A sit with Euphresia on Water and Diversity in its Leadership

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network – we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a blog post from a RWSN Thematic Lead, Euphresia Luseka, from Kenya

Photo 1: Female Wastewater operators servicing a client’s Johkasou wastewater treatment plant, Kenya, 2022

Photo 2: Euphresia Luseka

“In Diversity there is beauty and there is strength”

Maya Angelou

Diversity is the difference. People are the same and different by their ethnic, age, professional experience, religion, race, and gender.

Let’s agree that women’s contributions and leadership are central to providing solutions to water challenges. Consequently, the water sector needs a more diverse labour force to establish a more inclusive and equitable experience for all its practitioners. By highlighting the scale of issues facing female Water leaders, we can better understand their challenges, and galvanize action for progressive, systemic change while examining other robust potential and scalable solutions.

The current women’s underrepresentation in water sector leadership is a prominent concern. According to a World Bank publication on Women in Water Utilities, women are significantly underrepresented; less than 18% of the workforce sampled were women, one in three utilities sampled had no female engineers and 12% of utilities have no female managers. Referencing the analysis of the employment data from participating organizations in a FLUSH LLC publication that I co-authored, white males from High-Income Countries comprised over a third of all sanitation leadership positions. With regards to race, two-thirds of all sanitation leaders were white, with white leaders 8.7 times more likely to hold multiple positions across different organizations than Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).  BIPOC Women were the least represented group.

This affirms the importance of an intersectional perspective in advancing gender and racial equity in the water sector leadership.

Women and specifically BIPOC female water leaders are missing out on opportunities in the water sector that hold the promise of advancement of SDG6 targets and the rising economic security that comes with it.

Without diverse leadership, the water sector will continue to experience failure. 

Are there consequences for this?

Gender diversity in the Water sector is not only a pressing political, moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. There are consequences for not having women in water leadership, the financial consequences are significant.

The untapped and unmeasured contribution of women is enormous. Women make up half the world’s population but generate 37% of the global GDP, reflecting the fact that they have unequal access to labour markets, opportunities, and rights. A McKinsey & Co study found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns.

The business case for diversity also remains strong. Research shows  when women are well represented at the top, organizations are 50% more likely to outperform their peers. Undoubtedly, organisations in Water sector that embraced diversification in terms of gender and race are positioned to meaningfully outperform their more homogeneous counterparts.

Beyond that, compared to senior-level men, senior-level women have a vast and meaningful impact on an organization’s culture; they champion racial and gender diversity more. 

Unfortunately, given the high male dominance in the Water sector they are usually the “Onlys” – the only or one of the only women hence more resistance, sharper criticism especially on affirming their competence, more prejudice, and more experience to micro-aggressions.

If women leaders are not present in the workforce, women at all levels lose their most powerful champions.

Absolutely, diversity wins and here are some examples of what I mean.

Though many ambitious women in water desire to advance into leadership positions, very few have the managerial and Ally support to get and keep those positions. Though many employees perceive themselves as our Allies, they do not take enough action such as publicly advocating for racial or gender equality, publicly confronting discrimination, publicly mentoring and sponsoring them. Though women in water have the capacity to lead in the sector, there exist geographic mismatches between them and opportunities, we remain underrepresented and paid less. Though many organizations are hiring more women to entry-level positions numbers dwindle at management level, particularly for BIPOC women.

This obviously has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline; eventually, there are fewer women to hire, fewer to promote to senior managers and overall fewer women in the sector. If women continue encountering the sticky floor, a broken rung on the ladder to success, and a revolving door in entry-level jobs, we might never break the glass ceiling.

Women can never catch up with this status quo!

But why are we missing and losing women in water leadership?

We have come from so far as a sector but have moved very little on Gender parity at the workplace.

To give an illustration, the United Nations organized four outstanding world conferences for women: 1) at Mexico City in 1975; establishing the World Plan of Action and Declaration of Equality of Women and their Contribution to Development and Peace. 2) The Copenhagen conference in 1980, 3) the Nairobi Conference in my country Kenya, in 1985 4) in Beijing in 1995 which marked a significant turning point for the global agenda on gender equality with an outcome of a global policy document.

27 years later, still the water sector is investing in the same gender challenges emerging from gender norms that are stuck with us generation after generation. 

On the current trajectory, the World Economic Forum reckons if progress towards gender parity proceeds at the same pace, the global gender gap will close in 132 years. The Index concludes that “no country has reached the ‘last mile’ on gender equality” on more complex issues like gender-based violence, gender pay gaps, equal representation in powerful positions, gender budgeting and public services and climate change.

Women’s dual roles and time burden affect their economic productivity however inequalities in access to education impact their growth attributing to the high rates of poor women. Therefore, the woman in water at work and society starts at a disadvantaged position.

This affirms the supposition that instead of making transformation the goal in gender and water sector leadership, how about we make it a way of doing business?

Are women better leaders than men?

As demonstrated in Eagly (2007) study, women are manifesting leadership styles associated with effective performance. On the other hand, there appears to be widespread recognition that women often come in second to men in leadership competitions. Women are still suffering disadvantage in access to leadership positions as well as prejudice and resistance when they occupy these roles. It is more difficult for women than men to become leaders and to succeed in male-dominated leadership roles. This mix of apparent advantage and disadvantage that women leaders experience reflects the considerable progress towards gender equality that has occurred in both attitudes and behaviour, coupled with lack of complete attainment of this goal. Although prejudicial attitudes do not invariably produce discriminatory behaviour, such attitudes can limit women’s access to leadership roles and foster discriminatory evaluations when they occupy such roles.

It is time for Women to take up power, are they?

The 20th-century paradigm shift championed by UN towards gender equality has not ceased as affirmed by the profound changes taking place in diversity targets in the Water sector. The trends are clear that women are ascending towards greater power and authority. The presence of more women in water leadership positions is one of the clearest indicators of this transformation.

The central question of gender equality is a question of power, we continue to live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. Power is not given, power is taken; we have to push back against the resistance to change, as advised by António Guterres, Secretary General, United Nations.

Pato Kelesitse’s call has been heard Women in Water sector Leadership [DM1] [EL2] is no longer just talk, it is success! There are exemplary women to draw inspiration and strength from; Global Water Intelligence in 2020 released a list of water sector’s most powerful women that could be adopted for peer learning.

Photo 3: Water Utility Staff during a Non-Revenue Water management training, Kenya, 2022

How do we sustain the gains?

Focus and execution discipline not only makes a big difference, it is the only thing that can sustain change. It is noteworthy that placing a higher value on diversity and implementing targeted initiatives have not closed the representation gaps for women leaders in Water and especially BIPOC Women, with most outcomes remaining elusive despite scaling up of initiatives.

