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Published on: 19/08/2014


This practice brief draws key lessons from two approaches in Operation and Maintenance (O&M) of rural water facilities. It provides information and lessons that will enable Sub-county Water Supply and Sanitation Boards (SWSSBs) in Lira and Kabarole to revisit on their modalities of operations. Feedback from subsequent reflections in the two districts will ultimately inform the SWSSB Handbook. 

Olio Sub- county Water Source Committee Treasurers’ Association (WSCTA)

Olio Sub county Association of Water and Sanitation Committee (WSC) treasurers (in Serere District) is one of the successful innovations for community based operation and maintenance of rural water supply facilities. The association is community driven and mobilises O&M contributions from all WSCs to a central pool at the Sub-county for safe custody. This central pool acts as a savings and credit facility where WSCs access funds for repair of broken systems. The water users affiliated to different WSCs can also access loans to finance their livelihood activities. Functionality of water sources in Olio has increased to 95% and Serere as a District has one of the highest functionality rates in the country at 93%. The number of WSCs subscribing to the association has also increased from 48 in 2006 to 86 to date.

Sub-county Water Supply and Sanitation Boards

SWSSB is an alternative management arrangement (model) for the O&M of Rural Water Supply Facilities. The District Local Governments of Lira and Kabarole are currently testing the board model in collaboration with IRC-Triple-S Project. SWSSB is the overall O&M manager of Rural Water facilities and is appointed by the Sub-county Water Authority (SWA) or the Sub-county Council to provide management service on behalf of the Authority. Kabarole and Lira district local governments each initiated SWSSBs in eight pilot sub counties and to-date, the respective local governments have been able to scale up to additional four SWSSBs. There is already good will and buy in from Technical Support Units and Umbrella organizations for Northern and Mid Western Uganda as they directly offer technical support to the boards.

While it may be too early to attribute the increase in functionality from 73% to 74% in Lira and 80% to 82% in Kabarole, SWSSBs have contributed to increased participation of water users in O&M activities. The collections of SWSSBs in Lira increased by 30% between March and May 2014 as the number of WSCs subscribing to the board increased also by about 30% in the same period. In Kabarole, Kichwamba Sub-county, 40% of WSCs/Tap stands now subscribe to the SWSSB and remit up to 60% of the O&M funds to the board at the end of every month.

Olio Water Source Committee Treasurers’  Association

Sub-county Water Supply and Sanitation Boards 

  Observations and Recommendations 

Community driven-bottom-top approach; membership is composed of treasurers of WSCs who compose the Annual General Meeting (AGM)

Sub-county led-technical and political teams currently act as interim committees managing rural water systems on behalf of the WSCs

  • Increase WSC participation in the SWSSBs. District Local Governments  (DLGs) of Lira and Kabarole in liaison with pilot SWSSBS should develop a strategy that will accelerate awareness while paying special attention to active engagements with WSCs
  • Massive and continuous mobilisation of WSCs is a key success factor in Olio Water Source Committee’s Treasurer’s Association (WSCTA)

All O&M funds pooled to the central account at the sub-county

Currently percentage of funds remain at the WSCs for minor repairs e.g. in Lira SWSSB for boreholes 40% is remitted to the SWSSB while 60% remains at the WSCs

  • Under SWSSBs, it is best that all O&M funds be centrally managed by the board. The implication is that SWSSBs like the Olio WSCTA, will take full charge of management of water supply systems on behalf of the WSCs
  • Central management is a spring board to professionalization of community based management as well as accountability and transparency. 

Registration of WSC and membership fees is critical in ensuring sense of ownership

SWSSBs have no registration and membership fees

  • Interest accruing from the registration and membership fees could be operational income for the Associations/Boards
  • SWSSBs could consider registration and membership arrangement

Village Savings and Loan Scheme (VSLS) are deeply rooted in Olio WSCTA. 

  • The savings and credit facility is not established in SWSSBs. Boards heavily rely on O&M contributions by WSCs which are coming in very slowly because of inadequate mobilisation
  • The savings and credit facility is a very strong driving factor in Olio TA. Besides providing livelihood opportunities, it also facilitates more accountability and transparency in all transactions of the association since quite large amounts of WSC funds are agglomerated
  • Seeking collaborative arrangements or partnerships with organizations specialised in microfinance services like BRAC and CARE could result is successful integration of VSLS in O&M of rural water facilities.
  • A study of various VSLS’ as applied in different sectors could enrich its’ application on the O&M of rural water facilities. 

Governance; Commitment of the Leadership of Olio WSCTA was evident in their high level of voluntarism

  • Although voluntarism still exists in most parts of the country, experience from the North shows that it is slowly becoming unpopular in community-based management of rural water facilities.
  • Some of the SWSSBs are still harbouring high expectations in terms of handouts, start up capital, etc.  and this explains the various levels of progress is adoption of the model 
  • While voluntarism works very well in some communities, there is need for deliberate effort to cater for the executives/managers of the association or boards to retain their commitment.
  • Accountability and transparency is a prerequisite for successful SWSSBs. To achieve this, attention should be given to governance-inclusive participation/citizen engagement, as is the case in Olio. 


As compared to Olio WSCTA, the SWSSBs seem universal in the sector and already fitting in well with the sub-county level structures. Picking elements of the treasurers association like the VSLS and governance approach will yield into an effective O&M system under the SWSSB.

Development, testing and promoting of SWSSBs is more dependent on the context and prevailing (enabling) factors like existence of VSLS within and across communities. For the proposed Australian Development Agency (ADA) districts in Northern Uganda (Lira, Alebtong, Pader, Kitgum), and from the field verification visits, there is potential for introducing SWSSBs. In the recent Northern Regional Learning Forum, TSU2 has prioritized SWSSBs as a best operational practice to scalable across the TSU.

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