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WEDC Conference Presentation: Future Proofing Rural Water Systems

By Susan Davis, Executive Director

I gave this talk today at the Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) International Conference:

Good afternoon, I’m Susan Davis from Improve International and I like water.  My water comes to my house every day, all day, and I know it won’t make me sick. Unfortunately, millions of people who thought they had improved water access don’t know the water will come every day, and they don’t know whether it is safe.  Today, I want to talk to you about Future Proofing Rural Water Systems.

All of you here are probably aware of the high rates of failure and poor functionality of water points in developing countries. These snapshots tell us whether water was flowing or not on the day a water point was visited, but they don’t tell us about some other critical aspects of service – like quality, quantity, reliability, and accessibility.

Beyond Functionality

This chart shows an example of service levels in three districts in Ghana measured by Adank et al.

Service levels in three districts in Ghana ( adapted from Adank et al, 2012)

Service levels in three districts in Ghana (adapted from Adank et al, 2012)

You can see that very few of the water systems provide even a basic service level (represented by the bars at the bottom).

Beyond the Project

Community managed water points provide services to around 200 million people in rural Africa alone.  Many of these community water committees do their best, but everything breaks at some point. And often community managers need help.

Some examples of approaches of post-construction support to these community service providers include:

  • Circuit riders
  • Training and organizing area mechanics
  • Supporting supply chains for spare parts
  • Assisting local governments with monitoring and water quality testing
  • Supporting professionalization of community water committees
  • Helping create associations of community water committees
  • Installing smart pumps that can alert mechanics
  • Insurance services to pay for spare parts and repairs

Evidence That Post-Construction Support Works

There is evidence that different types of post construction support can improve water services or water governance.

A study in El Salvador (Kayser, G. L. et al, 2014)  compared communities with circuit riders to those without. The communities with circuit riders had, among other results:

  • Significantly lower water contamination
  • Better disinfection rates
  • Higher water fee payment rates
Summary of Results of Kayser Circuit Rider Study

Summary of Results of Kayser Circuit Rider Study

Circuit Rider programs cost less than 1 USD per household per year in El Salvador. Other findings suggest that effective post construction support costs from 1 to 3 USD per water user per year (McIntyre and Smits, 2015). This is still inexpensive compared to failure.

In Tanzania, a study of Msabi water points with insurance schemes showed better functionality than water points without insurance and much better functionality than government water points (Holbro, N. et al, 2015. Sustainability of the MSABI Tanzanian Water Point Model 6-years on).

In rural Kenya, a maintenance service model that used mobile-enabled data led to (DFID, 2014):

  • A ten-fold reduction in handpump downtime
  • A shift to 98% of handpumps functioning

And in Ghana, community-based service providers that regularly received monitoring visits had higher scores on some key performance indicators (McIntyre and Smits, 2015).

This chart shows data from an IRC study of handpumps in rural areas in Ghana. It shows that reliability (the bottom bar) is greatly enhanced when preventive maintenance is executed (as shown in the stack on the right).

Handpumps are more reliable when preventive maintenance is performed (Atengdem, Gyamfi, & Shahadu, 2013)

Handpumps are more reliable when preventive maintenance is performed (Atengdem, Gyamfi, & Shahadu, 2013)

If done well, external post construction activities wouldn’t need to go on forever, but would be a bridge to sustained, locally-led services. The ultimate goal of post-construction support is to future proof sustainable water services for people in developing countries.

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