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Promoting Self-supply: the challenges of implementation at the district level

Published on: 29/06/2016

In Ethiopia, achieving universal access by 2030 without working on Self-supply would be unrealistic. About 35% of the rural population still relies on unprotected wells and springs for drinking water supply, despite huge investments on water supply infrastructures in the past 25 years.

Unimproved Self-supply, such as unprotected wells and sprigs are the main source of drinking water supply for about 28 million people living in rural Ethiopia, in 2015. The figure has remained constant since the 1990's despite massive investment and increase in water supply infrastructures, as the rural population also nearly doubled (JMP Data). Achieving universal access by 2030 without working on Self-supply would be unrealistic.

The Millennium Water Alliance (MWA) program and partners are implementing a three year Conrad Hilton Foundation Grant on WaSH that includes accelerating Self-supply as one of the components. On June 23rd, we had a training and review meeting on Self-supply in South Gondar with CARE International and the government partners working together on this activity. The discussion at the meeting was an eye opener to the challenges of implementing the national self-supply acceleration policy.

Integrating Self-supply into WaSH sector planning and reporting

It is three years since the Ethiopian government adopted Self-supply as one of its service delivery models and developed a specific strategy for Self-supply, but Self-supply hasn't yet been integrated into water sector plans at sub national (regional and woreda/district) levels. One of the efforts of the Self-supply acceleration pilot project implemented by MWA partners has been to support woredas to develop Self-supply plans as an integral part of their WaSH planning.

Each woreda has developed a Self-supply plan, with NGOs working jointly with woreda water and other sector offices, based on a detailed baseline study. However, the plan is referred to by woreda government staff as CARE's plan for Self-supply. The priority given to its implementation is marginal. Self-supply is not included in planning directives rolled out from the national level (the Ministry of Water) to the regions and then zones and woredas. Nor do the reporting formats of the woreda water offices require reporting against their self-supply plans. However, regions present their "group-self supply" activities in sector review meetings. The woreda staff say that unless Self-supply targets in potential kebeles are included in their planning and reporting formats, Self-supply is unlikely get attention by woreda government offices.

Making Self-supply count

The MWA Self-supply project aims to enable 55,000 people to access clean drinking water through Self-supply, including both individual household and group self-supply facilities. The target might be achievable in the seven program woredas of MWA, given the high prevalence of sharing self-supply wells among households, which helps to increase the number of people that can be reached. Group-led facilities are obviously shared, but household facilities are often shared too. Theoretically, Self-supply facilities (mostly hand dug-wells) need to be fully protected and provide tested safe water to be counted in drinking water supply coverage, although current monitoring systems have no way of counting household self-supply facilities.

The advantage of the household-led approach is that households make the investments, effectively providing a new source of finance for the sector. But the process of getting households to move from basic traditional dug-wells, that make up the majority of the Self supply facilities in South Gondar, to improved protected ones, takes a lot of time and effort. Unlike the construction of communal water supply schemes that can be quickly built and contribute to an increase in coverage figures, the Self-supply approach requires first creating demand, and then supporting households to gradually upgrade their self-supply facilities. But since the construction of self-supply facilities is not captured and reported in woreda water office reports, woreda water offices have little incentive to promote self-supply facilities.

Loans for Self-supply

Perhaps the whole approach of trying to monitor and evaluate self-supply only in terms of additional people that access clean drinking water is flawed anyway. Having water on premises enables households to access more water which is used for sanitation and hygiene, livestock watering and household irrigation to produce fruits and vegetables and other perennial crops that boost the household income. It saves time and energy spent collecting water for communal or other unsafe sources. However, these benefits are not captured and reported by monitoring systems that only focus on counting the number of people accessing safe drinking water supply.

A Self-supply baseline study done by IRC, with MWA, in seven woredas, show households use their own financial resources for initial construction of Self-supply facilities (mostly hand dug wells). However, upgrading the wells will require more capital investment and households are likely to need loans, to buy water lifting pumps for example.

One of the partners of MWA, water.org, has made efforts to encourage micro finance intuitions (MFIs) to provide loans by support household investments in Self-supply. They have workedon market studies and providing other assistance, and signing a MoU with some MFIs, like Amheara Credit and Saving Institution (ACSI). At the meeting, ACSI's representative from one of the woreda offices reported that now they have been given directives to provide loans for WaSH from the head office. They have started providing loans, though cautiously. They provide loans to households who jointly engage in productive use of self-supply facilities, such as, household irrigation, taking their horticulture crops or other crops on farm as collateral. This is an encouraging boost for the Self-supply acceleration efforts.

Going forward 

At the national level, the self-supply task force chaired by the Ministry of Water and composed of NGOs and development partners has its work cut out. It needs to make more effort to advocate for integration of self-supply in WaSH planning and reporting processes (and formats) at all levels. The task force also needs to advocate for a monitoring system that helps to capture the benefits of Self-supply, not just in-terms of the number of people reached, but also the service levels provided.

At the district level, MWA and partners need to push for a more effective piloting of Self-supply Acceleration to show what works and doesn't in implementing the national strategy. We have made limited progress so far. The lessons of piloting are vital to advocate for greater attention to Self-supply at various government levels, and to make the point for incorporation of Self-supply in sector plans and reports.

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