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Water boards to bolster community-based model

Published on: 19/08/2012

Under pressure to improve water services, Lira sub-county considers establishing a local water and sanitation board to address issues around maintenance, fee collection and administration.

Fred Omollo is feeding back the results of his work to identify and map community water points in Lira sub-county where he is currently the only hand pump mechanic working. His association, the Lira (District) Hand Pump Mechanics Association, is being supported by the Lira District Water Office and Triple-S to compile a record of all water points and to improve their functionality. 

As well as fixing identification labels to pumps and taps, Omollo has been talking to people in this northern Uganda sub-county about their services. “The collection of the fee for maintenance is very, very low,” he says. “You may find that the person who is given the responsibility to collect it does not show accountability, so people are not paying the fee. When you sit down and discuss it, maybe then they begin to collect the fee.”

Finding people to discuss it with is not easy in the rainy season; the streams are full, so fewer people are going to the pumps, and rural people want to be with their crops. “The challenge is that not many people attend the meeting, as people are in their gardens. The few I get, I am talking to.”

James Acela, chairperson of the Lira Sub-county Coordination Committee: "We know very well that most of the water points we have are not functioning. It [the Water Board] will go a long way in making sure that the people are served adequately.”

 

Fred Omollo makes a report to the Lira Sub-county Coordination Committee under the watchful eye of the chairperson James Acela. In this sub-county of 30,000 people, rapid population growth is putting pressure on resources. Earlier in the day, Acela had received a request from Lira senior secondary school for an additional water point. He says they need to develop more services and maintain the existing ones better. Acela asks staff and councillors to come up with the name of someone “capable and willing to work without supervision” to be trained as a second hand pump mechanic.

Lira first introduced a Coordinating Committee at the higher district level, to end a chaotic situation following the period of emergency when civil society organisations (CSOs) and NGOs were competing to put money into northern Uganda. Assistant District Water Officer Jimmy Otim says the committee has harmonised work in the district. “The problem was that most of the NGOs used to do their work independently and even the political leaders did not know everything that needs to be done for a facility like water. This has helped to ensure that everyone is following the procedures and guidelines the government has set.” To build on this success, in 2011 Lira resolved to create coordination committees in every sub-county.

Robert Otim, Triple-S Learning Faciliator for Lira District: The sub-county water board is an idea to professionalise water services. The board will become a service provider composed of all the water user committees that will now contribute to a central account at the sub-county level.

 

Water board would ‘professionalise services’

Present at the Lira sub-county meeting are the Assistant Water Officer, extension workers, parish councillors, NGO representatives and Robert Otim, Triple-S Learning Facilitator for Lira District.

Members reflect on how to connect better with the community. Extension worker Gwenomol Tonny wants to collect data on which families use which water points. “We need to build a comprehensive database for each of the water sources on the names of the water users so that we are able to track those who are not willing to make a contribution to the maintenance of the water point and where are they fetching water from.”

Milly Akullu, the sub-county health assistant, is in favour of more community education so that faults can be quickly reported and repaired. Triple-S is supporting an initiative for parish chiefs to be trained as community transparency and accountability facilitators – change agents – to ensure that communities understand the need to look after their water points.

Many water point committees lack the capacity to collect and look after the money that is supposed to pay for maintenance and repairs at each well and tap. Two parishes in Lira sub-county have opened accounts to pool the money and administer it on their behalf. Now there is a proposal to establish a Lira Sub-county Water and Sanitation Board that would work with the user committees and the Hand Pump Mechanics Association (HPMA) to manage water services more actively.

Milly Akullu, health assistant Lira sub-county, speaks at the coordinating committee

 

Jimmy Otim, the District Water Officer, says that the board should be supervised by the coordinating committee, with representatives from village water point committees. “We think the idea is a good one so that the functionality of our facilities will increase. We will have a central pool of money and this board will be in charge of repairing boreholes.”

Robert Otim, Triple-S Learning Coordinator, says that a well-run board would strengthen local ownership and attract funding. “The sub-county water board is an idea to professionalise water services. The board will become a service provider composed of all the water user committees that will now contribute to a central account at the sub-county level.  There is a proposal at the Ministry that if these water boards are fully functional, and pays for all these services, the conditional grant funds that are currently channelled to the district, could be channelled to this water board. The challenge is with us to see that it works.”

Members are attracted by the idea of a board with a clear mandate, especially if it attracts funding. Milly Akullu agrees to call a special meeting to discuss how a board can be set up. 

Closing the meeting, chairman Acela says: “I like the idea for us to have a water board which I am sure will enhance our capacity to improve the functionality of water points. We know very well that most of the water points we have are not functioning. It will go a long way in making sure that the people are served adequately.” 

Peter McIntyre