Incorporating the life cycle approach into wash policies and programmes: a systematic review

Publication Details

Annamalai, TR, Narayanan, S, Devkar, G, Kumar, VS, Devaraj, R, Ayyangar, A and Mahalingam, A, 2017. Incorporating the life cycle approach into WASH policies and programmes: A systematic review. 3ie Systematic Review 35. London: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie). 

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Thillai Rajan Annamalai, Sriharini Narayanan, Ganesh Devkar, Venkata Santosh Kumar, Reeba Devaraj, Akshaya Ayyangar, Ashwin Mahalingam
South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa
Water and Sanitation
Water Supply and Sanitation Reform, Urban Water and Sanitation, Rural Water and Sanitation
Equity Focus
Gender, Vulnerable groups
Review Type
Other review

Main findings

Headline Findings: a summary statement

The authors find that as the MDG period progressed, WASH policies, programmes and projects have increasingly identified LCS and GSS population segments.

Evidence Base

The review draws on 59 policy and 131 programme and project documents relating to WASH in  eleven priority countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa: Asia were India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The countries from sub-Saharan Africa were Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Malawi and Uganda

Implications for policy and practice

  • During the MDG period WASH policies initially focused on providing universal access to facilities with no specific population segmentation. However, as the MDGs progressed, there was more focus on identifying LCS and GSS population segments.GSS were more likely to be identified than LCS.
  • A robustness index explored whether barriers, strategies for overcoming the barriers, and WASH benefits for different LCS and GSS population segments were identified in these documents. Analysis of this index indicated that identification of barriers, strategies and benefits was more comprehensive for GSS than for LCS.
  • Overall, programmes and projects were also less likely to mention these population segments than policy documents, indicating that policy goals are not always being incorporated into programmes and projects. 

Implications for further research

The authors suggest that future work could focus on the adoption of LCS and improvements in access. The authors note the need for future research on investigating the ‘effectiveness’ of WASH interventions. They also state that future research could usefully explore the challenges encountered by bilateral agencies and INGOs in the adoption of life cycle approach in WASH programmes and the strategies that were successful in mainstreaming LCA.


This systematic review assesses the extent to which WASH policies, programmes and projects have been inclusive of different population segments during the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) period. It examines whether life-cycle segments (LCS) such as gender, age and disability, and geographic and social segments (GSS) such as urban/rural location or socioeconomic status have been reflected in WASH policies, programmes and projects.

Research objectives

The primary review question is, “To what extent have the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sub-sectors incorporated the life-cycle approach into policy, programmes and projects during the MDG period?”


The authors included policy, programme and project documents pertaining to the WASH sector during the MDG period. Documents had to be published between between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2015. They searched academic databases such as ELDIS, WEDC Knowledge base, Open Grey and google Scholar. They also searched websites of government agencies and departments and websites of multilateral and bi-lateral agencies and INGOs, and contacted experts. The evidence was synthesised using numerical summary techniques and qualitative comparative analysis (QCA).

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