By Julie Mollins
LONDON (AlertNet) – Fewer than half of 23 drinking water and sanitation projects funded with development aid from the European Union (EU) in six Sub-Saharan countries have met the needs of beneficiaries, and 19 are at risk of failure without ongoing financial support, according to an auditors’ report.
The European Court of Auditors (ECA) assessed the projects to see if the European Commission has managed aid for drinking water and basic sanitation in a manner that would lead to effective and sustainable results.
In only four of the projects were fees for services set at a level to cover running costs, the audit report said, adding that unless future aid, or subsidies from national or local governments are made available, their sustainability is at risk.
“Our objective in looking at this was to see whether the money was being well used in the continuing interests of recipients, so we asked whether the projects carried out did actually meet the needs as defined,” said David Bostock, the ECA member responsible for the report.
“We then asked whether projects are likely to be sustainable,” he told AlertNet.
The total EU contribution to the audited projects was 219 million euros ($283 million), 22 percent of the more than 1 billion euros contracted by the Commission, the EU executive, for water and sanitation projects in 46 sub-Saharan African countries from 2001 to 2010, according to the report.
Projects are not directly implemented by Commission staff, but are carried out by an agency overseen by a ministry in a partner country or by an international or non-governmental organisation (NGO).
“The specific criticism we make in the report is that the Commission doesn't seem to have investigated as thoroughly as it must the likelihood that these projects will be kept on, that there will be continuing financial support for them and that the people taking them on have the necessary technical abilities,” Bostock said.
“If you look in the Commission's rulebook… for appraising projects, it says that they should do these things, but the practice hasn't lived up to the theory, so that's what we're saying: that the commission in principle has some good rules for assessing projects, but doesn't make the use of them that it should,” he added.
The audit was carried out between February and December 2011, in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania. The 23 projects and programmes were financed with European Development Funds (EDF) and from the EU general budget at a cost of more than 400 million euros, 49 percent of which was funded by the EU, according to the report, which was released last month.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 39 percent of the population had no access to an improved source of drinking water and 70 percent were without improved sanitation facilities in 2010, according to statistics cited in the report.
NEEDS NOT MET
Overall, the needs of beneficiaries were clearly met in only two of the 23 projects, the report said. In six cases, needs were met with minor weaknesses, while in other cases there were more serious weaknesses.
The audit showed that in 10 out of 18 projects for which information was available, water-supply equipment installed was maintained in clean and good condition and was operational, but seven projects suffered from minor weaknesses and one in Ghana had serious weaknesses.
Water hand pumps installed in Ghana were situated in areas prone to regular flooding, susceptible to contamination and sometimes inaccessible.
Half of 10 projects with a sanitation component were successful, according to the audit. In two cases the facilities constructed were not in operation or in proper working order, and in three other cases there were minor weaknesses.
In Nigeria, plans to construct boreholes, pumps and distribution networks in 24 small towns in Adamawa, Delta and Ekiti states were reliant on an electricity grid, but auditors found the power supply is almost nonexistent.
“Although standby generators were installed, sufficient diesel to run them on a routine basis is too expensive,” the report said. “As a result, the installations, though in good operating condition, were at the time of the audit being run only on rare occasions.”
In the city of Tombwa, Angola, although the group in charge of managing the water supply system declared that water analyses were carried out daily, no records of the tests were made available to the auditors, the report said.
Auditors saw some successful projects, including hygiene awareness campaigns in 100 small towns in Nigeria, where the communities were visibly free of open defecation.
Auditors found no evidence that the Commission had identified or taken action to address the problems found: that in nine projects aspects of technical specifications were missing or insufficiently explained; in 11 cases economic analysis was insufficiently developed; in eight projects there were no clearly defined objectives and in another 10, there were no clearly defined indicators, baseline values or targets.
In its recommendations the report emphasised that economic and financial aspects are of great importance for sustainability. “It is crucial that stable alternative sources of funding are identified and, wherever feasible, committed before financing of project operations is approved,” the report said.
The ECA conducts about 15 or 20 audits a year in addition to the annual report, Bostock said. A Court of Auditors may sound like a negative body because it looks at things that have gone wrong, but the objective is to give positive input into aid policy, he said.
“We look around each year and consider what would be useful to audit,” he said. “This was an area that we hadn't looked at before, and I think there's been increasing interest in recent years in the court about whether aid projects are sustainable.”
In its response to the audit, the Commission said care must be taken in drawing general conclusions from the results of the 23 diverse projects. It said most of the audited projects were approved before Quality Support Groups (QSG) were established in 2005 to help with monitoring, and said it will continue to work on improving the sustainability of projects.
Global efforts to help alleviate poverty are overseen by the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) framework, a set of targets established by the United Nations in 2010 to be met by 2015.
The drinking water MDG goal was met by the end of 2010, according to a joint monitoring programme led by the World Health Organisation and the U.N. children's fund (UNICEF), but sanitation targets are off track and likely to be missed.
(Editing by Tim Pearce)