  • Useful data can resolve this; effective policies are informed best by evidence. We cannot change what we do not measure and we cannot measure what we do not know. Therefore, borrowing from President Biden’s approach upon issuing an executive order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities, I guide, assess institutional gender capacity to build a robust pipeline for women in water professionals at all levels of-management.
  • Inquire what actions can influence diverse representation in the water sector leadership towards an inclusive environment where women feel supported by peers and leaders.
  • Co-creation will be key in strategically prioritising interventions addressing necessary changes across the organisation, progress cannot be made in silos. Collaborative efforts galvanise collective action that will build trust across the organization. Focus should not take a gender-neutral approach; some interventions can specifically focus on men others women as a corrective measure to enhance leadership diversity. This shall move the process of change through equality to equity to justice.
    • Empowering and equipping management to not only develop technical and managerial skills but advance female leaders and mainly BIPOC could follow. Use influencers to drive change. Translate allyship into action across all levels. Maintain open communication and feedback channels. Reinforce and scale what works and re-envision what does not. Measure and celebrate progress towards diversity outcomes.

****

I thought I would support transforming the water sector instead it transformed me. This blog is dedicated to Leslie Gonzalez, Director of Project Delivery, Africa at DAI. I acknowledge the efforts of Portia Persley Division Chief, RFS/Center for Water Security, Sanitation and Hygiene at USAID, Heather Skilling, Principal Global Practice Specialist, WASH at DAI, and Dr. Leunita Sumba, at WIWAS. History will remember your efforts in advancing women in water, working with you is like working with the change you want to see in the water sector.

Photo credits: Euphresia Luseka

About the author:

Euphresia Luseka is a Water Governance Specialist and Co-Lead of RWSN Leave No-One Behind Theme. She is a seasoned Expert with experience in leadership, strategy development, partnerships and management in WASH sector nationally, regionally and internationally. She has specialised in WASH Public Policy, Business Development Support Strategies and Institutional Strengthening of urban and rural WASH Institutions. Euphresia has several publications and research work in her field.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.


30 years in the search for clean drinking water in Nicaragua

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network – we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a blog post from RWSN Member Joshua Briemberg, based in Nicaragua.

My career in the water and sanitation sector started in 1993 not long after RWSN was born.  It was a deliberate choice for me after a brief stint in the UK oil industry that followed upon living and working during 4-months between 1991 and 1992 in rural Nicaragua to build a two-room school house.  During this time diarrhea  was often the order of the day, and night, for me in a rudimentary pit latrine.  I still remember looking up into giant banana leaves waving in the moonlight to find a sense of peace in certain agony. At the time, I struggled to focus while in university in Canada between studies in chemical engineering with one class in water treatment that caught my attention, and studies in humanities, intrigued by the discussion of water rights and the First Nations people of Canada.

Having finished my engineering degree in 1992, my true calling continued to elude me and I moved to the UK.  While in London, first as a bicycle courier and then as a health and safety engineer for the construction of an 11 billion dollar North Sea oil platform, the Intermediate Technology book shop (which later became Practical Action) became my favorite destination and the monthly publication Waterlines an early inspiration, as I planned a return to Nicaragua to do something, anything related to water.  I also remember carrying the odd parcel as a courier to a small WaterAid office in a building near Green Park.  Twenty years later, still living in Nicaragua I would be asked to design and then lead WaterAid’s first country program in Latin America.

Somewhere along the way, I let fall by the wayside any idea of pursuing further formal training  in the halls of renowned institutes like WEDC at the University of Loughborough, where I once met with John Pickford, or IHE in Delft where I also made a short visit.  The field was to become my classroom.

My journey in the world of water and sanitation in 1993 started for real by conducting a study of the presence of pesticides in the groundwater supplies for the cities of Nicaragua’s historic cotton-belt of the 1970s.  I moved on from there to a couple of jobs in what was meant to be my field as a chemical engineer – sewerage master plans for Managua and wastewater treatment while briefly back in Canada.

Photo: Agua Para la Vida Graduating Class

But it was then, as I found myself heading up the first cycle of a program to train village-engineers to design and build small rural spring-fed gravity-driven water supply systems in the north-central mountains that I truly found my calling: rural water supply.  In just over 30 years this operation – Agua para la Vida – has worked with small rural mountainous communities to establish more than 100 water supply systems using state-of-the-art design tools to optimize performance and cost.  Well-designed mountain spring-fed gravity-driven water supply systems are amazingly durable with highly manageable operating costs; the main challenge is the protection of the recharge area of the watershed and ensuring community cohesion and effective management.

Captivated by the joy of opening the tap and having clean water gushing out after months of sweat and toil, I was driven to carry on in pursuit of a glass of clean water everywhere.

One thing I found during these years was that while we designed for growth the communities often shrunk in size due to migration in search of greater economic opportunities elsewhere. 

I took the skills learned with war-ravaged communities on the agricultural frontier to work with indigenous Miskitu and Mayangna communities to bring clean mountain water to people along a system of rivers in the farthest depths of one of two biosphere reserves in Nicaragua.  Gravity-fed piped water supplies continued to be my default option until the springs ran out. 

On my first reconnaissance mission in 1997 to the village of Raiti on the Coco River (Wangki) that separates Honduras from Nicaragua, I was accompanied by an American hydrogeologist who spoke neither Spanish nor the local language Miskitu.  During the conversation with community leaders about the existence of potential spring sources, one community leader told me that the potential source was about 15 minutes away while another said it was more like a day away.  Needless to say my hydrogeologist decided to stay behind and it took us close to 6 hours to reach the place thought by the villagers to be a viable source! 

Unfortunately, like almost all surface water sources in the eastern or Caribbean region of Nicaragua, it was located at lower elevations than the community, which was the way the communities would protect themselves against the risk of flooding.  And thus began my first experiences with digging and drilling wells with what had become a Nicaraguan standard by then: the rope pump

Transporting pipes on the Rio Coco (2000-2003)

It was not until the early 2000s, and with a decade of empirical experience in the field, that I began to come in contact with networks such as RWSN which became sporadic but important references combined with other guiding lights of inspiration that I encountered in the rare opportunities when I emerged from remote communities by footpaths, dirt roads, and rivers. 

Through these contacts, I was inspired to add new tools to my toolbox in the continued search for clean water.  Rainwater harvesting and point-of-use treatment or filters became significant aspects of my search to truly reach the last mile, while also experimenting with hydraulic ram pumps along the way.  In addition to technologies themselves, approaches such as the Technology Applicability Framework (TAF), accelerating self-supply, and systems strengthening have become essential tools in the last ten years of my journey.

In addition to RWSN, which I did not formally encounter until 2011 when I attended the RWSN’s 6th International Forum in Kampala, Uganda, I also found inspiration from the HWTS network, the International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance (IRHA), the SMART Centre GroupSuSanA, Agenda for Change, and others.  At the local level the Nicaraguan and Central American WASH Networks (RASNIC and RRAS-CA respectively) represented efforts to bring collaboration to the regional, national and local levels.

Out of these contacts came not only key technical references, but a greater understanding of the importance of context in the applicability of a solution, the complexity of sustainability, the importance of demand-based approaches accompanied by systems that are not necessarily exclusive to the public sector but include the role of the local private sector, entrepreneurship, alliances and the acceleration of self-supply models of service delivery.

