The politics of water: part two

by Naomi Oates, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Future, UK – re-posted from Grantham

“Communities themselves, when a borehole is drilled, are supposed to be responsible. They are supposed to have fundraising for maintenance. This is challenging. Often breakdowns are due to simple things. They say ‘we are lacking x, y ,z’. And we ask ‘don’t you have the funds’? But they say ‘no we don’t have money, we are poor, we can’t contribute’. And we try to tell them ‘but this water point is for you, it is yours to look after.’ They don’t take it as their own. They have to take responsibility. Sometimes they go to the councillor or MPs for support.” (Extension worker, Malawi)

In November I wrote a blog describing my first impressions of life in Balaka, Malawi, where I am doing my PhD fieldwork. To recap, my research concerns the sustainability of rural water services. I am particularly interested in the role that actors at the district-level play in developing and, crucially, maintaining these services. Several months on, I am starting to make sense of my experiences shadowing extension workers in their day-to-day work. What strikes me is how these actors have to navigate competing interests and find creative ways to get their jobs done. In this blog I focus on their relationship with communities (service users).

How do extension workers secure cooperation from communities?

A community in Balaka learns how to look after their new water point (author’s own)

In my conversations with government and NGO staff, it was evident that the ‘community-based management’ (CBM) model for water governance is not only enshrined in national water policies, but has become deeply embedded in development practice. CBM means that while government or other external agencies may provide the infrastructure, responsibilities for day-to-day management lie with communities. In other words, communities are expected to look after the water point and cover the costs of repairs. Extension workers play a supporting role, providing training, monitoring and technical advice. This approach is meant to empower service users and ensure that services are more efficient and effective.

As the opening quote illustrates, extension workers have internalised key elements of the CBM model and this does inform their decisions, whether consciously or unconsciously. But policy implementation also entails negotiation. Extension workers have to mediate between the demands of formal policies and government institutions, the interests of communities and their leaders (which are not homogenous) and the influences of other actors such as NGOs or politicians.

What went wrong? An extension worker chats to water users about their faulty pump (author’s own)

In this respect, policies on paper are often an inadequate guide to action. I find the concept of bricolage (Cleaver, 2012) useful to understand how extension workers navigate between these different interests, drawing on a variety of resources. The bricoleur is a kind of amateur handyman, making do with the tools available, whether old or new. This might include formal and informal institutional arrangements, social relations or networks, material and financial resources, ideas and technologies, and so on. The result (policy in practice) is often a hybrid.

How is an extension worker a bricoleur?

Firstly, my research participants tend to see themselves as a bridge between state and citizen, not only representing their Ministry but also communicating people’s needs to the District Council and development partners (donors/NGOs). In carrying out their roles, extension workers shift between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ positions, drawing on social networks, their status as government employees, and cultural norms.

The insider: Often extension workers are not originally from the areas (or ethnic groups) which they currently serve, hence they have to make an effort to gain and maintain trust from communities. They do this primarily through the development of personal relationships, in other words building social capital. For example, participants talked about stopping to drink beer or attending funerals as an important part of their job.

The outsider: Extension workers are afforded a certain status vis-à-vis community members in recognition of their technical expertise and as government employees. Government employees can also leverage support from local leaders such as village headmen who are expected to facilitate policy interventions.

Access to different resources shapes the practices of extension workers as bricoleurs

Cultural norms play a role in reinforcing these relationships. Hierarchy is accepted and less powerful people tend to depend on more powerful people, whether traditional or state elites. In rural contexts of Malawi, these hierarchies can undermine community self-help as ordinary people tend to wait for orders or assistance from ‘above’ and rarely question the activities of their ‘betters’. This might give extension workers a degree of authority but clearly has disadvantages for a CBM model aimed at citizen empowerment.

Secondly, cooperation from communities is by no means guaranteed but is essential for CBM to work. Extension workers do meet with resistance, and express frustration when community members make their task difficult. For example, a common problem is the collection of water user fees, which in theory provide the funds needed for water pump repairs. People will often assert they cannot afford to pay, labelling themselves as ‘too poor’.

