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RWSN working group assesses management models for small towns and rural piped schemes during first meeting

Published on: 24/10/2012

The Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) working group on management support for rural water supplies convened in The Hague, The Netherlands on 2 to 3 October 2012, for their first thematic meeting on piped schemes. Objectives for the two days included compiling an initial set of conclusions and recommendations for appropriate and effective management and support models for sustainable rural small town systems; and agreeing on the management structure and activities for the working group as a way forward. 

The Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) working group on management support for rural water supplies convened in The Hague, The Netherlands on 2 to 3 October 2012, for their first thematic meeting on piped schemes. Objectives for the two days included compiling an initial set of conclusions and recommendations for appropriate and effective management and support models for sustainable rural small town systems; and agreeing on the management structure and activities for the working group as a way forward.

Management of small town and rural piped schemes

The RWSN working group acknowledged four broad types of management models for piped schemes, and gave presentations on the following: municipal management, community management, private management (with private ownership), and self supply. The group understood that no ‘one-size-fits-all management model’ exists for the rural water sector. However, when it comes to ensuring sustainable service delivery, the focus should be on improving the management model rather than replacing the existing model and replicating it with another. Due to contextual and technological variations between management models, the group also recognised the importance of differentiating the management of small town and rural piped schemes from point sources. Functions, roles, and responsibilities within management models also need clarification, while regulation needs appropriate enforcement. Four outstanding issues, which need further investigation by the group, were identified:

  • What is the optimal scale for different management models? What is the potential of applying a service area approach?
  • Are public-private partnerships (PPPs) the future for small towns?
  • How can Capital Maintenance Expenditure (CapManEx) be financed?
  • Does providing a higher level of service (e.g. through household connections) contribute to more sustainable services?

Support to management of small town and rural piped schemes

The RWSN working group also analysed how small town and rural piped schemes are managed—recognising that differences exist between management models for small town and rural piped schemes. The working group observed a sector-wide trend wherein water actors are moving from the term ‘post-construction support’ towards ‘direct support to service providers’. Based on findings from research studies, the working group shared that direct support and institutional support were often lumped together—making it difficult to gauge whether direct support was appropriately budgeted for. The widespread lack of funding for adequate support is a critical threat to sustainability of water systems. Based on presentation given by Stef Smits from IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre during the meeting,  +/- US$ 1 per capita per year was being spent on giving service providers direct support; for instance in monitoring, technical advice, as well as administrative, organisational or legal support. The small amount of money currently being spent needs to increase to $US 2 to 3 per capita per year. Even though this amount is not cheap, it is essential for supporting a higher level of performance by service providers and achieving impact.

Common challenges, opportunities, and factors for success

Despite management models varying between contexts and technologies, several common challenges, opportunities, and factors for success emerged. The RWSN working group listed the following as significant issues to address:

  • Scaling up and going beyond the pilot phase;
  • Managing economies of scale and applying a service management approach;
  • Applying subsidies efficiently; and
  • Addressing the lack of political will to finance support.

In order to overcome these challenges the RWSN working group recognises the need for sufficient funding for support to service providers, adequate monitoring, and monitoring costs included in tariffs.

The RWSN working group focuses on finding ways to improve management models for rural water supply and support to service providers. Group members consist of representatives from RWSN, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, Aguaconsult, PS-Eau, SNV, Care Madagascar, University of South Florida, and more. Julia Boulenouar, of Aguaconsult, explained that ‘the first thematic group meeting was a general discussion and learning session on piped systems. The next steps for the group will focus on identifying how to structure the group and interact as a geographically dispersed representation of organisations across the globe.’ The RWSN working group aims to lead a series of online and face-to-face discussions to further understand the key issues and to reach a consensus on good practices for management and support models for rural water supply. The working group will also produce a ‘how to’ guide and toolbox, and lectures to guide water sector actors and advocate towards governments, donors, and other organisations for improvements in management and support for rural water services.

For more information, please contact Julia Boulenouar at J.Boulenouar@aguaconsult.co.uk

24 October 2012