There is still considerable tension between these two approaches to water supply – systems strengthening and accelerating self-supply models – although I consider the latter to be complementary and part of the former, and despite the fact that in sanitation individual family solutions continue to be the standard for the population in rural areas. 

Needless to say, I moved on from my beginnings in spring-fed gravity-driven systems to shallow and deep borehole wells, manual and machine drilling, handpumps and renewable energy-driven pumps, rooftop rainwater catchment, and household water treatment and storage.  I also ventured in to the concept of resilience and the concepts of both multiple uses and multiple sources or hybrid systems, the latter still less commonly considered.

It should not go unnoticed that my search for clean water in Nicaragua has been both confronted and marked along the way by an increasing number of hurricanes:  Mitch in 1998 that took me to the Coco River to build water supply systems where there had been none but where the communities along the river had been entirely wiped away.  Felix in 2007 left a swath of destruction across the northeast Caribbean Coast.  And most recently Eta and Iota back-to-back in November 2020 that wiped out all of the more than 250 rooftop rainwater catchment systems with 4,000 litre ferrocement tanks that had been built one by one over 5 years by men and women in the community of Wawa Bar.

Training RWH System installers Wawa Boom (2021)

On this journey, I also came across some significant contributions to rural water supply incubated in Nicaragua in the spirit of its famed poet of modern Spanish letter Ruben Dario: Si la Patria es pequeña, uno grande la sueña.  (If the homeland is small, one dreams it to be grand.)  These include the rope pump (known in Nicaragua as the bomba de mecate), the clay pot filter (Filtron), and an artisan-made in-line chlorinator (originally known as CTI-8).

It was household water treatment and storage, and Ron Rivera of Potters for Peace that started me on the road to the concept of self-supply and market-based approaches. This concept has ended up twice costing me my job with “non-profit” organizations unwilling to undermine their charity model and dependence on a permanent state of “humanitarian philanthropy”.

Now as my life journey enters its home stretch, my focus is on bringing together both physically and virtually as many of all these great initiatives and new ones as they come along, within a context-based framework and the collective construction of appropriate service delivery models.  My vehicle since 2017 is the Nicaragua SMART Centre: Connecting, assisting, accelerating.  The SMART Centre was inspired in 2015 by Henk Holtslag whom I first met that the RWSN Forum in Kampala in 2011.

The SMART Centre in Nicaragua

Earlier this year, RWSN published a concise version of my rapid assessment of the long term impact of the SMART approach: The case of the rope pump in Nicaragua, a look back at 40 years of development as a success story of accelerated self-supply. I can only hope that the beacon of the Rural Water Supply Network will continue to light the way for another 30 years so that I can contribute a few more grains of sand.

About the author: 

Joshua has worked as a practitioner in the rural WASH sector for over 30 years almost entirely in Nicaragua, Central America with the exception of a 3-year period when he led the development of a program in Colombia.  His work has taken him from brief stints in the public sector and with a private engineering consulting firm, to both small and internationally recognized non-governmental organizations, and bilateral aid agencies.  He is the founding director of the Nicaragua Centre for SMART Technologies for WASH (Centro de Tecnologías SMART de Agua, Saneamiento e Hygiene), a social enterprise bringing together the public and private sectors, microfinance institutions, and academia to promote SMART approaches including self-supply to reach the last mile.  He recently co-authored a RWSN Field Note taking stock of the 40-year history of the rope pump in Nicaragua.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.

Photo credits: Joshua Briemberg

The EMAS WaSH technologies –­ experiences, achievements and future goals

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN Member Jaime Aguirre, based in Bilbao, Spain.

EMAS is the Spanish acronym for “Escuela móvil del agua y saneamiento” meaning Mobile School of Water and Sanitation; the acronym was coined in the 1980´s in Bolivia by Wolfgang Buchner, supported by a group of volunteers.

The main mission of EMAS is to teach families how to obtain clean water by themselves. “Hand-on learning” is the most optimal way to learn these techniques.

The EMAS WaSH scheme include various Do-It-Yourself technologies like the EMAS manual pump, manual well drilling up to 90 metres, water storage tanks, and VIP toilets among others. All technologies have been in constant development since the 1990’s. They have been implemented in more than 25 countries, mostly in Latin America and Africa. The RWSN library hosts documentation and assessments of the use of EMAS technologies in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Panama and Bolivia amongst others.

The goal of EMAS technologies is to provide access to clean water and sanitation through training of local technicians and beneficiaries. These trainings are compact courses where over several weeks all techniques are demonstrated and practiced. In a long term, all facilities can be maintained by the user due to the technology’s simplicity. The result:

  • Improved access to clean drinking water for the world’s rural populations combined with simple sanitary facilities, thus preventing the spread of infectious diseases and reducing mortality rates.
  • Increased quality of life, e.g. by eliminating laborious water-hauling, thus saving women and children time and enabling small farming operations.
  • The trained well builders are self-sufficient and independent, and can, if necessary, receive repeated advising and training.
  • Sustainability: The wells and water facilities are very affordable. Experience has shown that the owners maintain the facilities quite well, which results in long service lives. Any repairs that may be needed are usually easy to complete.
  • All materials needed for these repairs can be obtained locally.
  • The materials and methods are environmentally responsible and most of the steps are performed manually.
  • The withdrawal of moderate amounts of water and its disciplined use have no negative impact on the environment or groundwater levels.
  • Improved opportunities for people to stay in their home regions permanently.

Some of the main technologies include:

The EMAS hand pump is the key component of the EMAS-technologies because it is capable of pumping water vertically up to 50 m. While other hand pumps have higher resistance to intensive or even inappropriate use (many times when the pump is being used by a whole community), the EMAS pump is designed mainly for household use. EMAS pumps have a long service life since any repairs that may be needed are usually easy to complete by the user.

Video-instructions can be viewed on a YouTube channel which counts about 15.000 followers with some videos having over 700.000 views.

Sometimes adaptions of the technologies have to be made or are even necessary in some countries due to material availability.

As of now, approximately 70.000 EMAS wells have been drilled worldwide.  The majority have been financed by the families or beneficiaries. Since the 1980’s, worldwide more than 100 trained technicians have created a micro enterprise offering WASH services to their community. EMAS technologies have been implemented in over 25 countries through cooperations with various local and international organizations (e.g.  PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) ). As a result of the cooperation with Welthungerhilfe more than 3.000 EMAS wells have been drilled in Sierra Leone.  

EMAS aims to partner with organizations which include WASH in their programmes and also wish to implement the mentioned technologies trough training projects in WASH. Projects should include follow-up and support to trained WASH technicians to help them in becoming SMEs. Many cases show that workers of SMEs create their own company and serve other regions which have high demand for WASH services.

An EMAS learning page will be launched shortly in order to share all experiences in various countries and also facilitate all available material. This webpage will also target users with technical skills who wish to learn more about the technologies.

