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Learning alliance helps to improve water supply in Gazer town

Published on: 17/11/2020

The South Ari Woreda learning alliance pushed for the establishment of the Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office as a utility to improve water services in the area.

In July 2017, the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS) team visited the Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office. The office had two small, rented rooms (Photo 1).

Photo 1: Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office in 2017

Photo 1: Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office in 2017

During the team’s meeting with Mr. Mantegabtot Negash, the manager Mr. Negash expressed concern about the poor water supply service in Gazer, the woreda centre of South Ari Woreda in the Southern Nation, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia. There were only three mechanics and two bill collectors working with him to provide services to more than 5,000 people living in Gazer. 

Residents of the town were not happy with the limited water supply service and were regularly complaining. Though the spring sources had good discharge that could provide enough water for the residents, the water conveyed to the town was not enough to meet demand. This was because the pipe that transports water to the town, nearly 5 km long, was smaller in diameter than required with lots of leakage points along the line. The system of 23 public standpipes (7 non-functional due to problems in the distribution network), 314 household connections, and 19 government institutions was not adequate to provide water to the town’s growing population. Although the scheme was only 11 years old, it was no longer able to meet the increasing demand. Overall, the office had many challenges including insufficient capacity, low levels of revenue collection, and insufficient support from local government resulting in sub-standard water service provision.

A systems approach

As part of its involvement in the USAID-funded Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership in Ethiopia, IRC WASH Ethiopia is committed to support and work with sector stakeholders, including service providers, local government, NGOs, and academic organisations to ensure access to adequate WASH services to all in South Ari Woreda by 2030. This is being done through a systems approach which brings WASH stakeholders, including the Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office, together in learning alliances to jointly identify water system challenges and come up with comprehensive strategies for addressing these challenges in order to achieve the vision of universal access to sustainable WASH services. 

The challenges of the Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office discussed at the South Ari Woreda Learning Alliance meetings

The challenges of the Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office were discussed in the first four learning alliance meetings but detailed and agreed actions were not taken until the fifth learning alliance meeting held in February 2019. During this meeting, participants discussed the importance and urgency of establishing the Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office as a utility by organising and convening a utility management board. This was not originally part of the day’s agenda, but the problems in Gazer pushed the issue to the front of the discussion. Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office was providing services without being established as a legal entity and it was difficult to improve service provision without having a strong management and structure. Although the office had been recognised by the zone and region to be established as a medium level utility in May 2018, the woreda had not yet established the utility board recognising the office as a legal entity. The office had repeatedly requested the woreda administration to establish a management board since the Woreda Administrator is expected to lead the establishment process as set out in the SNNPR Regional Water Bureau guidelines, but no action had been taken to establish the board.

Photo 2: Fifth South Ari Woreda learning alliance meeting

Photo 2: Fifth South Ari Woreda learning alliance meeting

Based on the discussions during the fifth learning alliance meeting, a small working group was formed from the South Ari Woreda Water Mines and Energy Office, the Gazer Town Water Supply Service Office, and the woreda administration. The woreda administrators were given the responsibility of facilitating the first meeting and the establishment of the board in November 2019. The management board members included office heads from water, health, finance, education, and community representatives, and was chaired by the woreda administration. The administration promised to support the utility by hiring professional staff and allocating budget to strengthen the management until the utility could stand on its own feet. The establishment of the Gazer Town Water Supply Utility through the management board was the second in South Omo Zone, the first being in Jinka.

Status of the utility management board since its establishment

There have been a lot of changes since the establishment of the board and utility. Mr. Mussie Dealy, the new manager of the Gazer Town Water Supply Utility, was assigned as a manager by the board in July 2019. The board has conducted three meetings since its establishment. In August 2020, SWS interviewed Mr. Dealy in his new office. As per the promise during the first board establishment meeting, the woreda administration hired five additional technical staff. The capacity of technicians was improved through the SWS caretaker maintenance training. The board facilitated the provision of three rooms from the newly constructed municipality building to use as an office (Photo 3).

Photo 3: The Gazer Town Water Supply Utility in 2020

Photo 3: The Gazer Town Water Supply Utility in 2020

The utility also started working on expanding pipelines and connecting and providing water meters for households at the periphery of the town. Currently the utility has more than 495 household connections which has helped increase the utility’s income to cover its operational costs. Overall, the utility has become much stronger since the establishment of the utility management board.

Because of the improved recognition and strength of the utility, the South Ari Woreda Administration and Gazer Municipality together allocated ETB 200,000 to improve the utility’s service provision for the 2020/21 fiscal year. This is the first budget support in the utility’s history. The utility plans to recruit additional staff and replace parts of the pipeline in the distribution network with the budget support.

The learning alliance has also contributed to improved coordination among the various stakeholders. One example is that the South Ari Woreda Water, Mines and Energy Office, in coordination with the community and the utility, mobilised the local community to construct two additional water sources, both on spot protected springs. Construction of a protected spring usually costs around ETB 80,000 with the current market prices and following the government procurement procedure. To reduce the costs, the community in Gazer contributed materials, such as stone and sand, and with labour. The municipality procured cement and paid ETB 5,000 for an artisan to construct the two protected springs. This progress was shared during the 9th South Omo learning alliance meeting as an example for the two other SWS woredas in South Omo Zone, Woba Ari and Baka Dawla.

The learning alliance approach as one of the systems strengthening tools has helped South Ari Woreda WASH actors start to think about systems. The establishment of the Gazer Town Water Supply Utility and improved management are the direct outcomes of actors coming together to discuss their own challenges. The learning alliance, in addition to finding solutions and solving challenges, has served as platform for sharing information, learning, experience, and knowledge among actors from all levels.  

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