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Utility managed rural water services

Published on: 18/10/2021

Rural Utility in Burkina Faso

new IRC Thematic Overview Paper discusses the different pathways under which the 'utilitisation' of rural water supply can take place. The factors that drive these processes, the strengths and weaknesses of the resulting models of utility-managed rural water supply, and possible areas for support.

Urban water services are generally provided by utilities. However, utilities are also increasingly providing water services in rural areas. Apologising for the ugliness of the made-up word, Franceys (2019) introduced the concept of ‘utilitisation’ to describe the introduction of utility-managed water supply in rural areas.

We are aware that this trend is not exclusive to low- and middle-income countries, with many high-income countries also having gone or still going through a process of increasing utility involvement in the management of water services in rural areas.

In the period 2015 to 2020, globally the proportion of people in rural areas using safely managed water services, with improved water supply on premises, available when needed and free from contamination, increased from 53% to 60%, while in urban areas it only increased from 85% to 86% (WHO/UNICEF, 2021).

Is the trend of increased utility-managed rural water supplies a positive one? What is driving this development? Is it mostly a controlled or an organic process? What are the factors that hinder or support scaling of utility-managed rural water supply? Are utilities contributing to improving rural water services? What are the challenges related to utility-managed water supply in rural areas? Are strong systems in place that enable utility-managed rural water supply? What can we (IRC and the sector as a whole) do in order to better understand this trend and to support and strengthen utility-managed rural water supply?

The objective of this Thematic Overview Paper is to provide answers to these questions by presenting a common conceptual framework and an overview of practical models and cases of utility-management in rural areas, the processes behind the emergence of these, the factors that drive these processes and the opportunities and challenges they bring. More specifically we:

  • provide an overview of the different forms of utility-managed water services in rural areas, the main trends in their development, and understand the processes that are driving these;
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of the different models of utility-managed rural water supply and the wider systems (enabling environment) in which they operate and develop; and,
  • define the areas of innovation and support that are needed to support such processes, both at the level of individual utilities, and at the level of the WASH system.

In doing so, the paper aims to catalyse critical reflection and discussion in the sector on models for utility-managed rural water supply and the processes that are driving the development and application of these models, and how these can be strengthened and supported, in order to move towards ensuring safely managed services for all.

Download the Thematic Overview Paper

For the full bibliographical information click on the resource link below.

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