Drilling a well in  Sierra Leona WASH Center

Amadou, EMAS technician from Senegal going with his drilling equipment to make a new well

Training of EMAS pump making at Sierra Leone

Drilling training  at Mali

EMAS systems including rainharvesting, underground tank, bomba manual, toilet, shower and sink

About the Author: Jaime Aguirre is originally a mechanical engineer who acted many years as design engineer  in the wind energy sector. After some disappointing experiences with the implementation of high-tech WaSH technologies he joined in 2014 voluntarily an EMAS training in Bolivia. Since then, he has permanently been engaged in providing training together with German based NGO EMAS-International e.V. In 2015 he initiated the Spanish NGO TADEH in Bilbao, Spain which provides training in EMAS Self Supply technologies worldwide.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector  or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.

Investing in water is just good business sense; the social impact is the bonus

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN Member Bethlehem Mengistu, based in Ethiopia.

I joined the water sector after working in the broader development space for several years, largely on gender equality, good governance, human rights and civil society strengthening. I chose the water sector because its direct impact on people’s lives was so vivid. On a lighter note, my ‘Aha!’ moment was when I was able to easily explain my work to my 5-year-old niece which reaffirmed its value as well as the relevance of my career choice. I have learned that the most meaningful choices are easily understood as they are closely linked to serving others and positively impacting lives. Having worked in the water sector for over many years, I have had the opportunity to work with and contributed in various roles- from Senior Advisor, Pan African Manager to Country Director in international NGOs, bilateral/donor organisations, and civil society.

The overarching highlight across these roles is the amazing impact access to water has on communities – women, men, girls and boys. The immediate impacts are often obvious – access to water saves lives; it enables the potential for a life of dignity and health. However, the most exciting impacts are the more subtle social and psychological impacts we often gloss over in our reports because they are difficult to quantify.

I fondly recall my proud moments from my visits to project sites where the return on investment from water resulted in better health, quality education and stronger government institutions. Some of the stories of change and impact still resonate with me; they are reminders that while there is still a lot more work to be done to ensure universal access, a lot of good work has already been registered. I remember meeting a man in a maternal and child health centre, which recently gained access to running water, stating that he was able to attend the birth of his child because he didn’t have to spend time fetching clean water to the birthing ward for the delivery.

Another story that stuck with me was my visit to a Rural Water board, a type of community-run utility, in 2017 in Ethiopia. The scheme was constructed in 1996 with 80 public taps and 143 km of pipeline. The scheme has expanded its service over time and at the time of my visit, it was serving 13 villages, with nearly 4000 domestic connections, and accumulated savings of ETB 3.8m (approximately US$160,000). The project was handed over to the utility several decades ago, it was a time when ‘systems oriented’ programming was lesser known but presents evidence that thinking beyond the immediate gains i.e. access rates, and considering elements that keep the service running are key to sustainable results. This model of water supply management challenged the conventional notion that communities are not able to manage large or complex water supply schemes. The model also conveyed that economies of scale are achievable with a skilled team of staff to effectively run the water scheme supported by robust governance and accountability structures.

But what do these results really mean on the broader narrative of how we (implementers), as well as donors, qualify results and success from water projects? It is essentially about the long game, about re-imagining what qualifies as a successful and transformative water program. Thinking beyond boreholes and pumps onto partnerships that enable government and national leadership, institutional building, lifecycle costing, operation and maintenance, inclusion and equity, and various other aspects. A typical response to this thinking might be: People need water today so why complicate things by talking about complex concepts? Well, the normative approach to project-based investment is not resulting in transformative and sustainable water services! If we are looking to make low service levels and failed water points a narrative of the past, a comprehensive and systemic approach to tackling sustainability is the most viable pathway. 

The challenges during my leadership journey in the water sector were largely linked to the fact that I didn’t have a large pool of female peers to learn from and share challenges with. This required me to cultivate my own ‘sister circle’ which is critical for both professional and personal growth. Like most development sectors issues of intersectionality and localisation are visible in the water sector, diversity in representation especially in leadership and decision-making roles can gain from change. In many of the spaces I was part of during my career I was amongst the few women present in the rooms and the more senior the leadership role, i.e.: Director or Senior Advisor, the fewer the number of women present. This was especially vivid when I was attending sector meetings with government ministries, investors and other stakeholders. Across both public and non-government spaces, it is usually the case that most senior roles are occupied by senior men who have been in their roles for an extended period. While this may add value to institutionalising practices, it has adversely impacted innovation, equality, and inclusivity in policy and practice. This requires a course correction because inclusion and localisation are effective pathways to sustainable outcomes that will get us closer to realising universal access to water. It will be difficult to expect a different result if we are applying the same approach to tackling problems.

Given that diversity and inclusion is a recognizable challenge in our sector useful efforts by RWSN to promote mentorship programs for young professionals and women in water have been quite useful. It is evident that other platforms are also taking the learnings and nuggets to shape similar interventions, including Agenda for Change’s upcoming Women in WASH mentorship program. It also points to the immense value RWSN has had over the years in brokering resources, learnings, and practices amongst sector actors. Over the course of several years, the network has been the go-to for knowledge, resources, and contacts for water practice and practitioners.

Looking forward it is clear that delivering universal access where no one is left behind will require a systems-oriented, innovative and dynamic approach. Collaboration and partnership present opportune avenues for water sector actors to punch above their unilateral weight to achieve collective impact in light of increasingly complex operating spaces. The pandemic has highlighted that water is not only a development target in itself but also, more importantly, an enabler of most other SDG targets. It is observed that communities with high levels of access are resilient to health or environmental shocks. Investing in water is just good business sense, the social impact is the bonus. I expect that going forward the interface of the water sectors with other sectors (health, nutrition, food security) will become increasingly prominent as contexts remain unpredictable. Linked to these emerging factors I appreciate my current role as Global Coordinator for Agenda for Change, a global platform that convenes key water sector actors to collectively tackle notable challenges facing the sector to accelerate sustainable universal access. Over the coming years, I hope to continue to contribute to and influence the sector in a senior global role while championing equality and inclusive approaches for lasting impact.

About the author: Bethlehem is a long-time global WASH expert with a passion for building collaboration, partnerships, and systems approaches. She is currently the Global Coordinator of Agenda for Change. She has over 18 years of experience in the development sector and deep knowledge of African policy, spanning the areas of WASH, gender equality, human rights and governance. Throughout her career, she has provided technical advice to governments, development partners, and technical teams and held multiple leadership roles where she advanced programmatic impact and influence in Ethiopia, and more widely in East Africa and parts of the Asia region.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector  or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.

Bancos de pozos para una mejor sostenibilidad

Este año celebramos los 30 años de la fundación formal de la Red de Abastecimiento de Agua en Zonas Rurales. Desde unos inicios muy técnicos como grupo de expertos (en su mayoría hombres) la Red de Tecnología de Bombas de Mano- hemos evolucionado hasta convertirnos en una red diversa y vibrante de más de 13.000 personas y 100 organizaciones que trabajan en una amplia gama de temas. En el camino, hemos ganado una reputación de imparcialidad, y nos hemos convertido en un convocante global en el sector del agua rural.

