Mapping the big picture: Are WASH achievements linked to higher-level development goals?
Effective water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs can demonstrably improve sanitation, health, and water access. But, does WASH programming also contribute to additional development goals like education, economic growth, or women’s empowerment?
To answer this question, with the support of USAID, 3ie developed an innovative new WASH systematic map that explores the value of water security investments for the broader development ecosystem. The map provides an overview of nearly 300 studies that examine the linkages between achievements in drinking water, sanitation provision, and hygiene behaviors and enhanced prosperity, stability, and resilience. The map itself does not provide definitive answers to these questions, but points the user towards studies that address the relationships.
3ie’s outcome-to-outcome methodology explored prosperity as inclusive of education, livelihoods, women’s empowerment, enterprise, and economic growth; stability, represented by public perceptions of institutions, governance processes or services, and conflict; and finally, resilience through climate-linked food insecurity, climate-linked economic challenges, climate-linked migration, resilience to climate-linked natural disasters, and pollution.
The map identifies three prominent areas of research within the examined literature. First, 39 studies investigated the link between access to drinking water and livelihoods, often measuring incomes or assets. Second, 37 studies investigated the link between access to drinking water and public perceptions of institutions, often in the form of willingness-to-pay studies. Third, 25 studies investigated the link between education and menstrual health and hygiene, particularly the association between improving menstrual health and hygiene and school absences or enrollment for women and girls.
While the map provides an important resource for understanding linkages between WASH outcomes and livelihoods, public trust in institutions, and education, it also points to significant gaps in WASH research. Carolyn Huang, Senior Evaluation Specialist at 3ie explains: “We observe gaps in the WASH research primarily among resilience outcomes…If the WASH community wants to know more about how WASH improvements affect climate-linked resilience and conflict outcomes, they should conduct studies on these specific questions to fill the gaps in the research base.”
Furthermore, the vast majority of studies that 3ie examined used methods that identify correlation, rather than methods that measure the causation between WASH outcomes and improvements in prosperity, stability, and resilience. Moving forward, investing in causal research to measure whether WASH causes improvements in high-level developmental outcomes is an opportunity to demonstrate the value of improved WASH beyond its impacts on immediate outcomes. We are excited to contribute to the conversation about the links between WASH achievements and big-picture development goals, and we're hoping that future research will help fill in some of the blank spaces on our map.
This blog post was first published on the Global Waters website and can be accessed here. It is being reproduced on 3ie's website with permission.