Probably, more than 50% (closer to 80%) of projects conducted around the world fail within a year after 'completion'. Our friend in Vietnam informed us of the 80+% failure rate of a large international agency's projects. Another friend made a surprise visit to his projects in Mozambique and found 80% of the ones he visited had failed (or no work had been done). An Arghyam study documented that 95% of 23,683 school RWH projects in Karnataka, India had never worked. We estimate that less than 5% of projects get visited after completion and less than 1% get visited long-term. Given the current philanthropic model, it is hard to get actual facts on long-term success of water projects. This is what we know for sure:
- Success of a project cannot be determined at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. It takes time for people to adopt the technology (including learning to maintain it). The community takes time to feel true ownership, and it takes longer to change their behavior. Water projects take time to deliver impact, and determining their sustainability takes even longer.
- Funding agencies usually close their files after the implementation (ribbon-cutting ceremony) is complete and a report is filed.
- It is very hard for funding (and many implementing) agencies to visit small projects years after completion, to see if the equipment is still working, whether it is in use and whether it has been modified or adapted from the original plan.
- Current monitoring and evaluation (M&E) activities typically done by researchers and consultants, involve measuring changes over a wide range of parameters: water quality, health, education, women's status, agriculture, and economic activity. It is important that projects undergo this time- and resource-intensive analysis, but it is impossible to perform for more than a handful or projects.
- Only successes are reported, not failures. Projects that are successful and easy to market (where nice photos and interviews are available) are the only ones that get reported. We learn best from our mistakes and, unfortunately, it is a hazard to talk about missteps in the philanthropic community, since the funder and implementer bear the stigma of a failure.
So what is to be done?