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A sustainability assessment tool for rural water services

Published on: 06/03/2013

Ryan Schweitzer and James Mihelcic from the University of South Florida have developed a Sustainability Assessment Tool for community-managed rural water systems [1]. The tool is novel because it focuses specifically on community management during the post construction phase. It can be used to characterize specific needs of rural communities in the management of their water systems, and identify weaknesses in training regimes or support mechanisms.

The tool examines eight indicators: activity level, participation, governance, tariff payment, accounting transparency, financial durability, repair service, and system function. For each indicator there are one or more measures (15 in total) and a target defining three categories of sustainability -unlikely, possible and likely – see the example below:

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Schweitzer and Mihelcic tested the tool for a sample of 61 rural communities in the Dominican Republic, which were served by gravity-fed/or motor-assisted water systems. Twenty-three percent of systems were likely to sustainable, 59% were possibly sustainable, while for 18% sustainability was unlikely.

Communities that were visited more often by supporting agencies experienced better community participation and financial durability. Systems that had more transparent accounting had higher compliance with the monthly tariff payments. However, as a water system aged, this transparency decreased which may be a result of the number of active individuals participating with the water committee in the community. System age was also strongly correlated to the scores for the sustainability indicators.

The authors conclude that their findings show how important long-term involvement by outside groups is for the success of community-managed systems. This has consequences for budgets as long-term costs may be higher than previously assumed if they want systems to keep working.

[1] Schweitzer, R.W. and Mihelcic, J.R., 2012. Assessing sustainability of community management of rural water systems in the developing world. Journal of water, sanitation and hygiene for development, 2 (1), pp. 20–30. (link below)

Ryan Schweitzer
 

For more information contact:

Ryan W. Schweitzer, Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of South Florida, USA, E-mail: rschweit@mail.usf.edu. Ryan is also a WASHCost Research Associate

See also: Schweitzer, R., 2009, Community managed rural water supply systems in the Dominican Republic: assessment of sustainability of systems built by the National Institute of Potable Water and Peace Corps, Dominican Republic. MSc Thesis. Houghton, Michigan, Michigan Technological University, USA. (Available below).