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Six Factors for Improving Rural Water Services in Central America

By Susan Davis, Executive Director, Improve International

Source: GWI, 2014. Six Factors for Improving Water Services in Central America

Source: GWI, 2014. Six Factors for Improving Water Services in Central America

Last year I worked with Paul Hicks and Adan Pocosangre of CRS to develop a brief providing analysis and recommendations for improving the quality of water services in Central America, based on the work of the Global Water Initiative (GWI)* in Central America from 2007 to 2012. The brief was recently published. Below is an excerpt from the executive summary. Find the full brief here.

Six Factors for Improving Water Services

  1. Water user associations that are part of a network of water service providers have a better chance of contributing to sustainable services.
  2. Water system technicians (administrators and maintenance people) need ongoing professional training and access to a network for technical support.
  3. Cost recovery is critical for sustainable water services and the vast majority of water users in Central America can afford to pay for it.
  4. Meters are an essential tool for water service providers.
  5. Sustainable water services require the protection and restoration of water sources, including the watersheds and recharge areas around them.
  6. The biggest driver of sustainable water services is empowered citizens.


Based on the collective experience of the GWI partners in Central America, we make the following recommendations to national governments, donors, and the development community:

  • Regular monitoring of water services is critical. The initiative to design and build a common monitoring system in the region (SIASAR**) is an important step forward.
  • Coordination between governments, donors, and NGOs in improving water services is most cost efficient and makes long-term maintenance easier when it happens from the start. Ideally, this coordination is led by the national governments.
  • Consider shifting the role of NGOs from merely building infrastructure under the old model to promoting and supporting water governance led by local, empowered communities.
  • Shift direct investments away from rehabilitation and replacement of infrastructure to supporting the administration, operation and maintenance of water systems and services.
  • Promote and support networking between community water associations to strengthen the capacity and resilience of local and small municipal water service providers.
  • Water users must pay the real cost of operating, maintaining, and upgrading water services. Subsidies should be used to help the poorest families cover costs and to leverage financing for upgrading small and medium water systems.
  • Water meters, which should be installed at households in all piped water systems, should be used to monitor consumption and calculate payments. Metering contributes to more equitable services: better services that are affordable for the poorest segments of communities.

* Global Water Initiative is supported by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
** Sistema de Informacion de Agua y Saneamiento Rural (Rural Water and Sanitation Information System)

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