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Monday, May 27: It is in the dead of night on May 27. The taxi has just pulled out of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport. ‘I work from Sunday morning to Thursday 9am without really taking a break’ the driver tells me when I ask him how his work has been. I do not fully understand what he is saying because that looks like too long a time for one to stay awake. ‘So do you go home to at least sleep?’ I ask. ‘Rarely’ he responds, ‘but if I do get some time, I sleep in the car for about an hour or two and then on Thursday I sleep when I get home’. For the next few moments I digest what I have just heard. What hard work this must be, I think to myself. At some point I fear what kind of a wreck he must be on Thursday morning, thank God this is only Monday and I can at least have confidence in knowing that it is not yet Thursday.

He like many others, are the entrepreneuring and hardworking people I have been lucky to come across during the AFE. Whether it is in the chilly and dreary nights of Nairobi winter or its sweltering summers they work as hard as they can to make ends. Nairobi itself is a bustling city. New businesses are sprouting every day. It is like the nerve center of innovative and fast spreading information communication technologies. By a press of a button on your mobile phone – and it does not have to be a smartphone — whatever kind of mobile phone you have, you can receive or send money, you can buy or sale merchandise. Mobile money services are now spreading across Africa after having gained ground here through MPESA (mobile money -pesa). New roads are being constructed and with it the chaos that comes with the ever increasing number of cars. During the day, the traffic gives you the impression that cars are both made and dumped here. All sorts, the very new, very big or very old and very small, the bad, the good and the ugly, they all ply the streets in what seems to be very organized chaos. Recent elections ushered in a young and ‘digital’ president who among others wants to provide laptops to every primary school child. He has returned to the state house as President after having lived there in his early days when his dad was the president. I am excited that I will operate from here for the summer.

The fight against dirty water and bad sanitation has brought me to Nairobi to work with the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation program. They have engaged me to do some case studies on the effectiveness of aid in the water and sanitation sector among others. While I will spend some time in Nairobi, the focus of the work is actually not here, it is in two West African countries, Niger and Liberia. These two countries have both had tumultuous political pasts but they are now en route to development and it is hoped that they will remain stable—anyway more about these two countries on Thursday and Friday.

For the first week I get to focus on preparatory work for the AFE. It is here in Nairobi that the key issues I will be dealing with are outlined and agreed with my Team Leader, a very sharp and eloquent man, I could not have asked for a better Team Leader at this point. In laying out the focus of the AFE, a few things become clear. Most Low-Income Countries (LICs), especially those south of the Sahara which has a sweeping 48 countries will miss their millennium development goal on sanitation and most of them will also miss the target for water. The World is said to have met the water target in 2012 partly owing to quantum leaps in access to water in China and India but at least 30 in my continent, Africa, are unlikely to achieve this goal. Now, this is despite the progress made so which includes 273 million people who have gained access to water since 1990 in Sub-Sahara Africa but population growth and breakdown of services are responsible for the slow net growth.

Liberia and Niger will not certainly achieve these goals, they are off-track and off target but as will be shown on Thursday and Friday, there is progress only it has to be at a galloping pace for the gap to be closed faster.  A lot would be needed to accelerate the pace and make progress hold. To do this, there is a clear need to see how water and sanitation finances can be used more effectively whether they come from government or donors. For aid in particular, it can catalyze the process but it is certainly not the ultimate or the only solution and in fact it is not every problem that is solved by more money. Sometimes it is using the money you have well that helps to improve delivery.

Some of these countries are significantly aid dependent with aid accounting for well over a quarter of their national spending. Sometimes aid accounts even for more. As I later found out, the water and sanitation sector is largely financed by donors. This is a telling fact as it means national resources do not usually end up in this sector for one reason or the other. More significantly though is the fact that we ought to be more concerned about the purpose and how these resources are utilized. We need now more than ever to discuss the question of how these resources can be fit for purpose.

I know it is because of dirty water and bad sanitation that KB lost her beloved husband and son but could local resources and external resources (mostly aid) have done something to change the situation? Could good planning and better targeting of the resources have helped? Perhaps a shared focus between preventive and curative health is more the imperative rather than one that wholly focusses on curative health and forgets the preventive needs.

Sitali For 7 AugustThese are discussions that other sectors such as education and health have already started having but the water and sanitation sector is yet to increase its focus on this issue. So the inquiry design began and a framework that benefits from the Aid Effectiveness principles agreed in Paris in 2005, Accra 2008 and Busan 2011 become central to the study. I was going to look at how aid contributes to supporting countries to own their national agenda through the development and roll-out of country and specific sector strategies. Secondly, how donors have aligned to support this strategy by enhancing the ability of the state to plan, deliver and have oversight –in other words, enabling the state to lead its own development agenda. Other key principles include harmonization, mutual accountability and managing for results. Later meetings with WaterAid and Overseas Development Institute experts in London confirm the need for this inquiry framework and they provide critical input to make it even more specific.

The following weeks are spent demystifying and deciphering these questions and we will look at them in slightly more detail in later blogs. For now my mind remains with KB and the people I met in her community. The man and those two little boys who shared that beach as their toilet!  The waters of the Atlantic came and swept their waste away. Their lot is changing but not fast enough. They too would like some of life’s basic necessities. They have the energy and will, but technologies and financial resources are limited. If local and external resources could be properly targeted at what they define as the problem and what they see as the solution, perhaps things could be much better not only for them but for many others. There is no need for them to continue surviving while others are living. This should not be, but it is. This can change and it is albeit slowly. This should change and it will, but only if we pull our resources in a way that makes our efforts more effective.

Note: Today there was a fire in the Nairobi airport. We are in touch with Sitali and he is OK.  

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