Case Study

Community Models for Sustaining Rural Water

Harold Lockwood
Publication Year:
April 30, 2020
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation

This comparative study is based on the premise that each maintenance model represents a sub-system of the broader water supply system and is constituted by a set of factors and actors, in a process of constant and dynamic interaction.


Introduction and Background

As rural water supply coverage rates rise across many countries, attention is increasingly being paid to finding and implementing cost-effective mechanisms to ensure this improved initial access is sustained over time. Although there are insufficient large-scale quantitative insights into either the magnitude or the nature of the problem of poor performance of rural water schemes, non-functionality figures of between 30 and 40 percent are often cited and have been consistently reconfirmed in various studies over the last decade and more (Baumann, 2009; Lockwood et al., 2003; Sutton, 2005; RWSN, 2009; Lockwood and Smits, 2011; W orld Bank, 2017. a). These figures refer particularly to hand pumps in sub - Saharan Africa. In Tanzania, 40 percent of water points were reportedly non-functional as of 2016 (World Bank, 2017.b), with similar findings from Ghana (Adank et al., 2013). Country-specific experience also reveals important systems failure in piped systems. In Vietnam, for example, an estimated 25 percent of rural piped systems are not functioning or poorly functioning (World Bank, 2016. a).

Conventional approaches to maintenance have largely been based on voluntary community-based management (CBM) with communities taking on the burden of maintenance themselves, with limited, if any, support from external agencies or local government. This CBM model has struggled to ensure that rural water supply infrastructure is adequately maintained, with “fix on failure” becoming the default approach in most cases. This has resulted in lengthy downtimes, the incursion of unnecessary costs, and, ultimately, failure to attain the full impacts and desired improvements that access to reliable sources of water can bring. For example, a recent study from Ethiopia indicates that 26 percent of rural households using improved water sources as their main water point experience less than 6 hours per day of service (Tincani et al., 2015).

While some countries are moving toward replacing CBM models with alternatives that are more common in urban areas (i.e., private or public utility solutions based on concessionary contracts for service provision), in most countries CBM will remain an important, if not predominant, approach. Even in relatively advanced countries, CBM will continue to be part of the rural water service provision landscape, given the challenges of managing large numbers of small, dispersed water supply schemes and the fragmented institutional nature of the rural water sub-sector. Recently, there have been attempts to professionalize CBM through adopting a systems-based approach. A key component of this has been the development of new approaches for improving maintenance services, some of which now operate at a considerable level of scale and include different forms of innovation in technology adoption, contracting, and financing. This report documents key findings, emerging trends, and recommendations from an in- depth study of seven case studies of approaches to maintenance for CBM across four countries.

IRC Ethiopia commissioned this study as part of its work under the USAID-funded Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS). The purpose of the study is to provide information and lessons to inform ongoing innovations in maintenance models by learning alliances working with IRC in Ethiopia.

These learning alliances focus on strengthening or innovating within the existing institutional arrangements for maintenance and augmenting ongoing pilots. This final report builds on an inception report that was informed by a desk-based review of 22 maintenance service provision (MSP) models for CBM across 17 countries. The case studies included in this assessment are as follows:

  1. Government-led kebele water technicians (Tigray region, Ethiopia)
  2. Private local service providers (SN V , Tigray region, Ethiopia)
  3. W ahis Mai program (Relief Society for Tigra y and Charity: W ater , Tigra y region, Ethiopia)
  4. Hand Pump Mechanics Association (Kabarole District, Uganda)
  5. Water for Good circuit rider program (Central African Republic)
  6. Whave Preventive Maintenance Service Area Provider model (Kumi, Kamuli, and Nakaseke districts, Uganda)
  7. FundiFix guaranteed maintenance service model (Kwale and Kitui Counties, Kenya)

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