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Broken pots, not broken pipes

Published on: 15/04/2015

One of the nicest water-related customs in Honduras is the breaking of the pot. When a village gets connected to a water system, part of the inauguration ceremony consists of an old woman from the village symbolically throwing a clay water-pot on the ground, so that it breaks. She will never need it again to fetch water.

If you have never had water before, getting it for the first time is a cause of great joy and emotion. If you have always had it, it goes unnoticed; it rarely happens that I think of my water supply when I open the tap at home. But, if you have access to water, but it is unreliable or of poor quality, than it is a great source of frustration. An old woman in Honduras regrets breaking the pot, when water stops flowing, and they would need it again to fetch water from the river.

Breaking the pot at the inauguration of a new water system. Photo: Andrés Gil

The reason for this regret is that many water systems underperform. Although there are committed local operators, they cannot keep up with all the plumbing that needs to be done. Though there are committed treasures – often just someone from the village - book keeping is basic and often too little money is collected by the water committee to pay for repairs. As a result, pipes are not repaired when they break, infrastructure is not in good condition, and water quality is poor. According to the SIASAR monitoring system, 30% of the water systems don't score an A; they deliver water that doesn't meets the standards: quality is not good, there are frequent disruptions or parts of the systems are simply broken down. 68% of the water committees score a B, meaning that they are not performing all their tasks adequately. At least 7% of the latrines are not in use, because they are not in good condition.

If you have access to water, but it is unreliable or of poor quality, then it is a great source of frustration.


Knowing these data is one thing; acting upon them another.

And, that is what IRC's programme in Honduras will be focusing upon in the coming period. A few years ago, there was no data; now there is too much. Municipalities drown in all the A's and B's. We will be working in the coming period on further supporting SIASAR, with approaches and tools for data analysis and interpretation, so municipalities can use these data for undertaking repairs or (re)training water committees. We have developed tools for the analysis of costs of water and sanitation systems; we will be working with municipalities to use these to formulate to WASH investment plans – not only for new water systems, but above all for repairs and upgrades of existing systems.

We don't do this alone. We are part of an alliance with others under an initiative called Para Todos, Por Siempre ("everyone, forever"). This brings together 29 municipalities (representing 10% of the rural Honduran population), 10 NGOs who work on the ground with these municipalities, including two associations of water committees, and 3 central government entities.

We believe that such support to municipalities is crucial: to ensure that broken pipes get repaired; to avoid that old women have to glue their pots again; and to stimulate more old ladies to throw their pots to pieces with the confidence that they will never have to regret breaking their pots.



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