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Published on: 06/03/2014

'Self-supply' takes place when people dig their own wells or construct water harvesting systems at household level. These self-motivated efforts are life-sustaining for families and for neighbours and make a massive contribution to the pattern of local water services.

Ethiopia, Petterik Wiggers, Panos PicturesNothing is more demand-driven than what people choose to do for themselves.

Self-supply develops where water services are poor or non-existent as families seek to reduce the time it takes to fetch water and increase the amount available for household use and livelihoods.  It brings the convenience of a household supply at low cost; one that is sustained because Self-supply means commitment as well as investment.

In a world where governments and donors struggle to meet their obligations, this vital piece of the jigsaw adds value to investments and delivers low-cost gains in coverage.

Without people’s own efforts, promises are not being kept. The Millennium Development Goal promises fall due in 2015 but the target in Africa will not be met before 2040. The human right to water has not been delivered in rural areas. The post-MDG era requires new initiatives and fresh thinking. The emphasis will be on innovation, services and sustainability to make best use of scarce resources.

Self-supply also fills gaps in water supply in urban and peri-urban areas, providing access until it is possible to affordably extend reliable piped supplies.

Currently, governments and donors overlook the contribution people make to provision – usually without subsidy, support or even encouragement.  Yet this is an area where small-scale investments at household level yield large results.

In Zimbabwe, every $ 1 invested in subsidies to improve family wells triggered a $ 4 investment from the families themselves.

Self-supply generates income for those who make a living by digging wells and constructing rainwater harvesting systems. It contributes to livelihoods for families who develop market gardens and small livestock businesses.  With encouragement and support, the organic growth in self-supply can be greatly expanded, especially in remote areas with scattered populations that public services don’t reach.

Governments and donors hesitate to promote self-supply for fear of diverting investment from communal supplies and because of concern about poor quality water. But these are additional reasons to get involved. Local government has a vital role in developing guidelines and training so that safe self-supply coexists with community water. Families can take small scale steps to protect wells and improve pumps. Donor and government involvement can drive up standards.

Supporting self-supply harnesses people’s own family priorities and unlocks small-scale household investments that together can outstrip contributions of governments and donors.  It is part of the future for successful water services. It should be supported.

IRC works with the Rural Water Supply Network and other partners to improve self-supply alongside other water service delivery models such as piped water and communally managed handpumps.

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