La RWSN no sería lo que es hoy sin las contribuciones y los incansables esfuerzos de muchos de nuestros miembros, organizaciones y personas. Como parte de la celebración del 30º aniversario de la RWSN, estamos llevando a cabo una serie de blogs en rwsn.blog, invitando a nuestros amigos y expertos del sector a compartir sus pensamientos y experiencias en el sector del agua rural.

Este blog fue escrito por nuestro miembro de RWSN, Brian Mulenga, quien es el oficial de saneamiento de Water For People Malawi.

Dé un paseo por las comunidades rurales de Malawi y se encontrará con al menos un pozo que está roto o completamente abandonado. Numerosas reuniones de aldeas a las que he asistido terminan con la solicitud habitual de los líderes locales tradicionales de más pozos… incluso en comunidades que técnicamente tienen una cantidad adecuada de pozos según lo estipulado por las políticas gubernamentales. Peor aún, ¡los usuarios no saben qué hacer después!

Con las recientes elecciones de 2019, estamos por ver más pozos perforados en las aldeas que los políticos prometieron como una estrategia para obtener más votos. Pero uno podría preguntarse: “¿Debemos continuar perforando más pozos mientras el número de pozos no funcionales continúa aumentando?”

Mantener los sistemas de agua en áreas rurales funcionando para siempre, sin que las comunidades vuelvan a depender del apoyo material de ninguna organización externa, ha resultado difícil de lograr. Sin embargo, esto representa uno de los principales logros de sostenibilidad que la mayoría de las organizaciones en el sector del agua pretenden lograr.

Si bien muchas organizaciones y gobiernos han invertido mucho en el diseño de modelos sostenibles que empoderan a las comunidades para que posean y administren sistemas de abastecimiento de agua en zonas rurales, algunas organizaciones quieren que se las vea ‘trabajando’ y, por lo tanto, como ‘niñeras’ de las comunidades. Estas organizaciones siempre quieren estar allí para rehabilitar cualquier pequeña falla en el pozo o incluso ofrecer perforar más pozos nuevos sin tener en cuenta las políticas gubernamentales o los modelos sostenibles. Con nobles intenciones, algunas organizaciones benéficas o personas generosas no solo han destruido las mismas comunidades a las que pretenden ayudar, sino que también han agotado sus recursos limitados que podrían haberse utilizado de manera más inteligente para apoyar a otras comunidades que urgentemente necesitan agua segura y adecuada.

Durante décadas, los expertos en el sector del agua han discutido y presentado diversas teorías sobre por qué la infraestructura de suministro de agua rural, especialmente los pozos, falla rápidamente o deja de funcionar antes de su vida útil prescrita, lo que lleva a períodos prolongados de inactividad o incluso abandono. Algunos expertos creen que la capacidad de una comunidad para llevar a cabo con eficacia el mantenimiento planificado de pozos y recaudar tarifas correctamente calculadas de los usuarios para comprar y reemplazar las partes desgastadas del pozo brinda un vistazo de un sistema de agua sostenido… pero esto no articula completamente lo que motivará y equipará a una comunidad para mantener un pozo en funcionamiento en todo momento, para siempre.

Entonces, ¿cómo podemos mejorar la propiedad comunitaria y la sostenibilidad de los sistemas de suministro de agua rural? Una simple intervención practicada por comunidades rurales en el distrito de Chikwawa en Malawi parece estar brindando una solución a esta antigua pregunta. Los bancos de pozos usan un modelo de negocios simple pero efectivo que permite a los usuarios de agua tomar prestada parte del fondo de mantenimiento del pozo, usarlo para sus propias actividades económicas varias y luego devolverlo a una tasa de interés acordada. Esto no solo multiplica los fondos para la operación y el mantenimiento de los pozos, sino que también mejora los medios de vida económicos de los(as) usuarios(as) del agua en la comunidad. Elimina los desafíos que enfrentan las mujeres rurales pobres relacionados con la obtención de un pequeño préstamo en un banco comercial, como viajar largas distancias, el papeleo tedioso y las entrevistas. Si bien las consideraciones técnicas en la perforación e instalación de pozos siguen siendo vitales, la transformación de un pozo en un epicentro económico en la comunidad ha motivado a los usuarios a proteger sus pozos y asegurarse de que estén en pleno funcionamiento en todo momento.

El éxito de los bancos de pozos en las comunidades rurales del distrito de Chikwawa representa un gran hito hacia la sostenibilidad de la infraestructura de suministro de agua rural. Dicen que “el agua es vida”. En lo profundo de las comunidades rurales del distrito de Chikwawa, esta expresión no solo es sinónimo de una vida saludable, sino también de los beneficios económicos que ahora posee el agua.

Sobre el autor: Brian Mulenga trabaja como Oficial de Saneamiento en Water for People en Malawi. Su formación profesional es en Salud Ambiental (Salud Pública). Su trabajo consiste en proporcionar apoyo técnico y orientación a organizaciones no gubernamentales socias con las que trabaja en materia de saneamiento, garantizando que el número de letrinas/baños reportados correspondan con las que se encuentran físicamente en las zonas de impacto.

¿Le ha gustado este blog? ¿Le gustaría compartir su perspectiva sobre el sector del agua rural o su historia como profesional del agua rural? Invitamos a todos los miembros de la RWSN a contribuir a esta serie de blogs del 30º aniversario. Los mejores blogs serán seleccionados para su publicación y traducción. Por favor, consulte las directrices del blog aquí y póngase en contacto con nosotros (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) para obtener más información.Si aprecia el trabajo de la RWSN y desea apoyarnos económicamente, puede hacerlo aquí.

Borehole Banks for Improved Sustainability

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN Member, Brian Mulenga who is the Sanitation Officer of Water For People Malawi.

Take a walk around rural communities of Malawi, and you will come across at least one borehole that’s either broken down or completely abandoned. Numerous village meetings I have attended end with the usual request by local traditional leaders for more boreholes…even in communities that technically have an adequate number of boreholes as stipulated by government policies. Worse still, users do not know what to do next!

With the recent elections in 2019, we are yet to see more boreholes being sunk in villages that were promised as a strategy by politicians to get more votes. But one could ask: “Should we continue sinking more boreholes while the numbers of non-functional ones continue rising?”

Keeping water systems in rural areas functioning forever, without communities ever again depending on material support from any outside organization, has proved to be elusive. Yet this represents one of the top sustainability accomplishments that most organizations in the water sector aim to achieve.

While many organizations and governments have heavily invested in designing sustainable models which empower communities to own and manage rural water supply systems, some organizations want to be seen as ‘working’ and thereby ‘baby-sitting’ communities. Such organizations always want to be there to rehabilitate any small borehole fault or even offer to drill more newboreholes without regard to government policies or sustainable models. With noble intentions, some charity organizations or generous individuals have not only destroyed the very communities they aim to help but have also strained their limited resources which could have been more wisely used to support other communities in dire need of safe and adequate water.

