By Susan Davis, Executive Director
I received the June 2017 newsletter from Waterlines, a medium sized non-profit that provides technical expertise and funding for water projects in developing countries. It was exceptional for two reasons: their commitment to following up after water points have been built, and their plans to “sunset” (close down) the organization in 2019.
Follow-up: Right after mentioning how many projects were funded this year, they say that volunteers and in-country facilitators have checked on the functioning of 63 previously completed water systems. In Panama, a volunteer noted a dilemma facing many villages: “As the population grows, several communities are finding that the water systems built a few years ago no longer fulfill their needs. The question [for non-profits] arises how to rank the priority of an extension vs. a new project elsewhere, considering cost and number of people who benefit.” Their findings echo what we noticed in Honduras where the connection fees to existing water systems were prohibitively expensive for new residents, and perhaps should spark a broader conversation with local governments, communities, and financiers about how to deal with this issue. For example, Water1st helped a cooperative of community water committees in Honduras set up a revolving loan fund, which can be used for new water connections and repairs to older infrastructure, among other activities.
Sunsetting: Waterlines will continue at a normal pace this year, lower the number of projects in 2018, and check on the functioning of previously built systems in 2019. The main reason for sunsetting is to encourage communities and governments to “take even more responsibility” [for keeping water flowing, I assume]. They also plan to leave adequate funding with another non-profit for volunteers to visit projects for up to five more years post-sunset.
I think this is really interesting, especially because Waterlines is a relatively small organization (about $169,000 in revenue in 2016) but they have figured out an inexpensive way to follow up on their work. I hope that Waterlines will continue to share what they learn broadly with the sector as they check on the functioning of water systems.