LONDON (AlertNet) – What happened when families in a small community in northern Rwanda were given a choice: pay a small fee for an improved water source, or continue to get free water from local streams?
Even though they live on just $5 a month, they opted to pay the tariff. But this was not just about having cleaner, safer water. It also means girls and women no longer need to make a two-hour trek up and down a steep mountainside to fetch water, an arduous and dangerous task.
Last June, Mugomero village turned on a new water kiosk, and the locals pay approximately five (U.S.) cents for a 20-litre jug of water so the village’s water committee can maintain it.
This is just one example of the collaborative approach that Water for People, a non-profit enterprise, has been building up in the 10 countries where it works in Africa, Asia and Central and South America.
“It’s about reaching more people but reaching them with sustainable services,” Water for People's spokesman John Sauer told AlertNet in an interview.
“We don’t just want give them a borehole and then leave,” Sauer said.
Instead, Water for People partners with communities, governments and the private sector to enable people to manage and repair their water and sanitation systems without the help of international development agencies.
Cuchumuela, a village of 2,000 residents, became the first municipality in Bolivia to achieve 100 percent water coverage as part of a partnership between local government, communities and Water for People. Each of the communities is responsible for the financial management and maintenance of its fully metered water system.
Another successful example of this approach can be found in Chindas, Honduras, a municipality of 5,868 people, where every family, school and health clinic has got improved water access.
“This has created real momentum, with other districts wanting to replicate the model,” said Sauer.
Lasting solutions are also more likely to be achieved if everyone involved has a financial stake in the project, said Sauer.
“One of our main principles is that we ask everyone to become co-investors,” he explained. “We ask the governments what they’re going to put on the table in terms of financial resources. We ask everyone involved to develop long-term thinking about how they’re going to pay for this.”
But it is not just about the finances. Being sensitive to cultural and gender-specific issues has also gone a long way in building sustainable solutions.
In one of Water for People’s projects in West Bengal, India, girls have helped design a school bathroom, so that they do not have to walk past the teachers’ room each time they go, as this embarrasses them.
The local government continues to finance school maintenance, while parents also contribute and a children-led committee is in charge of hygiene education and ensuring other children use the facilities appropriately.
This approach is now replicated by other district governments and promoted nationally.
“It means these districts and communities never again have to wait for an international development agency to come and give them money,” said Sauer.
Many water and sanitation initiatives do not do any post-project monitoring and roughly 30 percent fail, Sauer said.
“We have an obligation to stop that. That’s not acceptable,” he said, adding that Water for People monitors outcomes for at least 10 years.
Using mobile phones, Water for People’s staff and partners collected more than 23,000 surveys last year measuring water, sanitation and hygiene indicators to understand what is and what is not working.
Such detailed monitoring also helps to fight corruption, which is estimated to siphon billions of dollars from water infrastructure projects every year.
“The best way to mitigate against corruption is to monitor every year and show results over time, and to work in partnership,” said Sauer.
Why water cooperation matters? - A package of stories, blogs and videos curated by AlertNet