For decades, experts in the water sector have argued, and come up with diverse theories, on why rural water supply infrastructure, especially boreholes, fail quickly or become non-functional before their prescribed life span, leading to stretched periods of downtime or even abandonment. Some experts believe that the ability of a community to effectively conduct planned borehole maintenance and collect properly-calculated tariffs from users to buy and replace worn-out borehole parts provides a glimpse of a sustained water system…but this does not fully articulate what will motivate and equip a community to keep a borehole functioning at all times, forever.

So how can we improve community ownership and sustainability of rural water supply systems? One simple intervention practiced by rural communities in Chikwawa District in Malawi seems to be providing a solution to this age-old question. Borehole banks use a simple yet effective business model that allows water users to borrow part of the borehole maintenance fund, use it for their own various economic activities, and later pay it back at an agreed-upon interest rate. This not only multiplies funds for borehole operation and maintenance but also enhances the economic livelihoods of water users in the community. It eliminates the challenges encountered by poor rural women related to securing a small loan at a commercial bank, such as traveling long distances, tedious paperwork, and interviews. While technical considerations in borehole drilling and installation remain vital, transforming a borehole into an economic epicenter in the community has motivated users to secure their boreholes and ensure they are fully functional at all times.

The success of borehole banks in rural communities of Chikwawa District represents a huge milestone toward the sustainability of rural water supply infrastructure. They say, “water is life.” Deep in the rural communities of Chikwawa District, this idiom is not only synonymous with healthy living, but also the economic benefits that water now possesses.

About the author: Brian Mulenga works as Sanitation Officer at Water for People in Malawi. His professional background is in Environmental Health (Public Health). His job entails providing technical support and guidance to partner non-governmental organizations that they work with on sanitation and ensuring that the number of latrines/bathrooms reported corresponds to what is physically in impact areas.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector  or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.

The Hand-pump project: 35 years on, what have we learned? 


This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN Member Saul Arlosoroff, based in Israel.

I grew up in a kibbutz which is an Israeli Agricultural institution and became interested and experienced in agriculture and rural water supply. I studied Engineering in Israel; my Masters was on the design of modern pumps, mainly vertical. After some time working on the topic, I was then sent to the USA to work in the rural water sector, thus becoming a Rural Water “expert”. When I returned home, I climbed the ladder to become a national water manager, mainly in the rural sector. Later I was selected to be a senior water manager in Ghana.

The 1980’s was the International Decade of Water Supply and Sanitation. At the time, UNDP and the World Bank established the Water & Sanitation Program (WSP); one of its flagship projects was the Hand-pump Project. Having become experienced in rural water supply in developing countries, I was recruited by the World Bank to be the manager of this project, with staff and involvement in about 40 countries, along with John Kalbermatten from the World Bank, and staff from UNDP, UNICEF and representatives of Donors who were active in the sector. I participated in 3 multi-expert meetings on what should be the role of the rural water sector actors; and what should be the main activities to solve the problem for those in real need.

These meetings of experts lead to the agreement that the Hand-Pump should be the main tool for Rural Water Supply as it was financially feasible, most villages were above or close by to the centers of demand, and the source of water in the ground, at a reasonable depth, and can produce clean water relatively cheap. However, most of the Hand pumps at the time were yard pumps from non-poor countries which were not adequate for the needs of the rural populations in developing countries.

It was decided that a new variety of pumps would have to be developed for that purpose, tested by experts in a testing facility and in the field. The testing facility was selected to be in the UK. Donors were selected in approximately 20 countries where conditions were suitable and where Governments agreed to undertake field testing.

After 2 years, the new pumps were ready for field testing in about 20 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; about 500 pumps were installed in the Donor-promoted testing sites. The dominant characteristics were simplicity of maintenance and local manufacturing adaptation to groundwater depth and water quality, and the ability to serve from a whole village to a few users.

Millions of these Hand-pumps are still operating globally and they have turned to be one of the main sources of rural water supply. What I have learned through this experience was that rural water supply is one of the most important global issues, which will need important financial resources including from technical and financial partners for many years to come. The organization of the rural water sector differs depending on the country but often suffers from a lack of prioritization by governments.

The Hand-Pump project is considered one of the most important global examples of successful multi-organization cooperation around the world and showed that what seemed impossible proved possible. Our final report “Community Water Supply: the Hand pump Option” (1987) is still one of the defining publications in rural water supply and hand-pump literature. The hand-pump project also defined Village Level Operation & Maintenance (VLOM), the concept of making hand-pumps easier to maintain by the users so that minor breakdowns could be repaired quickly. The Rural Water Supply Network is partly a continuation of this programme, which proves that success in access to water services for rural populations can only be achieved through cooperation between countries.

Community Water Supply: the handpump option (1987) Author: ARLOSOROFF, S.,TSCHANNERL, G., GREY, D., JOURNEY, J., KARP, A., LANGENEGGER, O., and ROCHE, R.

About the author: Saul Arlosoroff is a senior water engineer and management consultant. He has been involved in rural water supply in many countries including Israel, Zambia, and Ghana. He is best known for his seminal book “Community Water Supply: the Hand pump Option”.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector  or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.


Two decades of Self-Supply in RWSN  – how far have we got?


This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN Member Sally Sutton, based in the United Kingdom.

2003 saw the emergence of the more colourful RWSN butterfly from the HTN chrysalis – and my first venture with dirty hands from practical water supply development into the heady heights of international conferences.  The move from whether to use foam or mud, ABS, stainless or mild steel casing, resistivity or water diviners, had for me begun two decades earlier to embrace issues of health, social cohesion, equity and marketing (and even childcare (see photo below)). These aspects combined the technical and social issues in rural water supply, which equally reflected my interests and training.

Sally and her daughter Sarah supervising drilling in Western Province, Zambia.  Never too young to learn? (Photo credit: Sally Sutton)

2003 was also the year of the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, a meeting of 24,000 participants. Mingling among them were Piers Cross, Rupert Taylor, Erich Baumann, and Peter Wurzel. All key players in the HTN network committed to turning it into a broader organization, covering more aspects of rural supply.  By chance, as a result of leading a four year DFID-funded research project, I had won a ‘Water Action Prize’ bursary to present a poster session on ‘Community-led improvements to rural water supply’ in Kyoto. I was a very small fish in a big and truly awesome pond. Piers et al were looking for someone to build up a new theme on small water supplies and seeing my poster session, they seemed to think that greater household/community involvement was one way to go. They, as HTN, gave me four months to set up the theme and organize a full set of papers and presenters as part of the Durban conference at which RWSN was born. This was quite a frightening task since the theme didn’t exist and I didn’t know many people in the sector, or the organisation and until Kyoto hadn’t been involved in international conferences at all.  Truly a baptism by fire.

The name of the theme has been heatedly debated many times from that day on. ‘Small group water supplies’, ‘household and small community supplies’, and ‘household solutions’, amongst many other alternatives were discussed at meetings, in Durban, St Gallen, and Vienna.  With the help of Joe Narkevic as the link to the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) at the time, ‘Self-supply’ emerged as a pithy title, which accentuated the key element of owner investment which the other options lacked. It has many drawbacks but is also gaining ground as a label for similar approaches in other fields, such as electricity. Here the parallels in off-grid solutions justify the adoption of the same name. So RWSN has stuck with ‘Self-supply’ and it has slowly gained ground as a concept.

