Skip to main content

Searching for success in community managed rural water services

Published on: 03/06/2014

As a group at Cranfield University we reviewed 130 case studies of community managed rural water services, to identify key success factors. We conclude that a certain level of socio-economic wealth is necessary, but not sufficient. A combination of different Plus factors, both internal and external, is also needed to make the community management approach sustainable and successful.

By: Mei Yee Chan, Fatine Ezbakhe, Baptiste Mesa, Chiaki Tamekawa and Lucie Cuadrado

In February, Stef Smits wrote a blog: Where have all the committees gone? in which he spoke about the need for "Plus" factors in community managed water supplies. In particular, he emphasized the role of external support from governments and NGOs as the key to ensuring sustainability and scalability. Around this time, in response to the ever pondering question of what contributes to the success of community managed rural water supply, our group at Cranfield University were asked to search for the factors leading to success over the past 30 years in community managed rural water services.

Why community management of rural water supply? What about the government?

Community management – the prevailing model for rural water supply over the past 30 years – has been shown to be inconsistent and often unviable. At the same time, with the human right to water now consolidated in international law, the government has a clear responsibility to ensure the delivery of water to rural citizens. Yet, pragmatically, limited public capacity to reach out to rural villages in much of the developing world means it often still makes sense to work with communities as service providers. In this way, community management remains a valid model for rural water supply but the evidence shows that success can only be achieved if communities receive appropriate levels of support, a “Plus” to sustain community water supply. Of course, the extent of this Plus required varies from community to community and includes not only the provision of resources in the short term but also access to support services over the longer term. This research provides a systematic assessment of what has worked over the past 30 years in different regions of the world.

Our search for success

In our quest to search for success, an in-depth analysis of 130 cases studies of community managed rural water supply programmes was undertaken using a Success Framework, a tool created for our study. This analysis assessed what Plus Factors were associated with successful community managed rural water supplies and if the socio-economic setting indicative of the likely success of a community. Success was broadly defined in this study in terms of supply of water: if the system was still delivering water to the people, the case study was considered as successful. The level of this success was then scored according to a defined set of criteria using the information from our Success Framework. All our case studies and the result of our success analysis are stored in Mendeley and we encourage others to make use of this resource.

Unveiling the Plus Factors

The results from our research had shown that the “Plus” factors for success can be divided into Internal and External Plus. Internal Plus is defined as factors which drive the communities to be an active part of the system and External Plus is defined by external support from other entities other than the community itself (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Plus Factors for Successful Community Management of Rural Water Supplies

In the Internal Plus factor, the initial success of any water supply scheme highly depends on the community initiative. However, this key factor changes to leadership which is vital for the long-term success of managing the water supply. Another Internal Plus factor, access to external advice (both technical and managerial) was found to be important for the immediate success, since it helped the communities overcome the initial management issues.  We cannot expect communities to manage a water system on its own without any support after the initial “booster” injected by external agencies. After all, communities are not homogenous nor a static entity. They are made up of individuals and they change all the time. Ongoing capacity building is quintessential as the individual who had received trainings at the initial set up of the committee might have left and been replaced by a new member in later part of the project life cycle.

Our conclusion is that community initiative and skills and the continual financial/technical supplement from governments, agencies, and NGOs are essential for creating an enabling environment for sustainable success of community management.  However, we were not convinced that the present of Plus factors alone could make some of the successful cases highly successful hence we investigated the relationship between these success factors and broader social economic indicators across the 130 cases.

Underlying Wealth - the invisible ingredient to success?

We might have suspected that the underlying wealth of a nation might have a role to play in the success of community management model.  What we found in our research was in regions like Latin America and the Caribbean, where this wealth existed, the economic growth was indicative of the success of community management; while in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, where this wealth was lacking and community management relied mostly on external support, the success was random and could not be linked to wealth (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Success vs. GDP per person in Latin America and the Caribbean & Sub-Saharan Africa

Indeed, perhaps a certain level of economic wealth is needed for the success of community management of water supplies but what happens when the wealth is not there? Where will the economic support come from?  In Sub-Saharan Africa where this wealth was lacking, continual financial support will have to come either from taxes or tariffs.

Figure 3: In the absence of underlying wealth of a nation, continual economic support is required for sustainable success.

Plus Factors & Socio-Economic Wealth – the underlying iceberg which floats the success of community management

Finally we need to ask ourselves, are we asking too much from the community? Do stakeholders and donors really expect community to be able to manage rural water supply system years after the steroid effect of aid has long gone? Community management model is still very much alive and viable but in order for this model to be sustainable, we have to look beyond focusing just on the community management approach and understand that there are other deep underlying factors that leads to the success of rural water supply, i.e. the supporting factors that keeps community management floating.

Figure 4: The iceberg of successful community management of rural water supplies - The Plus Factors & Socio-Economic Wealth?

Our study has shown that for community management to be successful, a certain level of socio-economic wealth is necessary, but not sufficient. A combination of different Plus factors, both internal and external, is also needed to make the community management approach sustainable and successful.

The research has been funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Development Awards Research Scheme under an award titled Community Management of Rural Water Supply Systems in India. The views expressed on this website are those of the project and not necessarily those of the Australian Government. The Australian Government accepts no responsibility for any loss, damage or injury, resulting from reliance on any of the information or views contained on this website.

 

Disclaimer

At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.