Extension workers employ several strategies in dealing with resistance. The first is evident in the quote above, namely reiterating key elements of the national water policy. Communities are reminded that they have responsibility for managing the water point and raising funds for its maintenance. It is emphasised that they are the ‘owners’ of that water point. Moreover, if they do not take action there are consequences – they will not have water.

Learning the ropes – I help to reassemble a hand pump (author’s own)

Another strategy is to enlist the support of the village headman, for example calling a meeting in which a problem is discussed communally and a solution agreed. This seems to be an effective way of securing consensus, at least verbally. Extension workers can also resort to threats, for example removing the handle of the pump (effectively cutting off the water supply) until the community has complied. For new projects, the infrastructure can be built in a different village, one where the community is more willing to cooperate. However, antagonistic strategies are a last resort and consensus is generally preferred.

To sum up, extension workers play a crucial role in translating policy into practice, operating at the interface between state and society. Shadowing individuals in the field and getting involved in community training and water points repairs is helping me to better understand what this means in reality. I have seen, first-hand, the constraints the water office faces in terms of financial and material resources and their consequent reliance on other actors (particularly NGOs) to deliver services.

At the same time, I have come to appreciate the dedication and creativity with which extension workers carry out their work and engage with communities. Being a bricoleur is certainly necessary to ‘get the job done’ in rural Balaka.

Investir dans la nouvelle génération pour des services en eau ruraux universels

Le mot de la présidente du RWSN: Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF

Le mot de la présidente du RWSN: Kelly Ann Naylor,

Nous fêtions ce mois-ci la Journée Internationale de la Jeunesse (le 12 août). Plus de la moitié de la population mondiale aujourd’hui a moins de 30 ans et 1.8 milliards de personnes ont entre 10 et 24 ans. Parmi ces dernières, neuf personnes sur dix vivent dans des pays moins dévelopés (UNFPA, 2014). Ces tendances démographiques montrent combien il est indispensable d’assurer que les jeune participent activement aux questions d’approvisonnement en eau des zones rurales.

Alors même qu’à l’échelle mondiale 1% des actifs travaillent directement dans le secteur de l’eau et de l’assainissement (ONU, 2016), attirer des personnes qualifiées dans les zones rurales reste un vrai défi : d’après le rapport du GLAAS (2014), sur les 67 pays qui ont fait état de leurs systèmes  d’opération et de maintenance, seuls 11 disposaient des compétences nécessaires pour gérer et pour entretenir leurs infrastructures rurales d’accès à l’eau potable. Par ailleurs, à l’échelle mondiale, les femmes ne représentent que 17% des actifs du secteur Eau, Assainissement et Hygiène (IWA, 2016).

Les jeunes ont clairement un rôle à jouer pour atteindre les Objectifs mondiaux concernant l’eau potable en milieu rural d’ici 2030. Malgré cela, 75% des jeunes dans les pays en développement sont soit sans-emploi soit travaillent de façon irrégulière ou non-déclarée (viS4YE, 2015). Le recrutement et le développement des jeunes professionnels sont donc déterminants pour le futur du secteur de l’eau dans ls zones rurales.

La nouvelle stratégie 2018-2023 du RWSN considère l’opportunité de dialoguer avec les jeunes et de leur permettre de devenir de véritables agents du changement comme une dimension à part entière de notre travail. C’est la jeunesse actuelle qui montrera la voie -dans nos communautés et pays respectifs- pour accomplir la vision des ODDS d’un accès universel à l’eau potable.

