Expenditure Direct Support (ExpDS)

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Direct support is structured support to service providers and users or user groups related to the operation and management of water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Direct support includes the following types of activity:

  • performance monitoring
  • technical advice and information
  • administrative support (e.g. help with tariff setting)
  • organisational support (e.g. to achieve legal status)
  • conflict resolution
  • identifying capital maintenance needs (including advice on financing)
  • training and refresher courses.

The costs of support before and during the construction of a water or sanitation system are not included. They are considered to be capital expenditure support. Most community-based water service providers seek and receive some degree of direct support (Whittington et al., 2009), though often in an ad hoc manner, typically when they encounter a problem.

Direct support is often referred to as institutional support, post-construction support and follow-up support.

Difference between direct and indirect support

Direct support is always related to a particular project, programme or geographical area. Expenditure on indirect support is about creating and regulating the enabling environment for water, sanitation and hygiene services and is not particular to a programme or project.


Institutional arrangements for direct support
There are different institutional arrangements for the provision of direct support. Which model is most appropriate or cost-effective depends on the country context (Smits, 2012). Table 1 shows the five main types of arrangements.

Table 1. Institutional arrangements for direct support

Direct support by local government Local government is formally mandated to support external service providers and fulfills the support agent function internally, for example through local government technicians.
Local government subcontracting a specialised agency or individuals Local governments contract an urban utility, a private company or an NGO to provide support. They may also contract individual entrepreneurs, such as handpump mechanics who provide a mix of direct support and operation and maintenance activities.
Central government of parastatal agencies National government provides direct support from a national level, or via deconcentrated offices, or subcontracts a specialised agency to provide support.
Association of community-based service providers Community-based service providers establish an association and then provide support to each other or hire a technician to support members of the association.
NGOs In many cases, support provided by NGOs is ad hoc. Still there are a few examples where NOGs still have specific, direct support programmes.

Source: Smits, 2012, 3

Benchmarks expenditure direct support

Based on research from WASHCost, the minimum expenditure on direct support to provide a basic level of water service (at 2011 prices) ranges from US$ 1 per person to just over US$ 3 per person (see table 2).

Table 2. Cost ranges for expenditure on direct support [min-max] in US$ 2011 per person, per year for a basic level of service.

Borehole and handpump 1-3
All piped schemes 1-3

Source: Fonseca and Burr, 2012

The costs as shown in table 2 are based on the provision of a basic level of water service, as defined by WASHCost. A basic service implies that the following criteria have been realised by the majority of the population in the service area: People access a minimum of 20 litres per person per day, of acceptable quality (judged by user perception and country standards) from an improved source which functions at least 350 days a year without a serious breakdown, spending no more than 30 minutes per day per round trip (including waiting time).

The minimum expenditure on direct support required to provide a basic level of sanitation service ranges from US$ 0.5 to just over US$ 1.5 per person (2011 prices) (see table 3).

Table 3. Cost ranges for expenditure on direct support [min-max] in US$ 2011 per person, per year for a basic level of service.

Traditional Pit latrine with an impermeable slab (often made from local materials) 0.5 – 1.5
Ventilated Pit latrine 0.5 – 1.5
Pour Flush or septic tank latrines 0.5 – 1.5

Source: Fonseca and Burr, 2012

The costs as shown in table 3 (above) are based on the provision of a basic level of sanitation service, as defined by WASHCost. A basic sanitation service implies that all the following criteria have been realised by the majority of the population in the service area: At least some members of the household use a latrine with an impermeable slab at the house, in the compound or shared with neighbours. The latrine is clean even if it may require high user effort for pit emptying and other long term maintenance. The disposal of sludge is safe and the use of the latrine does not result in problematic environmental impact.

When using these benchmarks (see table 2 and 3) local factors must be taken into account. For example, the lower cost ranges were generally (but not always) found in India, while cost data from Latin America tend to be higher than the maximum ranges, but usually relate to higher service levels.

For both water and sanitation:

  • If expenditure is lower than the minimum range, then there is higher risk of reduced service levels or long-term failure. A reduced service level means that one or more service criteria (*) (e.g. access, quantity, use, quality and reliability) are not achieved.
  • In WASHCost research, use of latrines and reliability of services tend to be lower when recurrent expenditure on things such as operation and maintenance is low.
  • If expenditure is higher than the maximum range, an affordability check (for both users and providers) might be required to ensure long-term sustainability.
  • If a basic level of service is being delivered and expenditure is outside the cost benchmarks, then there may be context-specific explanations; such as the service is in a densely-populated area with economies of scale, or, conversely, the area is difficult or remote to reach.

(*) Service criteria can vary according to country context and norms.

Example: expenditure on direct support in Mozambique between 2008 and 2011

In 2008, a new approach for direct support aimed at supporting communities to improve their capacities to manage water supply, hygiene and sanitation conditions, called PEC zonal, was introduced in Mozambique in 18 districts. The PEC Zonal approach entails that a single (non-profit) organization or consultant is contracted by government to carry out all promotion of participation and education of the community in a district during a whole year (Zita and Naafs, 2011). The approach was scaled up country-wide in Mozambique from 2011.

