Project Failures


Billions in aid is spent annually on water projects for the world’s poorest, yet 35-50% of these projects fail.

780 million people lack acces to safe water and 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation (JMP 2014). Billions of dollars in aid and philanthropic gifts have been spent trying to solve the problem, yet, as everyone in the WASH sector knows, 35-50% of water and sanitation projects fail within a few years of implementation, particularly in rural areas.

Expert opinion is that less than 5% of projects are visited post-construction and less than 1% receive any long-term monitoring. This statistic means that few organizations are investing in their own learning, taking corrective actions, or improving the execution of future projects. In spite of the  state of affairs, implementing organizations continue to be rewarded with donations to move on to the next construction project.

The so-called beneficiaries are the only ones who suffer after a system failure. But their frustrations have not led to meaningful change in the funding cycle.

Given the lack of measurable movement on these issues in the past 20 years, it is clear that implementing organizations need a more compelling incentive to conduct routine monitoring and evaluation of their programs, leading to improved long-term performance. Financial institutions and donors should also have better information to ensure that funds are allocated effectively and efficiently and include consideration of long-term management.

The Water for Life rating system lays the groundwork for the identification of high-performing humanitarian organizations within the water and sanitation sector as determined by third party experts. Once that system is in place, funding agencies will have the tool they need to break the current pattern of funding and begin to channel resources to groups with a proven track record of delivering long lasting services.

Learn more in the op-eds below:

Humanosphere: The problem of cheap water

Humanoshere: Guest Op-Ed: Water projects everywhere, but little accountability
Seattle Globalist: What international aid can learn from Zappos

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Humanosphere: Seeking sustainable solutions on World Water Day