Muddying the Water? Assessing Target-based Approaches in Development Cooperation for Water and Sanitation
In the debate on the post-2015 development agenda, a clear preference exists for simple and quantiﬁable targets that will guide monitoring and action. In considering the utility of such an approach, it is important to take heed of the lessons from earlier efforts of target setting. The water sector provides an important case study in this respect. It has been the subject of quantitative target setting since 1976 and thereby offers a useful barometer of the phenomenon. Within this period we can identify two stories concerning the utility of a turn to metrics. The ﬁrst is a
perennial and partly justiﬁed optimism that target setting will shape action. The targets set in 1976 appear to have made some contribution in accelerating progress towards providing access to basic water and sanitation. This effect was conditional, however, on the targets being embedded in a broader institutional and political process, a clear narrative and a concerted “push.” In contrast, the targets set in the 1990s appear to have had little impact since they were more of a “paper variety”: the international development community had shifted its attention elsewhere-to privatization, to permit systems, to water resources management. The impact of the targets set in 2000 is much less clear. Nonetheless, the sanguinity over the effectiveness of target setting continues in the sector, with international ofﬁcials leading early efforts to shape the post-2015 framework (WHO and UNICEF 2013b). The second story is a more cautionary tale. Indicator measurement has glossed over challenging but
signiﬁcant issues such as equality, safety, affordability and sustainability while the ambition of targets
Vol. 15, Nos. 2-3, 247-260, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19452829.2014.896321
has been gradually adjusted downwards. One needs to read the ofﬁcial statistics with more than a pinch of salt. Moreover, the demand for simplicity in targets and indicators means that signiﬁcant issues in the sector are excluded or distorted. In this paper, we begin with an overview of two early periods of target setting. This is followed by a
critical analysis of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with respect to water and sanitation and an examination of their impacts. In the ﬁnal substantive section, we offer some brief conclusions on the implications for the post-2015 agenda and some potential alternative routes to tread.