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Is it relief or is it development?

Published on: 02/05/2014

If rural water supply provided under the development heading is in fact more a relief and water supply through relief creates development but in pockets, then what does that teach us?

The provision of millions of handpumps all over Africa is not leading to development. When time comes to rehabilitate these systems after 10 to 30 years, there has been no wealth created hence no money is available to finance them and aid is once again required.

It does not mean that these handpumps should not have been constructed in the first place. They are much needed in low density areas where no alternative source is available. They definitely help people to survive and fulfil a humanitarian purpose. The provision of this kind of systems keeps beneficiaries above the emergency line and is actually closer to relief than to development.

The provision of handpumps keeps beneficiaries above the emergency line and is actually closer to relief than to development

Often relief interventions provide higher levels of service than development, because relief enforces international standards in terms of quality and quantity of water per person per day; standards that are not systematically enforced in most rural areas in countries that rely on development aid. Relief interventions follow a clear development path when providing refugees enough water to meet their domestic and productive needs like in Burkinabè Sahel where the provision of water has been designed not only for human purposes but also to water cattle, or in Chad where water provision is meant to help refugees to sustain subsistence agriculture and support the transition from relief to development.

Aid agencies should be clear when they invest money in development and be more critical about the conditions for sustainable development. If these conditions are not met to some extent than they either should not invest at all or invest in improving the conditions such as functioning monitoring and planning systems, regulation of service providers, spare part supply i.e. the conditions to provide a service because only a service can bring development. Why not set as a grant and loan condition that at least 50% of water finance is government finance or that monitoring systems must be in place or government willingness to invest in them? And vice versa governments could set conditions for donors: spend 50% of your investment in building country capacity and systems, instead of 100% in infrastructure that is not providing decent services and cannot lead to any sustainable development?

Relief is always temporary; it creates pockets of development just like projects often create temporary islands of success. But the real test for development is in slowly improving the conditions in the sea of misery. Maybe governments and aid agencies should negotiate harder on the conditions of providing and receiving grants and loans.

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