Activités récentes:

Plusieurs jeunes professionnels exceptionnels traduisent d’ores et déjà dans les faits cette nouvelle orientation passionnante du RWSN:

  • 6 chercheurs UPGro en début de carrière venant du Kénya, du Malawi, de l’Éthiopie, d’Ouganda et de la Nouvelle Zélande ont eu l’opportunité de présenter le récit de leurs recherches sur les eaux souterraines à un amphithéâtre comble lors de la 41e conférence du WEDC à Nakuru, au Kénya
  • Shabana Abbas, du Pakistan, chercheuse junior dans le programme UPGro travaille désormais à temps plein à Aqua for All aux Pays Bas. Shabana est également la présidente du Water Youth Network et membre du Junior Global Advisory Panel du programme REACH
  • Muna Omar est une réfugiée éthiopienne et une jeune professionnelle du secteur de l’eau, qui vit et travaille à Sana’a au Yemen où elle suit et évalue des programmes humanitaires EAH. Muna a participé au cours en ligne RWSN-CapNet sur la professionalisation des métiers du forage. Vous pouvez lire son histoire sur le blog du RWSN.

À venir prochainement: 

Il y aura d’autres opportunités de participer aux événements des jeunes professionnels dans les prochains mois :

 @Stockholm Semaine Mondiale de l’Eau

  • Le “Lab Assurance Qualité” de la Jeunesse pour l’eau et le climat (Youth for Water and Climate, mercredi 29): de jeunes chercheurs/ entrepreneurs présenteront leurs projets et posters à une série de pairs critiques qui leur feront un retour sur leur travail et les conseilleront sur la suite à donner à leurs projets
  • Un événement informel sur le stand du Partenariat Suisse pour l’Eau (mercredi 29 de 16h à 18h): 14 jeunes entrepreneurs feront une présentation commerciale de leurs projets/ entreprises sociales aux participants

@UNC Conférence sur l’eau et la santé

Les deux sessions du RWSN sont une double opportunité pour les professionnels du secteur EAH en général et de l’approvisionnement rural en eau en particulier, jeunes et senior, de se rencontrer et de discuter des enjeux que nous partageons:

  • Chimère ou réalisable: atteindre celui qui est le plus éloigné derrière le premier dans le secteur EAH?
  • Le suivi et les données de l’eau en milieu rural: objectifs communs, différentes perspectives

Rejoignez notre communauté en plein essor de Jeunes professionnels de l’eau en milieu rural !

Le réseau RWSN compte plus de 10 000 membres et offre une plateforme exceptionnelle au secteur pour rassembler les jeunes professionnels et les seniors expérimentés venus du monde entier. Nous vous encourageons vivement à accompagner et à communiquer avec vos collègues plus jeunes et moins expérimentés afin de former la génération suivante du RWSN! 

Si vous avez moins de 35 ans, venez vous inscrire sur:

Investing in the next generation for universal rural water services

Word from the RWSN Chair: Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF

This month we celebrated International Youth Day (on August 12th). More than half of the world’s population today is under 30:  1.8 billion people are between the ages of 10-24. And nine out of 10 people between the ages 10 and 24 live in less developed countries (UNFPA, 2014). These demographic trends mean it is vital to ensure full participation of young people in rural water supplies.

Whilst 1% of the global workforce works directly in water and sanitation jobs (UN, 2016) attracting skilled workers to rural areas remains a key constraint: according to GLAAS (2014), of the 67 countries that reported on systems operation and maintenance, only 11 had the capacity to operate and maintain their rural drinking systems.  And globally women make up less than 17 percent of the water, sanitation, and hygiene labour force (IWA, 2016).

Young people clearly have a role to play to ensure the Global Goals for rural water become a reality by 2030. Yet, 75% of young people in developing countries are either unemployed or in irregular or informal employment (viS4YE, 2015). The recruitment and development of young professionals will be critical to the future of the rural water sector.

RWSN’s new Strategy 2018-2024 has embraced our work as an opportunity to engage with young people and empower them to be agents of change.  This current generation of young people will be the ones leading the way- in our communities and countries- towards the achievement of the SDG vision of universal access to safe drinking water.

