Published on: 02/10/2014
Whilst the official coverage rates for rural water supply fluctuate between 60-70% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 70-80% in Asia, the proposed post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have raised the bar: we seek universal access to improved drinking water by 2030. This means every community and every person - including those living in scarcely populated areas, arid regions and remote parts of the world that are difficult and costly to reach - should have access to improved drinking water by 2030.
In parallel, demand for higher levels of services is growing. There is evidence that users are willing to pay for good services (e.g. well-run piped schemes). They are also under-utilising systems providing an often below-basic level of service (hand pump) when there is an alternative. This results in low levels of financial contribution, poor operation and maintenance, high levels of breakdowns and people often reverting back to unprotected sources. The newly proposed target for WASH post-2015 recognises this trend and includes halving the proportion of the population without access at home to safely managed drinking water.
Given the current sector trends and limitations of existing management models, combined with low levels of services and lack of appropriate public funding, the solution seems to lie in finding the right combination between piped schemes/ professionalised community management and Self-supply. Everywhere we look patterns are emerging in how these service delivery models fit together and how the mix is evolving.
Although community management remains the predominant model for providing water in rural areas, its limitations have long been recognised. A recent study from Cranfield University (Cranfield University; Searching for success in community management for rural water supplies over 30 years) looking at almost 200 cases confirmed that community management was only viable for small schemes and working well when "professionalised" (recognized as a legal entity, receiving regular support from permanent institutions and sufficient financial resources).
In parallel, other options such as public-private partnerships or self-supply are increasingly being recognised as alternative models for providing sustainable services and reaching the last 20-30%. In the USA, 14 million people rely on Self-supply and that's common in high-income countries; now in Ethiopia, Government is talking about reaching up to 30% additional people through Self-supply and in Mali, Zimbabwe, and Thailand, it is a genuine alternative in policy. However, it is also acknowledged that Self-supply can only contribute to delivering higher levels of service when effectively supported by Government through household sensitisation, water quality treatment, regulation and monitoring. In low-income countries this package of activities has been estimated as costing around $ 8/person (Butterworth, 2014 based upon estimates by Sally Sutton).
Mr Son, Director of the National Center for Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation (NCERWASS), in Vietnam, provided an overview of how Vietnam reached 85% coverage through a combination of factors:
Although the coverage rate is high, only 38% population has access to clean water;
Support from Government on Self-supply is unclear;
Worrying levels of non-functionality have been recorded;
Scarce long-term funding sources to maintain/rehabilitate existing systems and invest in first-time access.
|Level of provision
|Hand-pump tube wells
Hand-pump dug wells
|Hand-electric pumps tube wells
Gravity flow schemes (GFS) and small scale piped schemes
|Community level + household connections
|Community management + self-supply + alternative models
|Medium to large scale pipe schemes
|Community level + household connections
|Community management + self-supply+ alternative models
In other countries like Ghana and Uganda, strategic reflection on achieving universal access and providing higher levels of service is emerging and suggests similar trends:
|Improved community management model (with long term financial and technical support)
|alternative models such as the Sub-County Water Supply and Sanitation Boards, Self-supply
|"Appropriate technology" with a combination of hand-pumps and piped schemes
|Strategic focus on piped schemes
Discussions did not lead to a definite answer on how to best combine Self-supply, piped schemes and community management to achieve universal access and maintain existing services at their agreed levels. However, we are hoping to continue that discussion through other platforms such as the Management and Support thematic group of the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) and others.
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