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Alternative service provider options

Published on: 27/05/2013

Alternative service provider options refer to models such as self-supply and public-private partnerships, that are a departure from the conventional model of community-based management that has tended to dominate rural water supplies.

Why is it important for sustainable services at scale?

Sustainable service provision based on community based management needs service options to be well matched to the local context, service levels, technology and type of settlement. If formally recognised and supported community based management can work.  However, in many settings it struggles due to the reliance on volunteers and informal community institutions.  Alternatives such as municipal supply, small-scale private suppliers (public-private partnerships) or self-supply, where properly supported, can improve service to rural water users and extend it to those who are currently without.

Public private partnerships

Contracting local private operators with specialist or professional skills can improve services and increase efficiencies beyond the capacity of conventional CBM approaches. Formal delegation of management arrangements in most rural areas is a fairly recent phenomenon and requires a step-change in management practices.

Arrangements rely on a tripartite arrangement between a contracting authority (usually the local government), an operator, and some form of regulatory body and/or support agency to help guide and monitor the contractual relationships. In some West African countries and in South Africa, private sector support agencies have taken up this role.

Self supply

Self supply fills the gap where public or formal private sector-led approaches do not reach, especially in scattered rural communities and where water sources are easily available. Self supply is not easily quantifiable, and historically has not been formally recognized as a management option within sector policy or formal benchmarks. This is despite the fact that self-improvement and investment in individual water supply systems over time represents a significant portion of financing.

Government agencies and NGOs have an important role to play in promoting self supply. Promotion can take many forms, from awareness raising and technical assis­tance on practical ways of installing household systems, to providing subsidies for installation.

What IRC is doing about it?

IRC is supporting experiments with the promotion and development of alternative service delivery models. For example, in Ethiopia IRC is supporting the roll-out of its self-supply programme, providing recommendations for its improvement. In Ghana, studies have been done on public-private partnerships in peri-urban areas.