Recent activities:

Already this exciting agenda has been launched into action and we have some exceptional young water professionals leading the way:

  • 6 early-career UPGro researchers from Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda and New Zealand had the opportunity to tell the story of their groundwater research to a packed auditorium at the 41st WEDC Conference in Nakuru,  Kenya
  • Shabana Abbas, from Pakistan, has gone from being a junior researcher in the UPGro programme to a full-time job at Aqua for All, in the Netherlands. Shabana is also the President of the Water Youth Network and a member of the REACH programme Junior Global Advisory Panel
  • Muna Omar is an Ethiopian refugee and a young water professional, living and working in Sana’a, Yemen, undertaking monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian programmes in WASH. Muna took part in the RWSN-CapNet online course on Drilling Professionalisation. Read her story on the RWSN blog.

More Coming Up: 

There will be other opportunities to get involved in Young Professional events in the months ahead.

 @Stockholm World Water Week

  • The Youth for Water and Climate “Quality Assurance Lab” (Wednesday 29th): young fellows/ entrepreneurs will pitch their projects and present their posters to a series of reviewers who will work with them giving feedback on their projects.
  • An informal event at the Swiss Water Partnership booth (Wednesday 29th from 4 pm to 6 pm): where 14 young entrepreneurs will pitch their project/ social enterprises to people present.

@UNC Water & Health Conference

Two RWSN Sessions are an opportunity for rural water and WASH professionals, young and old, to engage with the issues and meet each other:

  • Pipe dream or possible: Reaching the furthest behind first in the WASH sector?
  • Monitoring & Data for Rural Water: Different perspectives, common goals

Join our growing community of Young Rural Water Professionals!

The RWSN network has over 10,000 members and provides a unique platform to bring together young professionals and seasoned sector experts and practitioners from around the world.  

 We encourage you to reach out to your colleagues who are Young Professionals to help shape the future next generation of RWSN!  If you are under 35, Sign-up here:


Professional Water Wells Drilling: Country Assessments of the Sector – UPDATED!

From 2003 to date, assessments of borehole drilling sector cost-effectiveness and professionalism have been undertaken for the following countries:

Do you know of other national assessments of borehole drilling sector cost-effectiveness and professionalism, perhaps in your own country? If so, please share in the comments below.

Update 21 August 2018

Key points:

  • “Turn-key” contracts should not be used, instead implementing agencies should procure an independent consultant for drilling and supervision and pay drillers for drilling/installation work done.
  • The research supports the guidance set out Danert K., Gesti Canuto J. (2016) Professional Water Well Drilling. A UNICEF Guidance Note  , Unicef , Skat Foundation

Sharing experiences of data flows in water and sanitation – some reflections from AGUASAN Workshop 2018

A perspective on the 2018 AGUASAN Workshop: “Leveraging the data revolution Informed decision-making for better water and sanitation management” June 25th to 29th 2018, Spiez, Switzerland

AGUASAN Workshop: “Leveraging the data revolution Informed decision-making for better water and sanitation management” June 25th to 29th 2018, Spiez, Switzerland 

Update 24/08/2018: Read the AGUASAN event report

AGUASAN is the Swiss Community of Practice for water and sanitation that has been running since 1984 and comprises regular meetings through the year and an annual week-long workshop focused on a specific topic, which this year was around role of data in decision-making in water and sanitation services. Around 40 participants attended at a really great training facility in Spiez, in central Switzerland. They came, not just from Swiss organisations, but from a wide range of partners (many who are active RWSN members). There were participants from Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Mozambique, Peru, Thailand, Mali, Pakistan, Benin, Egypt, Mongolia, the UK, South Africa, US and many more.

The structure of the event mixed up presentations with “Clinical Cases” group work focused on real-world case studies and challenges where participants could advise representatives from those organisations:

Different aspects issues around data use in water and sanitation were introduced through a good range of engaging presentations:

AGUASAN workshops aim to come out with useful output and what was proposed was a practical guideline that pulled together they key points from the presentations and discussions, around a common framework, which was beautifully illustrated on the wall of the plenary room at the end:


Preliminary result of the AGUASAN workshop: the “Navigator manual” (click/tap to expand) designed by Filippo Buzzini (Sketchy Solutions)


I was not completely convinced by the linear conceptual framework that was proposed because what I have observed previously, and came out in the discussion and presentations, is that WASH systems are generally messy, non-linear processes. However, what was clear is that good quality monitoring, mapping and data is a critical “fuel” for driving positive feedback loops for short-term operational decision-making and longer term learning and adaptation cycles.

