Skip to main content

Published on: 27/05/2013

Why is it important to sustainable WASH services delivery?

Community-based management has long been established as the principal service delivery model for providing water to rural populations in developing countries. But this model has limitations: voluntary water committees which are responsible for maintaining water systems may not always be recognised under local government by-laws or national legislation and policy. This informal legal position may leave water committees unable to operate effectively; for example, by not being able to access credit, bank loans or to legally contract support services. The capacity of volunteer committees to run and manage water systems can be greatly eroded by lack of continuity, as trained volunteers resign, leave the area, forget their initial training or no longer have time or willingness to undertake management on a voluntary basis. Inadequate external monitoring and support lead to poor technical and financial management of water services, and ultimately to system breakdowns and service failure. 

Drivers of professionalisation

The transition of community-based management from basic village level operation and maintenance to more professionalised management is driven by a number of factors:

  • Increasing demand for higher levels of service, with more complex piped systems become more common;
  • Growth in larger rural settlements and small towns with demand for household connections and larger, more stable tariff bases;
  • Urbanisation and (re)migration and economic growth raising rural aspirations

These drivers may lead to community-based organisation to become more professionalised, by for example hiring paid-for staff, like operators or plumbers to do specific tasks. It also includes the application of good management by the community-based organisations.

Recommendations to increase professionalisation

These processes can be supported in several ways:

  • Clear institutional responsibilities and a separation of functions: A first step towards professionalizing water services lies in the clarification of institutional roles, responsibilities and functions between water committees and other actors
  • Direct support for community operators: Guidance, technical advice and oversight of community-based management entities to improve performance and provide continuous training
  • Strength through association: Community entities can professionalise and increase their capacity by working together in horizontal organizations such as associations of committees, based on the concept of mutual self-support
  • Contracting out specific functions: Legalised community entities can contract out specific functions such as accountancy services, complex technical tasks (mechanical pump repairs) or tariff collection
  • Improving accountability and regulation: Local authorities should have regulatory and oversight functions to check on performance of service providers


What IRC is doing about it?

IRC is involved in several projects and programmes that seek to set up more professional arrangements for management of rural and small-town water supplies in countries like India or Uganda. We do so by assessing the degree of professionalisation of current service provider arrangements and the potential, the costs and the benefits of more professional arrangements.

Back to
the top