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Sad stats: failure of water & sanitation projects

By Susan Davis, Executive Director, Improve International

[Note: Please visit this page for more up-to-date information on water point failure statistics and this page for sanitation failure statistics.]

Failed water point near Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. We were told the borehole collapsed (credit Susan Davis, July 2012)

I’ve been compiling these statistics to show that failure rates for water systems, latrines, and hygiene behaviors are still high after decades of intervention.

  • Sierra Leone: A comprehensive water point mapping exercise in 2012 showed the rate of damage of public water points is high and rises rapidly with point age. Among points built in 2007, 31% are impaired, and 17% are broken down. Furthermore, up to 40% of protected in-use points providing insufficient water during the dry season. (Sierra Leone Ministry of Water Resources, 2012)
  • Swaziland: A pilot water point mapping effort in 8 Tinkhundlas (sub-districts) beginning Nov 2010 showed that out of 2689 water points, 58.6% are functional, 11.5% are partially functional, and 29.9% are non-functional. (Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland Ministry of Natural Resources & Energy, Department of Water Affairs, Water & Sanitation Point Mapping Pilot Project Report 2012)
  • Ghana: In three districts (East Gonja, Akatsi, Sunyani West), more than 30% of the surveyed infrastructure was not functional, and as little as 2% was providing the basic level of service for which it was intended (Marieke Adank, IRC, 2012).
  • Tanzania: One in four public kiosks were not functional at the time of an interview of 324 residents of Dar es Salaam (Listening to Dar, 2012)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: It has been estimated that between 20% and 70% of installed handpumps are not functioning – see Figure 1. (RWSN)

    A sunken latrine in western Kenya

  • Liberia: Of about 7000 improved water points in rural areas, 60% are fully functional, 29% are broken down, and 10.7% are working but have problems (Liberia WASH Consortium, 2011).
  • Africa: RWSN estimates that only two out of three handpumps are working at any time. (RWSN 2010)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: Approximately 50,000 rural water points are broken (Skinner, 2009)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: Figures collated by the Rural Water Supply Network in 2007 indicate an average rate of 36% non-functionality for hand pumps across 21 countries. This level of failure represents a total investment of between $1.2 and $1.5 billion in the last 20 years. (Triple-S, 2009)
  • Ghana: In a study in rural areas, 60% of new latrines (0-2 years) are being used (Rodgers, 2007).
  • Haiti: In Port-de-Paix there were no functioning public water sources in the city and 14 of 19 different sites throughout the city that investigators tested for water quality were bacterially contaminated (Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, 2007).
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: In a study of 11 countries, a range of 35-80% (depending on the country) of rural water systems were identified as functional (Sutton, 2004. Preliminary Desk Study of Potential for Self Supply. UK SC: WaterAid and the Rural Water Supply Network.)
  • Malawi: In 1997, a survey almost 900 tapstands found that less than 50% of the them were supplying water. This indicated a significant decline since the early 1980s when surveys showed over 90% functioning. (Kleemeier, 2000)

Handpump failures in sub-Saharan Africa (data source: RWSN)

In a survey of 23 EC-funded projects in six sub-Saharan countries (European Court of Auditors, 2012):

  • Overall, equipment was installed as planned and was in working order.
  • However, fewer than half of the projects examined delivered results meeting the beneficiaries’ needs.
  • While the projects examined promoted the use of standard technology and locally available materials: they were sustainable in technical terms, for a majority of projects, results and benefits will not continue to flow in the medium and long term unless non-tariff revenue is ensured; or because of institutional weaknesses (weak capacity by operators to run the equipment installed).

In Tanzania (WaterAid 2009):

  • 54% of 65,000 water points nationwide are operational; 75% of points that are only two years old.
  • Nearly half (46%) of public improved water points in rural areas are not functioning.
  • Almost half of all investment in rural water supply is effectively wasted.
  • Up to 7.5 million rural Tanzanians lack access to clean and safe water due to functionality problems.

In Pakistan (Asian Development Bank Independent Evaluation Group, 2009), an independent study of ADB’s assistance to rural water supply in the Punjab Province identified, among others, these major concerns:

  • 20% of the subprojects are nonfunctional
  • only 43% of community based organizations (CBOs) responsible for subprojects are functional and CBO capacity remains weak

10 Responses

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  3. Addise Amado Dube

    Yes, the statistics from different countries and regions might show the reality. I have also read the EC Auditors report.If the stat make sense ,then what is the explanation behind those numbers? My 8 years experience from field reality and my knowledge from Water and Envioronmental Management studies reminds me that:
    One of the issues to the failure/unsustainabilty is related to the quality of the construction-be it a handpump or a spring, gravity system or you name it.Unless quality of the construction is ensured,collapse and short scheme live continues.Who is responsible? Any entity accountable for the construction-government,private contractors,NGOs…
    The second problem is related to empowerment and capacity building.User communities are not equipped in the OM of schemes and scheme management in most cases.Budget allocation for such vital tasks is also too tight.
    Low local government capacity is another challenge in decenteralized administrative structures like in Ethiopia where Debre Zeit is mentioned.Water and Sanitation departments are not well equipped to support rural communites.
    And there is slow human behaviour change as a bottleneck where users are not willing and ‘able’ to pay sufficient fees for OM and spare parts.The commodity/economic value of water is not yet fully recognized by rural communities.It requires continues WASH education programs to change the mind-set of users who assume that water is ‘free’.
    There are other issues as well but the above are some of the basic highlights.
    A constructive debate is critical to correct some of these challenges instead of manipulating the numbers/stat.

    Addise Amado
    Loughborough University/WEDC.

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  7. Frederic David, wash consultant

    Thanks Addise for this comment, I completely agree with you. It would be interesting that these issues would be analysed from the different reports and highlighted in this website.

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