A not-so-pretty graphical summary by your correspondent (click/tap to expand).

Despite Skat’s long association with the AGUASAN workshop this was my first workshop and I enjoyed it, and found it useful to have the opportunity to have a few days away from the distractions of emails, to focus on one topic with knowledgeable colleagues from all over the world and all over the WASH sector. The field trips also took us to explore some of Switzerland fascinating water history and modern challenges.

Your correspondent giving a lighthearted recap of key learning points (and Swiss World Cup win against Serbia) from Day 1 (Photo. J. HeeB)

Tandi Erlmann, Johannes Heeb and the Cewas team did a great job with the facilitation and event design and also thanks to SDC for their continued financial and thematic support to the event. As well as good for networking – it was also a good international crowd to be around with the World Cup going on!

The final report will be published on where you can find outputs from previous workshops. Most of the presentations and background documents can be on the SDC ResEau website.  Photos from the event can be found here on Flickr.

Below are my sketch-notes of some of the presentations (click/tap to enlarge):

“Monitoring & Data for Rural Water Supplies” (click/tap to open PDF version)


Photos: Johannes Heeb (Cewas) – Main Image: group shot of workshop participants

African Water and Sanitation Academy (AWASA): The International Resource Centre (IREC) of NWSC, Kampala, Uganda ; your Hub for Africa


As part of the implementation of its Business Plan 2018-2022, the African Water Association (AfWA), will be structuring the coordination of all its training activities in the framework of the operationalization of the African Water and Sanitation Academy (AWASA). This will involve setting up a coordination hub headquartered at the International Resource Center (IREC) of the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) in Kampala- Uganda, from which training shall be deployed in different Operational training centers managed by its members in the regions such as:

  • Rabat-Morocco, at ONEE’s International Institute for Electricity and Potable Water
  • Ouagadougou-Burkina Faso, at ONEA’s Training Center for Water Works; the National Office for Water and Sanitation
  • Kampala-Uganda, at International Resource Center (IREC) of National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC)

Other centers are in the process of being identified.
To initiate the process of creating AWASA, AfWA Executive Board made the resolution, during the ordinary session held on July 19, 2018 in Kampala- Uganda, to set up a Working Committee led by Professor Hamanth KASAN, President of AfWA Programs Committee. This committee is expected to develop and coordinate all procedures to provide AWASA with an updated Business Plan, identify all partners including universities, centers of excellence in the water and sanitation sector in Africa and in the world, development partners/donors, African water organizations, etc. in order to ensure that AWASA Director’s recruitment process is initiated by December 2018, ensuring the start of AWASA activities by January 2019.

photo credit: NWSC/AfWA

Technovation Rush: Are developing countries ready?

by Takudzwa Noel Mushamba, WASH & Infrastructure Coordinator at Danish Refugee Council / Dansk Flygtningehjælp

re-posted from:

Failure of technological innovation in the water and sanitation sector.
Across the globe there is growing momentum to address emerging and traditional threats to the water and sanitation sector through innovative technology. As a result, without thinking twice governments and practitioners have jumped on to the technology bandwagon. In the last decade there have been massive investments in technological innovation in the sector in developing countries. Furthermore, there are numerous articles that narrate how technology can help advance the water and sanitation sector in the developing world. There is no doubt there are some benefits emanating from the use of technology be it ICT or new technology introduced to operate and or manage water and sanitation systems. Regardless, the question is to what extent is the technology in question effective and is it introduced at right time?

Continue reading “Technovation Rush: Are developing countries ready?”

