Accountability aims to ensure that resources are used appropriately and transparently in compliance with agreed rules and standardsthat WASH responders take responsibility for their work and that communities benefit from efficient and effective programming. Sphere describes accountability as the process of using power responsibly, taking account of and being held accountable by different stakeholders, primarily those who are affected by the exercise of such power.

Key Actions
  • Ensure that all sectors of the community (including men, women, boys and girls, persons with disabilities and older people) can participate fully and have the opportunity to voice their concerns and express their preferences (e.g. on the type of toilets, security issues or location of faecal sludge treatment facilities).
  • Establish transparent and participatory mechanisms for feedback and complaints. Stakeholders, particularly the users, must be informed about the organisation’s intended response and be able to provide feedback or complain about the programme. Acknowledge receipt of the feedback, analyse it, use the findings and respond to the feedback, closing the feedback loop: ‘consult, modify and consult!’
  • Monitor the progress of the programme against its goals and objectives. This feeds into the Learning Process and should involve the affected population, e.g. the users of the latrines monitor their satisfaction and use.
  • Train and support staff to demonstrate behaviours that support accountability, such as active listening skills, respect, being neutral, open and transparent and relating to community members as partners.
  • Establish a feedback system that is simple, accessible, safe, and appropriate. Take into account people’s age, gender, disability, language and context and design the system with the involvement of a diverse range of community members. Adapt the system according to the context (a suggestion box may work in one community but not in another with limited literacy).
  • Include vulnerable groups in the community and listen to them. The marginalised, older people, persons with disabilities, those with special health needs and children may be less visible, but must not be forgotten.
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Affected people have the right to be involved in Planning, Implementing, Monitoring and giving feedback on the emergency response. They are the best judges of the response. Standards such as Sphere and the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) provide a framework for accountability, supporting the programme to respond to the needs of the affected community and engage without endangering it.

An accountable humanitarian response is based on communication, participation and feedback; WASH staff should establish mechanisms for sharing information with the affecte community, including an overview of the organisation, its principles and what assistance they are providing (or not providing), when and how. Accessible and safe WASH feedback and complaints mechanism must be ensured. It has to be done with the input of the affected community and the feedback acted upon in a systematic and timely manner.

Data Collection requires informed consent and might require ethical approval. Any data collected must adhere to data protection standards and ensure confidentiality.

Knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes are important aspects of being accountable; sanitation practitioners must be competent, respectful and enabled to do their job well.Sanitation programme planners should assess whether the response is necessary, useful and feasible before its implementation, as well as assessing how the community can maintain the project’s benefits in the long run. The design and implementation should be sensitive to the cultural, socioeconomic, environmental and political Context.


There are different forms of accountability: upwards accountability (e.g. to donors), lateral accountability (e.g. to governments) and downward or forward accountability (e.g. to those affected by the disaster). As service providers, WASH practitioners are accountable to the affected population – they are the best judges of the programme’s impact and have a right to a say in decisions that affect their lives.

WASH accountability comprises five dimensions of change: (1) participation, (2) transparency, (3) feedback and complaints, (4) monitoring, evaluation and learning and (5) staff competencies and attitudes. These five dimensions complement and link with the CHS. In particular commitment 4: ‘Communities and people affected by crisis know their rights and entitlements, have access to information and participate in decisions that affect them.’ and commitment 5: ‘Communities and people affected by crisis have access to safe and responsive mechanisms to handle complaints.’

WASH personnel should take responsibility for their actions, particularly in an emergency situation when communities are more vulnerable to exploitation and where aid workers often think they already know what people need. Wherever data is collected, efforts must be made to keep both communities and staff safe, including adhering to data protection standards. In highly insecure environments, it may be necessary to conduct remote interviews (via phone or digital means) or provide personal protection.

Even in an acute emergency, it is essential to involve the affected population as far as possible in programme Planning, Implementing, Monitoring and feedback. Being accountable includes building trust, being respectful and developing collaborative relationships with affected communities. WASH personnel can and should support people’s capacity to overcome adversity by listening, providing clear and accurate information and the opportunity to provide feedback on the programme.

The advantages of accountability are many. Listening to people, empowering and involving them in decisions that affect them and understanding their needs will lead to an appropriately designed, implemented and more sustainable programme.

Author(s) (1)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (2)
Thorsten Reckerzügl
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Catherine Bourgault
Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)

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