Skip to main content

Assessing the costs and impacts of support to community managed rural water supply in India; how to?

Published on: 05/06/2015

For community-managed rural water supply to be sustainable, a "plus" is needed: special efforts to empower communities during project implementation, and continued support from government during service delivery. The Community Water Plus project seeks to get a better understanding of the costs of this "plus", and the impact it has on rural water services in twenty community-managed rural water programmes across India. This working paper explains how.

The Community Water Plus is a research project that aims to gain insight into the modalities and costs of service provision by studying a sample of the twenty most successful community-managed rural water programmes from across India. The research scrutinises the resource implications of the 'plus' factors of community-management, i.e the costs of all the support and community mobilization work that is often needed to make community management work. The twenty cases are carried out in 18 States of India, covering a wide range of socio-economic conditions and rural water supply technologies. .

The working paper that is available at the bottom of this page provides an outline of the conceptual framework for this research by defining and providing a conceptual background to the current situation; outlining the research methodology to answer the research questions; and detailing the analytical tools that will be used to attain the results. From experience and reviewing the current literature, the research considers a number of concepts and insights:

Sustainable rural water supply requires a meaningful level of community engagement, combined with on-going government support

  • Sustainable services delivery requires a combination of a meaningful level of community engagement, community management and on-going government support. The extent and quality of community participation and engagement can be assessed against a ladder representing different levels in the community, ranging from labour contributions and decision-making pertaining to minor issues, to full responsibility and decision-making on all key aspects of the services after finalisation of implementation.
  • Whereas community participation is crucial to success, it is important to keep a healthy balance between the levels of this participation and the level and degree of outside support – often from local government. If the levels of outside support are consistently too high, community participation may be at risk. It is thus critical that community management is professionalised through balanced, on-going support so that they can retain meaningful engagement throughout all the supply stages.The level, needs and possibilities for outside support differ according to the socio-economic status of the communities as well as the types of technology used. Different support demands are made in villages with rudimentary technology in comparison to villages with reticulated systems.
  • The success of community management is gauged through a range of measures, including the service level, meaning the effectiveness of supply; the equity in supply; its sustainability; and the degree to which recurrent costs are covered. In this instance the socio-economic situation prevailing in the community; the level of outside support; the professionalisation of the community management and the technology applied all play a role in determining success.
  • On-going support comes at a cost: it simply costs more to organise intense community empowerment processes and to carry out regular support activities with communities. Thus, where the spending on support is low, the level of success in community management is often low as well.

Building on these concepts and premises, the paper elaborates on the methodology for assessing the support to the twenty community-managed rural water supply programmes.The figure below presents the main elements of research.

Figure 1: Elements of research

The critical level of research is the enabling support entity, i,.e the entity that provides support to community-based organisations. This entity is often a (local) government entity, like the Gram Panchayat, block office or a State-level organisation, like the PHED (Public Health Engineering Department). In many cases, the support is actually provided by two or more organisations jointly, for example a government entity, together with a local NGO. For each of these enabling support entities, we describe the institutional model and set-up, its performance in carrying out the support work and the degree of partnering with community organisations. Crucially also at this level, we aim to assess the financial and human resources that local government and NGOs dedicate to support.

Photo 1: Local governments, like the Patharpratima block office (West Bengal) dedicate significant amounts of financial and human resources to support community-managed rural water supply

To validate that the support indeed leads to succesful community-managed rural water supply, we then assess the performance of the community-based service providers that have received support. This is done against criteria of performance in tasks of operation and maintenance and administration, but also on the extent to which community members are really engaged in the management of their water supplies.

Photo 2: Pump operator at community-managed water supply system in Tamil Nadu

A second level of validation is the household level. Through household surveys, the level of service in terms of quantity, quality, accessibility, reliability and continuity of supply is assessed, as is the degree of equity in service levels. This is triangulated through focus group discussion with users and observation of the physical condition of water supply technologies.

Finally, the research seeks to capture some contextual factors, including the type of water supply technology and the socio-economic conditions to make a comparison across cases. Also the historical trajectory of the development of the community management models is described.  

By combining these findings at the different levels - enabling support entity, community and household - the research will try and get better insights into the 'plus' that community management so badly needs to perform more sustainably.