Ground-gaining is not the same as acceptance, or adoption into everyday practice.  It is a start in what seems to be a long-term development process- reminiscent of turning around the Queen Elizabeth 2, (a most cumbersome ocean liner).  And here RWSN plays a vital role. It provides continuity, linkages, platforms for dialogue and discussion and a credibility on which progress can be built in the introduction of new approaches and technologies.  For instance, in the first eight years, pilot studies were established through RWSN’s links to WSP, which funded both coordination and pilot projects to explore what self-supply could mean on the ground. The same is true for groundwater development and links to UNICEF with Kerstin Danert at the helm. With four sub-Saharan countries exploring self-supply through WSP and UNICEF / WaterAid (see photo below) and two more through other channels (WeltHungerHilfe and SHIPO/SMART centres), some of the potential and lessons learnt on the ground became clearer and strengthened RWSN’s ability to lead the field. These and many other self-supply experiences in developed and developing countries are examined in our recently published book. (see below in notes about the author for more information).

Piloting brings cooperation between both government and non-government organisations in action research (Photo credit: Sally Sutton)

With Andre Olschewski and subsequently with Matthias Saladin as theme leaders, a strong network of interested members has been fortified through forums, Dgroups and through e-discussions, notifications of articles, conferences, and much, much more. It highlights the importance of networking, and particularly the roles of committed individuals, national champions and the international dimension that RWSN brings. Yet rural water supply remains the ugly duckling, with limited donor interest and their continued devotion to business as usual, and with little or no inquisitiveness into who the remaining unserved really are and what they want, rather than what they ‘need’ (see photo below). The ‘Need’ with an outsider’s perception leads only to solutions outsiders identify and with which they are familiar, impacting on long-term sustainability and   necessitating donor dependence.

Self-supply encourages pride in ownership and choice in what colour boot polish or paint to use to show it! (Photo credit: Peter Morgan)

RWSN with its themes of self-supply, sustainable groundwater and leaving no-one behind embraces aspects which are particularly relevant to the remaining un-served, reflecting the voices of the more marginalized, the more expensive to supply with standard solutions, and looks more at how to reach them equitably and sustainably. Its history shows it has the potential to channel donor interest into more relevant hybrid strategies,  mixing levels of service and technology options to fit different socio-hydrological conditions,  a potential which is increasingly, but not yet adequately fulfilled.    The strength of voice is being magnified through the linking by RWSN of many NGOs who are of the same view but individually are unheard. RWSN is a unique and invaluable asset, hopefully with the power to shout even louder in the future and with even greater effect. A luta continua!

About the author: Sally Sutton was originally a geographer, who explored both physical and social aspects of the subject and is happy to have found a field which employs both equally. After 8 years of  – doctoral research in hydrogeochemistry and then in Omani traditional groundwater systems in the 1970’s, she acted as principal hydrogeologist for a major consulting engineering company, mainly in the Middle East.  After ten years she moved to work in Africa building up Zambian government services in drilling but also focusing more on aspects of sustainability of systems and different service levels for different socio-economic and hydrological situations. From 1997 onwards her principal focus has been on household investment in individual and group supplies, all over Africa, culminating in the swan song book written with John Butterworth ‘Self-Supply, filling the gaps in public water supply provision’. This explores self-supply in developed and developing countries.

Photo credits: Sally Sutton; Peter Morgan; Rik Haanen.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector  or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.


 

From Tractors to the Tara pump

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN Member Erich Baumann, based in Ireland.

I grew up in Switzerland after graduating as a mechanical engineer, and started working in the agricultural sector, designing tractors with reasonable success. Back then, (in the late seventies) the Swiss tractor industry was suffering badly and many factories, including mine, had to close. My marriage fell apart too. I therefore had to look around for another solution. When Caritas looked for an engineer to help them with the development of local tractor manufacturing in Bangladesh, we both found that this could be a match made in heaven.

In 1979, I moved to Bangladesh and started working in the Mirpur Agricultural Workshop and Training School (MAWTS). It was there that the Mennonite Agricultural project (MCC) asked me for help, not with tractors, but with the Rower pump: a simple direct-action pump for small-scale irrigation that had been field tested in Comilla. We worked together with Dan Spare on improving the manufacturing processes and using only local materials; eventually we managed to ensure maintenance was possible without using any tools. The MCC ordered 1,000 pumps; this helped the MAWTS to launch a manufacturing process at large scale. Luckily the MAWTS had a small group of professionals that helped me in identifying small factories that used indigenous technologies.

At the same time another NGO, Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), was implementing a small-scale irrigation project in the north of the country, using treadle pumps. They had a large market for these pumps but not enough manufacturing capacity. This was a great opportunity for some of our trainees, who could set up small rural workshops with relatively little help. So, within a short time, Bangladesh established a manufacturing capacity of about five thousand pumps annually.    

There was a lot going on at the time with regard to irrigation pumps, but the drinking water pumps were not that prominently on the agenda. The World Bank-UNDP Water and Sanitation Programme and UNICEF were keen to get some development started as the No. 6 pumps were not very reliable. They approached MAWTS to see whether the training school would be interested. After several meetings between Ken Gibbs (UNICEF), Tim Journey (World Bank), Md Ikramullah and myself (MAWTS), we agreed that we would, based on the Rower pump technology, work on a direct-action drinking water pump. Many components of the Rower pump could be used for drinking water but some others (for instance the filters) would need to be invented.

Within a few days we had a working prototype which we thought seemed promising, and UNICEF placed an order for 110 pumps with MAWTS. In the good old days, procurement was not fully regulated;  thus the 110 pumps were manufactured and delivered before the purchase order even reached MAWTS. Field testing showed some good results, and we started working on the development of an all-plastic filter. Tim [Journey] found an article about a Robo-screen, tried in Australia. We replicated the design and started producing this screen. Caritas Switzerland sent us a sizeable number of 0.25mm wide milling cutters, which we needed to finalise the production process.

Once the testing pumps design was successful, it was transferred to India where the Indian Bureau of Standards took it up; the Tara pump was then turned into a national standard.

After 3 years in Bangladesh, in 1984, I decided to turn down an offer to join the World Bank-UNDP Water and Sanitation Programme and returned to Switzerland to join SKAT. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) agreed that the World Bank could pay for the services that SKAT would offer. A very fruitful cooperation started and my career as a handpump specialist began.     

The Birth of the Handpump Technology Network, and the Rural Water Supply Network

By 1992, handpump technology had made its way into rural water supply. Many local governments started to accept the point sources with handpumps for drinking water. The policy promotion by UNICEF and the World Bank made handpump supplies viable. With this change in the environment, it became interesting to enter the market; competition was fierce between pump manufacturers. To get some stability into the sector, the UNDP-World Bank project decided a handpump workshop would be helpful. The venue for this workshop was Kakamega Golf Club in western Kenya. About 50 experts came together to discuss the technology aspect of handpumps. 

