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Post-construction support for water supplies

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Water resources

There is a large and growing body of evidence demonstrating that post-construction support (PCS) increases the success and sustainability of community-managed water systems. This is even true for those systems that are implemented according to all the currently recognized the best practices of the “demand-driven, community-managed model” (Whittington et al., 2009; Bakalian and Wakeman, 2009; David et al., 2008; WaterAid, 2001; Lockwood, 2002).


Rural water supply interventions have historically suffered from high rates of failure. By the 1990s a consensus developed that projects should: (1) be demand-driven; (2) be managed by a community water committee; (3) require partial recovery of capital costs; (4) require full recovery of operations and maintenance (O&M) costs; (5) ensure the availability of spare parts for purchase through local markets; and (6) include a larger role for women in decision-making. Applying this “demand-driven, community-managed” model to rural water projects has yielded substantial improvement in the success and sustainability of rural water supplies (Moriarty and Schouten, 2003; Lockwood, 2002; Kornives et al., 2009; Bartram, 1999). This success led many to the incorrect assumption that, if best practices were followed during implementation, PCS would be unnecessary (Whittington et al., 2009; Bakalian and Wakeman, 2009; David et al., 2008; WaterAid, 2001; Lockwood, 2002).

PCS is typically carried out through government programs, municipalities, multilateral donors, and various NGOs. Types of PCS include, but are not limited to:

  • Technical training for water system operators
  • Technical and engineering support, including provision of technical manuals
  • Financial and accounting assistance (e.g. setting tariffs)
  • Help settling disputes (e.g. bill payment or water sources)
  • Help with maintenance, repairs and finding spare parts
  • Help finding external funding for O&M, expansion or repairs
  • Help assessing the sufficiency of supply for expansion or in the case of drought
  • Household visits to residents to discuss water system use, etc. (Whittington et al., 2009).

PCS can be broadly categorized as either demand-driven (solicited) or supply driven (non-solicited). Although data are limited and newly emerging, there is some evidence that the success of these programs may depend on whether the decision to pursue PCS is initiated by the community (Whittington et al., 2009).

Preliminary findings indicate that large, non-solicited PCS or programs providing free repairs and free technical assistance do not lead to improved system sustainability or user-satisfaction (Whittington et al., 2009). This is consistent with the thinking behind the “demand-driven, community-managed” model, that requiring communities to take full responsibility for their systems will lead to improved performance. However, some non-solicited activities that help communities to renew or further develop their own capacities do show promise in improving system operation and user satisfaction. The activities that have shown greatest success in nonsolicited settings include:

  • non-technical financial and managerial training for committees or system operators and
  • non-technical support visits to help water committees with administrative functions and resolution of disputes (Whittington et al., 2009).

Water committees that received non-technical PCS were also reported to have more of a “small business” approach, prioritizing economic sustainability and collecting tariffs more frequently (Kornives et al., 2009). Reports on the efficacy of technical training programs for operators have reported success in some cases but not in others (Whittington et al., 2009; Bakalian and Wakeman, 2009; Holden, 1999; Howard et al., 2006). Systematic study of solicited PCS programs has not been reported due to experimental difficulties, including self-selection bias.

Advantages of the technology top

Piped water was the primary drinking water supply for fewer than 12% of rural residents in developing countries in 1990. By 2006, that percentage was over 21%, and it is projected to increase to greater than 28% by 2020 (WHO/UNICEF, 2010; WHO and DFID, 2010). Increasing the resilience of the growing number of rural, community-managed piped water supplies is one of the major challenges of climate change adaptation.

Community-managed water supplies are typically more vulnerable to extreme weather events and less able to assess water resource sustainability than utility-managed systems. PCS can empower community water committees and operators to access the financial, management and technical resources that enable utility-managed supplies to prepare for and adapt to adverse precipitation conditions.

Access to safe and sustainable water supply, particularly water in the home, is crucial to development. However, community managed systems frequently struggle to achieve safe and sustained supply. PCS can contribute to improving performance and sustainability.

Financial requirements and costs top

It is crucial that PCS programs have a reliable source of funding. These costs include salaries, office overhead, training costs, and a substantial transportation budget for field staff to travel to rural communities. Various financing models and case studies have been reported through a USAID-funded project (Lockwood, 2002).

Institutional and organisational requirements top

It is important that PCS programme personnel have a broad and holistic understanding of the issues impacting the success and sustainability of rural water supplies. Historically, many practitioners have fixated on solutions within their specific area of expertise (e.g. engineers identified poor technology or construction, economists identified poor tariff structures, etc.) and were often blind to the actual problem (Whittington et al., 2009). The scope of capacity building will vary widely, but training programs, manuals and, possibly, certifications may be necessary if PCS is to be implemented on a large scale.