Vers des services d’eau durables en milieu rural en République Démocratique du Congo

par Gian Melloni, Maria Livia De Rubeis et Kristina Nilsson du Consortium WASH RDC

En 2013, l’idée que les communautés rurales payent pour les services en eau était relativement nouvelle en RDC : dans le secteur WASH il y avait le sentiment que le contexte était trop fragile pour que la gestion communautaire des services WASH ruraux soit efficace. Mais, avec des taux d’accès à l’eau très limités, une population en rapide croissance et des infrastructures hydriques très peu fonctionnelles, quelque chose devait bien changer.

Lorsque le Consortium WASH RDC a été inauguré la même année, il n’y avait pas beaucoup d’expériences passées dans le pays qui pourraient témoigner de la capacité et volonté des communautés rurales à payer pour l’eau. L’ambition du Consortium WASH RDC était donc élevée : cinq ONG internationales lançant un programme de six ans en appui aux communautés locales pour la gestion financièrement viable des services WASH dans la RDC rurale. Financé par UK-Aid, le Consortium WASH RDC réunit les compétences de son agence lead Concern Worldwide et d’ACF, ACTED, CRS et Solidarités International pour assister plus de 600 communautés rurales et 640000 personnes dans sept provinces du pays.

Cinq ans plus tard, avec une multitude de données désormais à notre disposition, nous avons voulu répondre à certaines questions clés : dans quelle mesure les communautés rurales appuyées par le Consortium réussissent-elles à gérer les services hydriques d’une manière financièrement autonome? Et qu’est-ce qui fait le succès d’une communauté?

Le Consortium WASH RDC a développé une méthodologie inspirée des « Life-Cycle Costs » de l’IRC, que nous avons appelé «l’Approche Economique». Nous aidons les communautés à développer des compétences managériales, financières et techniques pour que leurs infrastructures WASH restent fonctionnelles longtemps après la construction, en identifiant trois niveaux progressifs de succès (ou « Equilibres ») dans la couverture des coûts liés aux points d’eau au fil du temps :

Figure 1. Les trois Equilibres utilisés par le Consortium WASH RDC

Notre objectif est que les communautés réunissent suffisamment de fonds pour couvrir au minimum les coûts de l’Equilibre 1, avec les communautés les plus engagées atteignant l’Equilibre 2 ou 3. Tels fonds sont collectés et gérés par des comités élus par les communautés et formés par le Consortium WASH RDC. Pour créer les conditions pour la réussite et éviter toute logique de « don gratuit », nous clarifions aux communautés dès le début que nous les appuyons avec l’installation du point d’eau seulement si elles démontrent leurs engagement et capacité à prendre en charge les coûts de gestion du point d’eau.

Les trois Equilibres d’Approche Economique ne correspondent pas exactement aux catégories des « Life-Cycle Costs », et certaines modifications ont été apportées en fonction du contexte de la RDC rurale. Le tableau ci-dessous montre une approximative conversion de ces principes en les Equilibres du Consortium WASH RDC :

Figure 2. L’adaptation des « Life-Cycle Costs » par le Consortium WASH RDC

Et cette Approche Economique, fonctionne-t-elle? Au bout de cinq ans, nos données montrent qu’elle peut fonctionner même dans des contextes difficiles : jusqu’à présent, environ deux tiers des petites communautés rurales appuyées par le Consortium WASH RDC ont réussi à atteindre un certain degré d’autonomie financière et de pérennité. C’est-à-dire, elles ont atteint au moins l’Equilibre 1. Compte tenu des défis auxquels ces communautés (généralement d’autour de 1000 personnes) sont confrontées dans cet environnement, il s’agit d’un résultat provisoire encourageant.

Nous avons identifié des modèles opérationnels qui aident les comités WASH à atteindre ces Equilibres. Les comités qui ont choisi des sources de revenus diversifiées, en associant les contributions des ménages et les activités génératrices de revenus, réussissent nettement mieux que les comités qui ne comptent que sur les contributions des ménages. Les communautés souvent apprécient ce modèle et voient l’investissement dans des activités génératrices de revenus comme un moyen de protection contre le risque de détournement de fonds. Dans l’ensemble, les activités génératrices de revenus semblent bien s’intégrer dans la gestion communautaire des services WASH dans la RDC rurale.