The meeting point was ideal as Kakamega did not offer many distractions. Even going out for a meal was a bit of an adventure. You had to bring a very strong fork to be able to penetrate the chicken.   

Kakamega was a small town with several thousand handpumps. There was a Finish project that had used India MKII pumps initially and had just recently decided to change to Afridevs. It was a new a concept that you could take the piston out without lifting the cylinder and there was still quite a bit scepticism about the open top arrangement.

As usual in a competitive environment, people felt very strongly about who had the best hamdpump design. The two pumps in the public domain, the India KMII (cheap but sturdy) and the Afridev (with more unusual design aspects) were also fighting for acceptance. The arguments were often dominated by arguments such as “not designed by me”. I too had some strong views on designs and we were discussing design details for hours. The arguments often run up to the early hours; since the Golf club did not have a bar there was also no option of a final conciliatory drink. 

There were some wise men in the group who concluded we were wasting a lot of energy without coming to a useful result. Peter Wurzel and Rupert Talbot suggested that the arguments would go on for ever and it would be best to form a design group: the Handpump design working group. Peter Wurzel should be the chairperson of the group, with Scott Devereux from Consumer Research in England, Leif Hommelgaard from UNDP-WB and me as permanent members.

And that’s how the Handpump Technology Network was formed without defined Terms of Reference or constitution. We concentrated on a few aspects, namely standardisation and handpump specifications.   Rupert, Leif and Peter kept a good eye on me and helped me to find some support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Handpump specifications were generally accepted as key documents for public domain pumps. Piers Cross of the World Bank suggested in 2006 that the Handpump Technology Network should broaden its remit from handpumps only to rural water supply more generally; and this is how the Rural Water Supply Network was born.   

About the author: Erich Baumann is an internationally recognized technical expert in the field of rural water supply with 30 years of experience. He headed the secretariat of RWSN (formerly the Handpump Technology Network HTN) from 1992 to 2008. He was instrumental in establishing the network in supply chains, low cost drilling, self-supply household solutions, handpump research and development, capacity building in local production, technology transfer, quality control and quality assurance, and training. He authored many publications on handpumps and rural water supply which can be found here.

Did you enjoy this blog? Would you like to share your perspective on the rural water sector  or your story as a rural water professional? We are inviting all RWSN Members to contribute to this 30th anniversary blog series. The best blogs will be selected for publication. Please see the blog guidelines here and contact us (ruralwater[at]skat.ch) for more information. You are also welcome to support RWSN’s work through our online donation facility. Thank you for your support.

Photo credit: Erich Baumann

Why self supply solutions are needed to reach SDG 6.1

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN members Lieselotte Heederik and Steven Ramsey , based in Indonesia.

Only 9% of the 275 million Indonesians use piped water supplied by water utilities for their daily needs  and this percentage is decreasing.  In this Blog we talk why governments and other institutions should prioritize self-supply solutions.  We also discuss how decentralized water supply and treatment can help to  achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water.

To achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water by 2030, the Indonesian government and international institutions like the World Bank have focused on increasing piped water access. However, as in many developing countries in the global south, access to piped water in Indonesia remains exceedingly low. Local water utility companies, known as PDAM, only reach about 20% of Indonesian households, of which, less than half use PDAM water for their daily needs. Since only 9% of Indonesians use PDAM supplied water, this implies that 91% of Indonesia’s population use groundwater for domestic use. 91% of Indonesia’s population of 275 million people is around 250.25 million people. To put that number in perspective, that’s larger than the populations of Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Denmark combined!

Can Piped Water Meet Indonesia’s Domestic Needs? 

Water utilities should serve 40 percent of the population by 2019. At least that was planned in the Indonesian Government’s 2015–2019 medium term development plan.  As we now know, this target was not met and was moved to the 2020–2024 plan. However the question remains, why does Indonesian government planning focus so heavily on piped water? One reason may come with the prestige that comes with having advanced public utility service.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that piped water will play a leading role in achieving universal access to safely managed drinking water, and here’s why: 

  1. For decades PDAMs have struggled to meet demand from rapid urbanization. This has led to groundwater overexploitation in many urban areas leading to land subsidence, most notably in Jakarta.
  2. Bulk raw water resources only supply 30 percent of total demand. With no clear path towards increasing supply, this has led to many PDAMs providing only intermittent service. 
  3. Higher tariffs incentivize PDAMs to prioritize water allocation to industrial usage. This is especially true in low income areas where tariff collection rates are lower. 
  4. Once a well is dug, groundwater is essentially free, compared with having to pay a monthly bill with PDAM water.

Even where access exists, the source is often not safely managed. 

With PDAMs struggling to meet even a quarter of domestic demand, it’s no surprise that water quality has taken the back burner. A government study conducted in 2020 found 148 PDAMs produced water that was not safe to drink. Another study in Yogyakarta found 77% of piped water was contaminated with e-coli. This isn’t to say that groundwater quality is any better, in fact it’s often worse, especially if coming from an unprotected source. One study in Jakarta found 24% of samples coming from a groundwater source had fecal matter compared with just 3% coming from piped water. Even bottled water isn’t necessarily free from contamination. In both aforementioned studies, e-coli was detected in water purchased from refill kiosks.

Village water supply. This is how most households in Indonesia get their -untreated- water to their houses. Treatment is necessary to make this safe for consumption. 

Solution: Decentralized, self-help centered water filters.

In order to achieve SDG target 6.1 Indonesia must achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water by 2030. However, only 12 percent of Indonesia’s population currently has such access. The 242 million Indonesians without access to safely managed drinking water cannot wait for expensive centralized utility projects and it’s unrealistic that these will reach all rural-communities. 

Surely, in certain contexts, such as high density urban areas, investing in piped water utilities may make sense. However, as Unicef states in their recent policy brief, self supply solutions with appropriate household water treatment are an important part of the safely managed water supply mix.  Household water treatment solutions provide households with a tool to filter rain, tap, and groundwater into water that is safe to drink in a matter of hours. Together, with investment in safe and sustainably managed groundwater, household water treatment solutions play a critical role in filling the gap between potable and safe drinking water.

About the authors:

Lieselotte (Lisa) Heedrik is the co-founder and director of Nazava Water Filters. Nazava is a social enterprise based in Indonesia, Kenya, and Ethiopia that produces ceramic, gravity based household water filters that are certified by WHO for bacterial removal. Nazava has sold over 200,000 units and has been exported to 32 countries worldwide. Lisa has over 15 years of International development experience and is passionate about embracing household solutions to reach SDG 6.
Steven Ramsey is a consultant with Nazava Water Filters with over 6 years experience working on water and climate resilience projects in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Steven is a Fulbright alumnus and graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs where he concentrated on Global Energy & Environmental Policy. He is passionate about finding climate resilient solutions in the WASH sector. 

Featured photo: Water provided through tanks in a village in West Java. Treatment is necessary to make it safe for consumption.

Photo credits: Lisa Heedrick.