Health & Fitness

Development banks should fund research to solve water access problems

water

Roysambu Primary School pupils suck water from a dry tap. FILE PHOTO | NMG

edwardomete

Summary

  • A few weeks ago, a tweet citing results from a World Bank study on improvement of water collection charges from slum dwellers drew fire from a section of Twitter users.
  • The bone of contention — the disconnection of water services as a study element amongst such a vulnerable population was perhaps an unnecessary observation.
  • Half of Nairobi would have concluded the study findings before commencement, giving alternative recommendations.
  • Power disconnection, door removal and padlocking of houses are common knowledge “tools of trade” by landlords to compel payment for services.

A few weeks ago, a tweet citing results from a World Bank study on improvement of water collection charges from slum dwellers drew fire from a section of Twitter users.

Ultimately, it spilt over into mainstream media, with opines from fellow columnists in the Daily Nation. The bone of contention — the disconnection of water services as a study element amongst such a vulnerable population was perhaps an unnecessary observation.

Half of Nairobi would have concluded the study findings before commencement, giving alternative recommendations.

Power disconnection, door removal and padlocking of houses are common knowledge “tools of trade” by landlords to compel payment for services.

However, this isn’t the first time the World Bank’s random control trials (RCTs) are coming under fire. Increasingly, African academia is complaining of the potential insensitivity and skewed problems evaluated in many of the studies.

Part of the concern is, of course, the origination of the evaluated issues, brewed in Washington and run in Nairobi. For much of development aid’s work, recognition of a shifting society must set in.

As scientific evaluation tools, RCTs are the superior form of evidence gathering.

The enduring clamour, however, isn’t in their quality, but rather in their context. A good story, like the access to water one the World Bank seeks to tell, must also be cognizant of the “context” and “setting” in which it is told. These two, in my opinion, appear to be chronically missing elements from much of development institutions’ work, though well-intentioned.

The good book says, “Put yee not new wine into old wineskins, lest the new wine burst the old wineskins.”

Across the globe, there is a call for change, on how development aid research is administered and received.

Failure to acknowledge this or reform could be taken as a tacit acknowledgement of complicity, or total disregard of the cultural insensitivity of concerns raised.

Part of the genesis could be the structuring of development banks and their operational objectives. Because of sheer financial size and power dynamics, such institutions can become almost governmental, complete with bureaucracy. Reforming the power dynamics within and without would allow for alternative approaches.

A postmortem review of past 100 water sanitation studies could reveal why without rethinks in the research portfolio, the study carried out will remain an intricate “football passing match”, with no goals scored.

To reform, development banks must review their evidence portfolios to also fund locally originated hypotheses. There is no shortage of excellent proposals gathering dust in libraries amongst postgraduate university theses.

For a start, this World Water Week, the World Bank could pledge a quarter of its research budgets to locally originated studies competitively channelled through universities.

At a fraction of current research costs, a wider mix of more informative studies could be delivered.

Have an academic World Water Week!