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Water Engineering and Development Centre

Resource details

Working together: the sharing of water and sanitation support services for small towns and villages

Author(s): Reed, Brian

Publisher: LSHTM | WEDC
Place of publication: London and Loughborough
Year: 2001

Series: WELL Studies in Water, Sanitation and Environmental Health Task 510
Collection(s): WELL


Decentralised schemes are an ideal model for water and sanitation projects, but they may require external support from outside the community. This report investigates how sharing resources and skills can enable projects to be locally based but still have access to the support they require. The report provides project planners and implementers with case studies on the sharing of resources and discusses some of the issues that need to be considered. The study looks at established water supply systems in Malawi and Ethiopia. It examines what resources are required and who is supply them.

One factor contributing the success of water supply schemes has been the involvement of the community. Community-led water supply and sanitation projects need to be managed as locally as is reasonable so they are based on local demands and are sustainable. The ability of the community to manage a system will depend on:

The resources required to maintain the system;

The resources of the community; and

The resources it can draw on from outside the community

The desire to devolve control to the lowest possible level can burden small communities with tasks for which they do not have the resources. Rural communities far from urban centres do not have easy access to central support services and these external resources are outside the control of the community. Rather than centralise responsibility at a higher level and lose the contact with local people, an alternative approach is to 'cluster' projects together, so the support can be provided locally. This allows specific specialist tasks to be shared between neighbouring projects (e.g. accountancy or engineering expertise) or common resources used (e.g. a centralised facility for making pit latrine slabs) but the control of the separate schemes remains at the local level. The large umbrella user group required to co-ordinate activities can still be accountable to the community if there are suitable channels of communication.

The two case studies describe schemes that provide basic water supplies to thousands of people in rural areas. The Ethiopian scheme appears to have good foundations for continued operation, with strong human, social and financial resources. The Malawian schemes have proved to be very successful in the past but are reaching the end of heir physical and institutional life, with both aspects requiring attention if these schemes are going to continue to be effective.

Different management models can evolve to provide a water supply scheme with the resources tie requires. The details of the management structure appear to be less important than factors such as the availability of resources (physical, natural, social, financial and human) and the way in which the management systems operates. Transparency and accountability are important factors in the development and operation of the management system.

The focus of authority has proved to be an important factor in the sustainability of a project. The organisation managing the resources controls the scheme. The control the community has over the resources required to manage their water supply can be maximised by designing the scheme around their existing human, financial, physical, natural and social resources. In order to distinguish between other community structures (such as local government) and the focussed management of the water supply, the term 'user groups' is preferable to 'community'

The design of management systems must recognise the need for effective incentives to keep the system operating satisfactorily. The greatest incentive lies with the users themselves, so they need to be given the authority and resources to carry out this role.

Community management  |  Ethiopia  |  Gravity supply  |  Malawi  |  Mulanje  |  Tereta