WASHCost Mozambique examined 94 PEC zonal contracts signed between 2008 and 2011. Based on Zita and Naafs (2011, 1) the average cost of PEC zonal activities is 3,025,000 meticais (US$ 103,000) or 33 meticais (US$ 1.10) per person per year.

Example: expenditure on direct support in Ghana

Based on WASHCostresearch in Ghana, the average direct support cost of districts ranges from US$ 0.1 to US$ 0.2 per capita per year (Nyarko, 2012). These cost ranges are based on data collected during life cycle cost approach training and budgeting exercises with nine district assemblies and representatives from the Community Water and Sanitation Agency in Ghana (CWSA) and the WASHCost Technical Committee on Direct Support Cost (C-WTCDS). The nine districts are from three regions in Ghana namely Brong Ahafo (BA), Northern region (NR) and Volta region (VR).

Figure 1 below shows the magnitude of ideal direct support cost for three districts. The most significant cost components in direct support in Ghana are training/capacity building, field work and office activities. Please note that the expenditure on direct support excludes salaries of district government staff which are paid outside the district budget by the central government in Ghana.

Figure 1. Annual direct support cost per capita per year for districts per region in Ghana

Source: Nyarko, 2012

Districts from Volta region (VR) have the highest cost dominated by office activities which are mainly cost of vehicles and motor bikes (Nyarko, 2012). The districts from Brong Ahafo (BA) have the highest cost for training and capacity building with fuel cost as the highest cost component for pick-up vehicles whereas the other districts were using motor bikes. In one of the districts in Brong Ahafo (BA), the district procures spare parts and supplies to users or user groups. The direct support cost increases to US$ 34,000 when the cost of the spare parts are included (Nyarko, 2012). The spare parts becomes necessary when districts do not get private business entity or private shops/stores in the locality to serve user groups because sales of parts may not be attractive. The community ownership and management concept does not support the procurement of spare parts by the district assemblies.

The smallest cost component is field activities or work with an average around US$ 0.01 per capita per year (Nyarko, 2012). This cost is mainly expenditure on fuel, lubricants, field gadgets and allowance for officers. Districts from the Volta region (VR) have high field activities cost compared to the rest mainly due to high allowance and frequency of visits. Moreover, cost of field activities which covers monitoring and evaluation of WASH facilities, management systems and user groups is the smallest direct cost component from the study.

Key documents

  • Kayser, G. et al., 2010. Assessing the Impact of Post-Construction Support—The Circuit Rider Model—on System Performance and Sustainability in Community-Managed Water Supply: Evidence from El Salvador. In: Smits, S. et al. (eds.), 2010. Proceedings of an international symposium. Kampala, 13-15 April 2010. The Hague: Thematic Group on Scaling Up Rural Water Services.
Information sheet provides an overview of the minimum benchmarks for costing sustainable basic services in developing countries. The benchmarks have been derived from the WASHCost project dataset and the best available cost data from other organisations all over the world. The benchmarks are useful for planning, assessing sustainability from a cost perspective and for monitoring value for money.
  • Lockwood, H., 2002. Institutional Support Mechanisms for Community-managed Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Systems in Latin America. (Strategic Report 6) WA DC: EHP-Environmental Health Project of the USAID.
This working paper analyses existing literature on primary cost data from seven countries of providing direct and indirect support to rural water service provision. It provides an overview of the features such support entails, how those features can be organised, what they cost and how they can be financed. It also provides recommendations to countries for strengthening support.
  • Smits, S., 2012. Direct support Post-Construction to Rural Water Service Providers. Triple-S Briefing note 6. IRC, International Water and Sanitation Centre. Available: Direct support to service providers [Accessed 21 December 2012]
  • RWSN, 2010. Myths of the Rural Water Supply Sector. St Gallen: Rural Water Supply Network.
  • Whittington, D. et al., 2009. How well is the demand-driven, community management model for rural water supply systems doing? Evidence from Bolivia, Peru and Ghana. Water Policy 11(6), pp. 696–718.


  • WASHCost was a five-year action research programme, running from 2008 to 2012. The WASHCost team gathered information related to the costs of providing water, sanitation, and hygiene services for an entire life-cycle of a service - from implementation all the way to post-construction. The WASHCost programme was led by IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre with several partners to collect data in the rural and peri-urban areas of Burkina Faso, Ghana, India, and Mozambique. For more information see: WASHCost
  • The Costing Sustainable Services online course was developed to assist governments, NGOs, donors and individuals to plan and budget for sustainable and equitable WASH services, using a life-cycle cost approach. The Life-cycle cost approach is a methodology for costing sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene service delivery and comparing the costs to the level of service received by users. For more information see: WASHCost Online Training
  • WASHCost data sets provide access to the validated life-cycle cost and service level information collected in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Andhra Pradesh (India), and Mozambique between 2009 2010. The data has been collated from a number of sources including infrastructure surveys, detailed household surveys and range of specific research undertaken with stakeholders in each country. The data sets are available here
  • Triple-S (Sustainable Services at Scale) is a six-year, multi-country learning initiative to improve water supply to the rural poor. It is led by IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. The initiative is currently operating in Ghana and Uganda. Lessons learned from work in countries feeds up to the international level where Triple-S is promoting a re-appraisal of how development assistance to the rural water supply sector is designed and implemented. For more information see: Water Services That Last