Four basic PCS institutional models were identified during a multi-year USAID-funded study in Latin America. The definitions of all four are quoted directly from the source (Lockwood, 2002), which includes extensive discussion, case studies, and lessons learned from these models and hybrids combining aspects of more than one:

  • Centralized Model: where support services are provided by a government agency or ministry operating from a centralized point, directly engaging with community management structures in rural areas
  • Deconcentrated Model: under which support services are provided by a central government agency operating, with a degree of autonomy, through regional or departmental level offices
  • Devolution Model: where the authority and responsibility for provision of support services is transferred from a central government agency to a decentralized tier of government, usually at the municipal level
  • Delegated Model: where the responsibility for provision of support services is delegated from a central or local government agency to a third party, which could be an NGO, a private sector company or a relevant user association (Lockwood, 2002).

Regardless of the model, it is important that the roles and responsibilities among PCS staff are defined. More crucially, perhaps, it is imperative that community water committees understand clearly which operation, maintenance and administration tasks are the responsibility of the community. The respective roles of all stakeholders should be recorded and disseminated (Lockwood, 2002).

Barriers to implementation top

The effectiveness of PCS is well-documented, but not all stakeholders are aware of its importance. Incorporation of PCS into the best practices of the rural water sector, as was accomplished with the demand-driven, community-managed model, requires education of key stakeholders.

PCS is sometimes viewed as a waste of resources by organizations (e.g. NGOs, donors) that prefer projects with clearer metrics of success (e.g. provided 3000 people with clean water) that are easily quantified and show rapid return on investment. Likewise, politicians prefer unveiling new projects with ribbon-cutting ceremonies. The benefits of PCS are primarily medium-term to long-term and are often difficult to quantify.

References top

Thorough and insightful accounts of many PCS programs in Latin America were produced during a multi-year USAID-funded study. These are freely available online (pdf) and touch on many facets of PCS, with particular emphasis on institutional aspects (Lockwood, 2002). Extended case studies of a subset of these programs are also available (pdf, Fragano et al., 2001).

Bakalian, A. and Wakeman, W. (Eds.) (2009) Post-Construction Support and Sustainability in Community-Managed Rural Water Supply: Case Studies in Peru, Bolivia, and Ghana. World Bank—Netherlands Water Partnership.

Bartram, J. (1999) Effective monitoring of small drinking water supplies. In Providing Safe Drinking Water in Small Systems. Eds. J.A. Cotruvo, G.F. Craun and N. Hearne. Lewis Publishers. Washington, DC. pp. 353- 365.

Davis, J., Lukacs, H., Jeuland, M., Alvestegui, A., Soto, B., Lizarraga, B., Bakalian, A., and Wakeman, W. (2008) “Sustaining the benefits of rural water supply investments: Experience from Cochabamba and Chuquisaca, Bolivia.” Water Resources Research. Vol. 44:W12427.

Fragano, F., Linares, C., Lockwood, H., Rivera, D., Trevett, A., and Yepes, G. (2001) Case Studies on Decentralization of Water Supply and Sanitation Services in Latin America. Ed. By F. Rosensweig. Strategic Paper 1, Environmental Health Project, Office of Health, Infectious Diseases and Nutrition, Bureau of Global Health. United States Agency for International Development. Washington, DC.

Holden, R.M.L. (1999) Circuit rider training program in first nation communities. In Providing Safe Drinking Water in Small Systems. Eds. J.A. Cotruvo, G.F. Craun and N. Hearne. Lewis Publishers. Washington, DC. pp. 513- 521.

Howard, G., Godfrey, S., and Boonyakarnkul, T. (2006) Sanitary completion of protection works around groundwater sources. In “Protecting Groundwater for Health” Eds. Schmool, O., Howard, G., Chilton, J. & Chorus, I. International Water Association. London.

Komives, K., Davis, J., Lukacs, H. Prokopy, L., Bakalian, A. Wakeman, W., Thorsten, R., and Whittington, D. (2009) The Effect of Post-Construction Support on the Sustainability of Rural Water Systems. Presentation slides available at World Bank website.

Lockwood, H. (2002) “Institutional Support for Community-managed Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Systems in Latin America.” Strategic Report 6, Environmental Health Project, Office of Health, Infectious Diseases and Nutrition, Bureau of Global Health. United States Agency for International Development. Washington, DC:

Moriarty, P. and Schouten, T. (2003) Community Water, Community Management: from system to service in rural areas. ITDG Publishing. London.

WaterAid (2001) Looking back: The long-term impacts of water and sanitation projects. London.

Whittington, D., Davis, J., Prokopy, L., Komives, K., Thorsten, R., Bakalian, A., and Wakeman, W. (2009) How well is the demand-driven, community management model for rural water supply systems doing? Evidence from Bolivia, Peru, and Ghana. Water Policy Vol. 11:696-718.

WHO/UNICEF (2010). Progress on sanitation and drinking-water: 2010 update. Geneva, World Health Organization; New York, WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

WHO and DFID (2010) “Vision 2030: The Resilience of Water Supply and Sanitation in the Face of Climate Change.” World Health Organization.