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


This review by Annamalai and colleagues looks at the extent to which the life-cycle appraoch has been incorporated into the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sub-sectors whilst working towards the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).

Main findings

Headline Findings: a summary statement

The authors find that as the MDG period progressed, WASH policies, programmes, and projects have increasingly identified both life-scycle (LCS) and geographic and social (GSS) population segments for program targeting. Within LCS, the most commonly observed segments in WASH policies are women, followed by children and the diabled. Whilst findings varied between Asia and Africa, attitudinal and environmental barriers were the most commonly cited. When segmenting the population by LCS, the programmes tended to focus more on physical accessability of WASH services whilst under GSS they focused on affordability. GSS sewems to lead to more comprehensive WASH policies. LCS most commonly used in sanitation and hygiene interventions.

Evidence Base

The review draws on 59 policy and 131 programme and project documents relating to WASH in 11 priority countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. These are India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Malawi, and Uganda.

Implications for policy and practice

  • Identifying specific LCS in WASH policies can create an enabling environment that will lead to them being considered more often in programme and project design.
  • The life-cycle approach seems to be more applicable to the sanitation sector.
  • Incorporating life-cycle approach within the current GSS paradigm can help achieve inclusiveness.

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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