Dans un contexte si fragile, une grande majorité des communautés décident d’identifier des personnes ou des groupes particulièrement vulnérables et de leur offrir l’exemption du paiement des frais communautaires d’eau. Les communautés qui adoptent cette pratique ne parviennent pas moins à atteindre l’autonomie financière que les communautés qui n’offrent pas d’exemptions. Il s’agit d’une constatation importante en particulier dans une prospective de développement sensible aux besoins des plus pauvres, soulignant que l’accès équitable à l’eau n’est pas en contradiction avec la pratique de payer pour l’eau ou avec le but de la pérennité des services.

Egalement, les communautés qui choisissent de rémunérer certains membres du comité d’eau semblent renforcer leur réussite dans l’atteinte des Equilibres d’autonomie financière les plus élevés. Par exemple, certaines communautés paient un petit montant à la personne qui enregistre les usagers ou qui s’occupe de la collecte des frais d’eau. Alors que jusqu’à présent seulement une minorité de communautés a adopté un tel système de rémunération, leur succès dans l’atteinte des Equilibres 2 et 3 suggère qu’une forme de gestion semi-professionnalisée peut devenir plus efficace que le pur bénévolat.

Tout cela montre que les acteurs de développement, même dans des contextes difficiles, peuvent et doivent concevoir des interventions WASH visant des services à long terme qui puissent aller au-delà des résultats immédiats. Egalement, les décideurs peuvent bien adopter le principe de non-gratuité du service hydrique, tout en conciliant la viabilité financière avec des politiques d’inclusion et en faveur des plus pauvres. A travers le Consortium WASH RDC, nous avons appris la leçon que les communautés rurales en RDC sont prêtes à s’engager pour surmonter leurs difficultés et à développer des capacités en gestion durable des services d’eau. Cela ne se produit pas facilement ou par hasard, mais grâce à une programmation soigneusement conçue et mise en œuvre qui valorise les communautés locales.

Photo : Un comité de gestion d’eau à Manono, Tanganyika, RDC, montre les cahiers comptables qu’il utilise pour suivre les coûts et les revenus du point d’eau communautaire. Source: Consortium WASH RDC, 2016.

Le Consortium WASH RDC est un programme de Concern Worldwide avec la participation d’ACF , ACTED , CRS et Solidarités International, financé par UK-Aid. Veuillez trouver plus d’infos en français et en anglais sur Gian Melloni est le directeur du Consortium WASH RDC et vous pouvez le contacter à Maria Livia De Rubeis est la responsable de communication, plaidoyer et apprentissage. Kristina Nilsson est la responsable du suivi et évaluation. Les opinions exprimées par les auteurs pourraient ne pas refléter les opinions de Concern Worldwide ou des autres organisations citées.

Tracing a path to sustainable rural water services in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

by Gian Melloni, Maria Livia De Rubeis, and  Kristina Nilsson of the DRC WASH Consortium 

In 2013, the idea of rural communities paying for water services was relatively new in DRC: there was a belief in the WASH sector that this context was too fragile for community management of WASH services to be possible.Yet with extremely low access rates, a fast-growing population, and especially poor functionality of water infrastructure, something needed to change.

When the DRC WASH Consortium started that same year, there was no past experience in the country which could confirm rural communities’ willingness or ability to pay for water. The DRC WASH Consortium’s ambitions were high: five INGOs launching a six year programme to support local communities in managing and financially sustaining WASH services in rural DRC. Funded by UK-aid, the DRC WASH Consortium gathered the know-how of lead agency Concern Worldwide with ACF, ACTED, CRS, and Solidarités International to work with more than 600 rural communities and 640,000 people across seven provinces.

