Situation analysis – STEP 2

STEP 2. Developing a causal analysis


A causal analysis from a human rights based approach, aims at identifying all the causes-immediate, underlying and structural causes, that trigger the violation or non-realisation of the right to water and sanitation.

The human rights based analysis should seek a holistic understanding of the identified water-related problems including social, cultural and economic issues and issues of discrimination, exclusion and inaccessibility.

By looking at root causes, the analysis looks beyond immediate causes and problems and towards underlying factors that shape people’s life such as policies, laws, norms, practices and knowledge.

Definition of the different kinds of causes

As a general rule, immediate, root and underlying causes are defined as follows:

  • Immediate causes determine the current status of the problem.
  • Underlying causes are often the consequence of policies, laws and availability of resources. They may reveal related complex issues and require interventions that take significant time, i.e. several years, in obtaining results. The legal and policy analysis carried out in the earlier stage of the situation assessment and analysis will be useful when thinking about underlying causes.
  • Root causes reveal conditions that require long-term interventions in order to change societal attitudes and behavior at different levels, including those at the family, community and higher decision-making level, such as the acceptance, intent and commitment of the State. There are a number of root causes to poverty – and deprivation is seldom caused simply by lack of resources. Often it is the consequence of a lack of access to resources for reasons of race, caste, belief or place of origin, i.e. because of discrimination – and specific groups within society tend to suffer from such multiple deprivations of rights.

The objective of the analysis is to assess the immediate, underlying and structural causes that prevent the realization of the right. When working from a HRBA a holistic and integrated approach is key, to show the interplay of factors affecting a particular situation and preventing the enjoyment of the right. It is a very important step that provides elements to understand the different levels of causality and the links and relationships between different causes.

Tools for the identification of causes

There are several tools that we can use for this analysis. Some are not new, like the Problem Tree.

Because of the hierarchy among the different levels of causes, a problem tree allows to clearly present immediate, underlying and root causes. It shows structural root causes of human rights problems (vertical level), and the interrelationships between rights (horizontally and vertically). This tool has not emerged under the HRBA, but it is familiar to development practitioners and can be useful to identify the main problems of discrimination, exclusion and other structural causes of development challenges. We will most certainly not be able to deal with all of them through our intervention and will usually choose a “chain of causes” of all those listed in the tree.

Example of a problem tree:

Examples of causal analysis:

Example 1: Water supply in slums

  • Problem: People living in slums do not have access to affordable and safe water supplies
  • Immediate cause: There is no water supply infrastructure in the slums, water is being sold in jerry cans through an unregulated informal private sector.
  • Underlying causes: The government does not provide water supply services to the slum population, nor does it regulate the private sector.
  • Root causes: The government has not taken sufficient measures to realize the rights of the slum population.

Example 2: Open Defecation

  • Problem: The large majority of the rural poor practice open defecation.
  • Immediate Cause: The rural poor do not want to invest in sanitation.
  • Underlying causes: The government does not promote and facilitate access to sanitation among the rural poor.
  • Root causes: The government has not taken sufficient measures to guarantee the health of the poor rural population.

Example 3: Water for agriculture

  • Problem: In the dry season downstream smallholder farmers cannot sustain their livelihoods because of a shortage of water.
  • Immediate Cause: in times of low rainfall water supplies are being diverted to a hydro-dam.
  • Underlying causes: Electricity generation receives priority over the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
  • Root causes: The government has not taken sufficient measures to guarantee the livelihoods of smallholder farmers then it is about the generation of electricity.

Example 4: Rural communities

  • Problem: Rural communities do not have access to quality water, or sufficient availability.
  • Immediate Cause: No resources for water supply are contemplated in these communities, leaving it to the field of international cooperation.
  • Underlying causes: The rural area is not a priority for governmental policies related to water and sanitation. There are no programs to guarantee the right to water and sanitation for these populations.
  • Root causes: There is a pattern of inequality amongst the population, which affects unevenly communities in rural areas. Lack of resources results in rural communities, especially the most vulnerable, not being prioritized when defining water and sanitation public policies.