Rural water supply is changing. Be part of it.

by Philip T. Deal, University of Oklahoma, USA

The Sustainable Development Goals are pushing the water and sanitation community to reach higher than ever before. After decades of fighting for the human right to water, universal coverage is the next, challenging summit to climb. “Access to an improved source” has been upgraded to “safely managed drinking water” – a standard that requires continuous service, good water quality, increasing coverage, and affordability. Considering that rural infrastructure often lags behind when compared with urban environments, accomplishing this standard can sometimes feel more like a cliff than a mountain. For these reasons, rural water supply requires new ideas – experimentation – innovation.

The 2019 RWSN directory of rural water supply services

The The 2019 RWSN directory of rural water supply services, tariffs, management models and lifecycle costs that is available to download (and in French) from today aims to track the organizations and businesses fostering this change. These entities are the catalysts to novel service delivery and management models. Some offer minor changes to technology or accountability mechanisms that increase functionality. Some create new financing opportunities that were not previously accessible. Some create a complex management system to maintain water systems over large geographical areas. Some could potentially fail. All are valuable.

The cases described in the Directory are meant to foster growth, learning, and inspiration. The successes, challenges, and failures depicted by one organization could spark a solution for another across the continent. Financing and life cycle cost discussions could become more transparent, uniform, and clear across borders. Networking opportunities and connections become easier – there may even be a neighboring WASH partner nearby that fits your needs!

This new Directory is intended to be an annual compilation. Current cases can be updated with new developments and research. Other innovations and businesses can be added. If a future reader thinks some other information should be included, there’s potential for expansion. We are open to your input.

Questions to Consider

When reviewing the cases within this directory, I would encourage any reader to think on the following questions:

  • What are some common management traits that you observe? What is similar or different when compared to traditional water and sanitation models?
  • What are the most striking innovations that can be observed?
  • What role does each case hold in their water and sanitation ecosystem? What are their responsibilities, and for what are they dependent upon others?
  • Which cases seem more conducive to scaling up?
  • What life cycle costs do various organizations consider their responsibility? What costs should realistically be expected to be covered by tariffs?
  • How would an organization react if international or support funding were reduced or lost? What would be the ramifications to the customers or beneficiaries?
  • What monitoring schemes seem to be effective in maintaining quality water services?
  • What information or data would you be interested in evaluating for these programs?

Bio – Philip T. Deal

At the end of 2015, I began my doctoral research on service delivery models at the University of Oklahoma. My first significant reference was, “Supporting Rural Water Supply”, by Lockwood and Smits (2011), which has often guided my thought process. Understanding how various management models can improve, disrupt, or maintain the status quo for water service has become a focus of my efforts. I want to know if each case is really sustainable, if there is measurable impact, and if equity is truly equal when applying these models.

Since I began, I have had the opportunity to investigate these types of questions in partnership with Water4 and Access Development in Ghana. You may notice this case was not yet included in the directory. This is because I have wanted to give excellent, data supported answers before I do. The team involved has been working diligently to measure and evaluate the level of service provided, the associated life cycle costs, and the effectiveness or their company. Keep an eye out in the next year for these results in multiple studies.

I would encourage all who would like to be a part of the directory in the future to do similar investigations. Challenge your assumptions and dig into the details. Determine what is working and what should be changed. Put resources into evaluating your organization. Then, be honest about it. It is not an easy or glorious task, but it keeps us accountable.

If you do not know where to start – RWSN is a great place to begin. Connect with experts, practitioners, and researchers that can provide excellent guidance. Sean Furey reached out for help on the Directory project in the fall of 2018 through a Dgroup discussion. Since agreeing to participate, I have had the opportunity to grow my knowledge base and network.  We hope this directory will offer the same opportunity to innovative and budding organizations across the world.