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Provision of water and sanitation services to small towns. Lessons from case studies in Uganda and India: part B - case studies from Uganda and India

Author(s): Colin, Jeremy  |  Morgan, Joy  |  Woodfield, Julie (ed)

Publisher: LSHTM | WEDC
Place of publication: London and Loughborough
Year: 2000

Series: WELL Studies in Water, Sanitation and Environmental Health Task 323B
Collection(s): WELL


The purpose of this study is to review the planning, implementation and operation of water, sanitation and environmental health programmes in two small towns in each of Uganda and India, in order to identify successes and failures that can provide guidance for the development of small towns programmes. The target audience is DFID advisors, local project partners in government and donor projects, NGOs and consultants involved in this sector.

Despite often-quoted 'problems of size' in dealing with small towns, this study indicates that local capacity is not necessarily a constraint. Whilst local organisations may lack technical expertise, the demands of operating small water supplies are often simple and the necessary skills could be acquired relatively easily. There are benefits to having a small population: procedures can be simple, technical options straightforward and people know each other. Kumi in Uganda, with a population of 17,000, has a financially self sustaining water supply managed by the Town Council.

A number of different elements to success were identified:

  • 'doing planning' which involves consulting users and setting realistic goals is essential: this includes the need for strategic planning which was only in evidence in Kumi;
  • the need for management which is accountable to users; this accountability is not the exclusive preserve of any particular management model;
  • a clear, supportive operating framework is required: in Kerala, this is a positive factor at the municipal level, whereas there is some inconsistency in Uganda which contributes to operational problems;
  • attitudes to economic viability vary widely, from acceptance of water as an economic good in Uganda to expectations of almost free water in Kerala;
  • willingness to charge is at least as important as willingness to pay;
  • public confidence in the service provider is key; in Kumi, the low level of service had widespread support from users who nevertheless had confidence in the transparency and accountability of the provider.

Small-scale independent providers of water were evident in the Ugandan towns, although there was no obvious role for more conventional private sector operators. Franchised operation of some public latrines by local small enterprises in Chertela, Kerala proved very successful.

Within the limited scope of this study, the basic principle of adopting clear, simple management structures that are accountable to the users remains central to the success of small town water and sanitation programmes. Crucially, these principles can be identified in a number of different operational models including the traditional municipal management approach. This cautions against attempts to define universally applicable institutional models for small towns, even in the same country.

There is an urgent need to bring sanitation, health and hygiene education higher up the list of priorities of both international, national and local government agencies; otherwise it risks being lost in the wider debate about institutional models whose prime focus is water supply, but which have little relevance to sanitation.

Case studies  |  Chertali  |  India  |  Kerala  |  Kumi  |  Lessons  |  Ponani  |  Private sector  |  Sanitation  |  Tariffs  |  Uganda  |  Urban services  |  Water supply  |  Water user cooperatives  |  Wobulenzi