Access to clean water and sanitation is no small issue to citizens of developing countries like Rwanda. The government looks at achieving universal access to clean water by 2024. In 2019, the Ministry of Infrastructure announced an investment outlay of $440 million for three years to build water treatment plants and supply systems in urban and rural areas as it accelerates efforts to ensure that all Rwandan have access to clean water by 2024. With such efforts being put up by the government, there are also non-government players that are lending a hand in the struggle. One of them is Wateraid Rwanda which has announced that it will invest a minimum of Rwf20 billion in access to clean water and sanitation in Rwanda for the next ten years. The New Times Hudson Kuteesa had an exclusive interview with the Country Director of the NGO and talked about their work in the country, key issues in access to clean water, and their plans of investing going forward. Excerpts: How have the ten years of Wateraid’s service in Rwanda been? What critical issues have you been focusing on in your quest to get clean water and sanitation to citizens? For WaterAid, the past 10 years in Rwanda have been a very successful and impactful journey. WaterAid started its country programme in Rwanda in 2010. Since the inception of our Country Programme, we have been using our experience to find the best technologies for each situation, shared our knowledge and experience to pilot innovative water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) technologies which can be replicated elsewhere in the country to ensure to the most remote communities are reached. We also worked to initiate mechanisms and tools that provide the decision-makers with accurate information on the status of WASH services. In the last team years, WaterAid Rwanda has injected about Rwf7 billion into what it does here. What has been the change created until now? Back in 2010, the level of access to basic services of water, sanitation and hygiene was still low. The WASH sector coordination and performance monitoring were not adequate and there were quite a few local organizations empowered to engage effectively on inclusive and sustainable WASH services and advocacy. Our time and resources have been invested mostly in WASH service delivery in communities, schools and health care facilities, WASH sector coordination and capacity as well as in supporting the processes of policy development and reviews. Maurice Kwizera the Country Director of Wateraid Rwanda. / Photo: Courtesy Recently WaterAid has also provided support to national efforts for covid19 response. Our WASH projects have focused on Bugesera and Nyamagabe Districts. Since 2010 WaterAid Rwanda have reached more than 172,483 people with clean water supply, 221 523 people with improved sanitation and 959,724 people in hygiene behaviour change communication. We have supported 338 schools and 5 health care facilities with water and sanitation. WaterAid initiated a rural sanitation financing model in form of a revolving fund of more than 70million Rwandan Franc created in SACCOS and made available to Community Hygiene Clubs to support households improve their sanitation facilities. The support to the implementation of the national Community-Based Environmental Health Promotion Programme has been another priority for WaterAid as we believe that hygiene is a lever to water and sanitation services for the prevention of diseases. Community Hygiene Clubs have been identified as key motivators of behaviour change in communities. In total, 1173 of them have been formed, equipped with behaviour change tools and trained to reach households. In collaboration with districts, direct support was provided to 3,174 vulnerable households to build ventilated improved toilets. Beside water, sanitation and hygiene services, WaterAid has been running an International Training programme for WASH practitioners from Government institutions and Civil Society Organizations on sustainable urban water and sanitation. WaterAid has strongly engaged in supporting the development of national policies in different Ministries connected with WASH and the roll-out of approaches geared towards accelerating or monitoring access to WASH. What is the future estimation of what you hope to inject into clean water and sanitation, financially speaking? And what specific areas and activities do you hope to focus on? For the next 10 years, a minimum of Rwf20 billion will be mobilized to continue to support the plans of the Government of Rwanda to achieve universal access to water, hygiene and sanitation as stipulated in national policy and planning instruments and the SDGs. Rural water and sanitation, institutional capacity strengthening, WASH integration in health/education/nutrition will continue to be on our agenda. The new areas of programming will include sanitation in urban and peri-urban and water resource management, all taking care of climate change. In fact, we predict that climate change will exacerbate existing threats to water security, including current climate variability, weak governance of WASH services and water resources, environmental degradation, growing demand for water and threats to water quality, such as pollution and salinity. We will continue to advocate for inclusive and sustainable water and sanitation services as climate adaptation mechanism among others. Good quality, sustainable water and sanitation services are the first line of defence for poor communities. Has the Covid-19 outbreak made it hard in delivering clean water and sanitation services? And what lessons do you pick from a pandemic like this? It is true that Covid-19 has impacted negatively our work mainly the time frame for the implementation of some projects components requiring gatherings in community and schools which was not possible during different phases of the pandemic management. However, stopping the work was not a choice to make for us especially that water, sanitation and hygiene were among the key weapons to fight the pandemic. WaterAid was able to devise new strategies for delivering projects with new emphasis on Covid-19 response. We have strengthened the health and safety measures for staff and partners and continued with the construction of handwashing facilities in public places and institutions, the community awareness through media-based campaigns as well as the distribution of non-medical supplies including hand sanitizers and soap for hands hygiene. Covid-19 has taught us that extending sustainable water and hygiene services for all is more than urgent to ensure communities resilience to different diseases including Covid-19. WASH has been and remains the first line of defence for Covid-19 prevention, but the most at-risk segment of the population is in rural vulnerable households who access water from a source far from the home and have no water storage option at home. The second lesson is around collaboration and partnerships between government, development partners, communities and Civil Society Organizations that have proven to be key in containing the pandemic. Looking at how the sustainable water and hand hygiene facilities put in place as part of a preparedness plan to Ebola Virus Disease have helped immediately to respond to COVID, our commitment to “sustainability” has been enhanced. Where do you see Rwanda’s future within the next ten years as far as access to clean water and sanitation is concerned? If the same pace of extending services is maintained, Rwanda can achieve and celebrate the universal access to water and sanitation before 2030. There are clear plans and a high political and the confidence that Rwanda gained from the remarkable progress – and in some cases overachievement – on MDGs is still fuelling national efforts towards the SDGs including SDG6 on clean water and sanitation. Of course, this will require increased and consistent investment in services, human capacity and technology for effective WASH services delivery, strong coordination of different actors and coherent monitoring of progress on targets especially for rural. As the country looks at accelerating access to WASH, it is important to keep in mind that extending services to the last quintile requires more attention and efforts given that it contains mainly the hard to reach. Sanitation tends to be particularly challenging and may require government subsidies. It may be necessary to re-thing rural water and sanitation and adopt innovative mechanisms for sanitation financing and for connecting poor households to water networks. Government will remain central to achieving WASH challenge and, in that perspective, strengthening the governance, regulation of water services and water resources management as well as engaging more the private sector will be necessary. Last, water and sanitation plans for the next 10 years will need to be climate-sensitive, being cognizant that business, as usual, will not work in face of new threats caused by climate change Government has plans for universal access to clean water and sanitation to its citizens by 2024. What challenges do you think are there to deal with so that this can be achieved, and critical issues are in place to be addressed along the way? There is a challenge in rural settlements where some households are still scattered on the thousand hills of Rwanda, thereby making it difficult or quite expensive to reach them with water services. On the other hand, it is only a few districts /towns that have clear and coasted area-wide WASH investment plans to provide sustainable services to citizens. Ad hoc planning remains a barrier to universal access. It is also important to recognize that this domain has been severely affected by the effects of climate change whereby in some areas of the country, water and sanitation infrastructures have been swept away by flooding and or landslides. We are conscious that Covid-19 is impacting negatively the whole economy of the country, but WASH needs to be highlighted in the national recovery plan, not only to build community resilience but also indirectly to help other sectors recover quickly like tourism, education and health.