Five years later, with a wealth of project data at our disposal, we wanted to answer some key questions: To what extent do Consortium-assisted rural communities succeed in managing their water services in a financially self-sufficient way? And what makes a community successful?

The DRC WASH Consortium developed a methodology inspired by IRC’s Life-Cycle Costs, which we call the “Economic Approach”. We support communities in developing managerial, financial and technical skills to keep their WASH infrastructure functioning long after construction, identifying three progressive levels of success in covering the costs associated with water points over time:

Figure 1 DRC
Figure 1. The three Levels used by the DRC WASH Consortium

The objective is that communities raise sufficient funds to cover Level 1 costs as a minimum, with the most committed communities reaching Levels 2 and 3. These funds are collected and managed by elected committees, trained by the DRC WASH Consortium. To lay the foundations for this success and to avoid expectations of handouts, we’ve said from the start: we will support communities by installing water points only if they prove their commitment and ability to take care of water point management costs afterwards.

Our three Economic Approach Levels do not exactly match with the Life-Cycle Costs categories, and some modifications have been made according to the context in rural DRC. Here you can see an approximate conversion table showing how the DRC WASH Consortium adapted these principles:

Figure 2 DRC
Figure 2. Adaptation of the Life-cycle costs by the DRC WASH Consortium.

And does this Economic Approach work? After five years, our program data shows it can, even in this difficult context: so far, about two thirds of the small rural communities assisted by the DRC WASH Consortium have succeeded in achieving a degree of financial self-sufficiency and sustainability –that is to say, have reached at least Level 1. Given the challenges these communities (typically of only around 1,000 people) in this fragile environment face, this is an encouraging provisional result.

We’ve identified some operational models which support WASH committees in reaching these Levels. Committees that have chosen diversified revenue streams, combining household collections with revenue-generating activities, are markedly more successful than committees relying only on collections. This approach is often welcomed by communities who see investments in revenue-generating activities as a means to protect finances against misappropriations. Overall, revenue-generating activities seem to fit well with community management of WASH services in rural DRC.

In such a fragile context, most communities choose to identify people or groups who may be particularly vulnerable and offer them exemptions from paying community water fees. Communities who do so are no less successful in reaching the Levels of financial self-sufficiency than communities who do not offer exemptions. This is an important finding particularly in light of pro-poor and needs-based principles of development, underlining that aiming for equitable access isn’t at odds with the practice of paying for water or the goal of sustainable services.

Communities opting to remunerate some water management committee members also seem to improve their success in reaching higher Levels of financial self-sufficiency. For example, some communities pay a minimal amount to someone who keeps records of water users or who collects payments. While so far a minority of communities have opted for these remuneration systems, their success in reaching especially Levels 2 and 3 suggests some form of semi-professionalised management can be more effective than pure volunteerism.

Overall, this shows that development actors even in difficult contexts can and should design WASH interventions to focus on longer-term services, looking beyond just immediate achievements. It shows policy-makers can embrace water service payments by users even while balancing financial viability of services with pro-poor and inclusive policies. We have learned through the DRC WASH Consortium that rural communities in DRC are willing to invest to overcome challenges and can develop the capacities to manage water services in a sustainable manner. This doesn’t come easily or by chance, but through carefully designed and implemented programming which empowers local communities.

Feature photo: A WASH management committee in Manono, Tanganyika province, DRC, looks at the financial records they keep to monitor costs and revenues for managing their community water point. Source: DRC WASH Consortium, 2016

The DRC WASH Consortium is a programme of Concern Worldwide in consortium with ACF, ACTED, CRS, and Solidarités International, and funded by UK-aid. More information – in both French and English – can be found at Gian Melloni is the Director of the DRC WASH Consortium and can be reached at gian.melloni (at) Maria Livia De Rubeis is the Communication, Advocacy and Learning Manager. Kristina Nilsson is the Monitoring and Evaluation Manager. The views expressed by the authors may not reflect the views of Concern Worldwide or of any of the organisations mentioned.