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National O&M models for sustainable rural water systems in Uganda

Published on: 25/10/2021

Influencing national policy and bringing it back to district level.

In line with the Sustainable Development Goal 6 principle of ‘Leaving no one behind’, Uganda developed a National Framework for Operation and Maintenance of Rural Water Infrastructure in July 2020.

As Martin Watsisi, IRC Uganda Regional WASH Advisor, already said in 2019: “The value of having a source working is higher than building a new source”. As well as “the significance of Operation & Maintenance (O&M) is measured by the value of investment”. Evidence points to 15% of the country’s water sources being dysfunctional as observed in a spot check, and 66% of the villages do not have access to safe water.  An increase in water facilities in the rural areas is said not to have translated into an increase in access. Poor operation and maintenance of existing facilities is identified as a pertinent issue (Issues Paper 2019) and motivated the preparation of a national framework for O&M. The framework's aim is to establish standards for sustainable operation and maintenance systems and improve the existing but inadequate management models.

Community Based Management System

At the core of the national framework for O&M is the Community Based Management System (CBMS) introduced in 1986. The CBMS places emphasis on community responsibility for development and management of rural water facilities. The approach, however, has become less efficient over the years, with functionality stagnating at 85% over a four-year period. There are multiple approaches and overlaps in rural O&M as Government’s strategic focus has shifted to piped water supply and solar driven boreholes. Unwillingness by community users to contribute to the management of the installed facilities affected performance of the CBMS approach in rural water supply systems in Uganda.

Multiple approaches and overlaps in rural O&M

The manifestation of the challenges has made it apparent that the CBMS O&M model was not suited for more complex systems and did not provide for long-term sustainability due to the lack of a financial model. It needed to be restructured for reliability and functionality into a Professional Management Approach (PMA). The original CBMS model was thence upgraded into a new operation and maintenance framework, coded as CBMS+, and is a key element of the national O&M framework. The national O&M framework provides for the introduction of entrepreneurial and public private partnership (PPP) arrangements to water supply facilities in rural areas, and this is embedded in the CBMS+ approach.

The CBMS+ is a Professional Management Arrangement for long-term functionality and financial sustainability of all rural water systems in Uganda. The approach is anchored in the country’s legal provisions (Water Act 1995 and Local Government Act 1997), and the sustainable O&M model of water supply infrastructure is guaranteed through formal contract-based performance management arrangements. CBMS+ is an approach where the District Water Authority through the Water Service Board, formally outsources the O&M function to an entity which might be a Private Sector Organisation, a Non-Governmental Organisation, the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), or the Hand Pump Mechanics Association with the requisite training, skills, and experience. The entity is referred to as the Area Service Provider (ASP) that operates on a contract management arrangement.

The CMBS+ is driven by four key principles:

  1. Area based/clustering approach where the ASP takes responsibility for O&M of all rural water facilities within the area (sub-county, a cluster of sub-counties or a district or a cluster of districts);
  2. Professional management structures with clear roles and responsibilities, and with contractual obligations and performance indicators;
  3. Financial sustainability where all users pay for water on a monthly basis or per volume; and
  4. Availability of quality spare parts, a core responsibility of the ASP. 

Environment, gender, and HIV/AIDs are recognised as cross cutting issues in the national O&M framework, and mechanisms instituted to ensure that these are mainstreamed to respond to the SDGs and the national strategic objectives and policy. The COVID-19 pandemic effects on the water sector are well documented and highlight the urgency to increase access to water services for local communities and institutions to comply with the standard operating procedures as defined by the World Health Organization and Uganda’s Ministry of Health.   

How the PAYF fits into the National Framework for O&M

The new O&M framework institutes the CBMS+, professionalising it with strong community structures that are remunerated (so not voluntary) for their work. Water users are to pay fees for the water sources, but the role of the Areas Service Provider is to collect fees, carry out routine servicing of the water points and manage the Water Source Committee (3 persons remunerated from the paid fees). The Pay As You Fetch (PAYF) model provided a ground for users to pay for water.

At the water pump in Kabarole District

Origin of the PAYF model

The PAYF model was piloted by IRC as a potential solution for improved water service delivery and sustainability in Kabarole District and was largely a capacity-building effort for the Kabarole Hand Pump Mechanics Association (KAHASA). In the PAYF model users fetch water and pay the handpump caretaker a set price per container of water collected. The handpumps are maintained by the Kabarole Hand Pump Mechanics Association. The concept was largely based on Water For People’s successful use of PAYF under their Water as a Business model.

How has IRC contributed to the O&M framework in Kabarole? 

IRC contributed to the revision of the drafts and was part of the steering committee that was consulted on the framework. Finalisation, printing, and dissemination of the O&M framework was supported directly by IRC. The development of the guidelines for the ASP and Water Supply Services Boards (WSSB) has been compiled with direct inputs from IRC. The Water Supply Services Boards are modelled on IRC’s Sub County Water Supply and Sanitation Boards.

IRC supported the Infrastructure, Operations, and Maintenance Unit of the Ministry of Water and Environment on learning journeys to Kabarole, to Rwenzori and to Ethiopia to benchmark the O&M approaches during the formulation of the National O&M Framework.

IRC has basically been one of the distributers of the framework in Kabarole. So, the role is not only influencing national policy but then also bringing it back to the district level. This is a great example of IRC’s Theory of Change and hub role of moving flexibly and connecting multiple levels.

This article has been reviewed by Jane Nabunnya Mulumba, Martin Watsisi, Naomi Kabarungi and Angela Huston and edited by Tettje van Daalen