happening at the national level. And then you need to work with other partners to come together with the same principles and support for one another. There’s a need for a national working group or a forum, where people from the various organizations meet and discuss together and agree on the same way of working. This process should also be open so that others in the group can offer inputs, innovations, and additions to each other’s working process, which has helped us all get to where we are today. You also need to test an approach or model in one district or region, monitor lessons learned and best practices, and then move forward with replicating in other districts, or at a national scale.

[1] WaterAid is an Agenda for Change member.
[2] IRC is an Agenda for Change member.

Bruce Uwonkunda joined Water For People Rwanda as WASH Sustainability Manager in September 2015. Since then, he has helped the three districts where Water For People intervenes to ensure sustainability of WASH facilities. Bruce has 10 years of experience in the WASH sector and has degrees in Environmental Chemistry (Bachelors) and Water Resources and Environment Management (Masters) from the National University of Rwanda. Previously, he worked for the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Water and Sanitation Corporation.

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