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Making Sure Our Poorest Communities Have Access to Safe Water

Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Nolan, Concern Worldwide

In rural areas of fragile states, hand pumps are often the best, if not the only technology available for securing access to safe water for communities. In this area, the support of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) has been primarily focused on strengthening the community-based organizations in charge of their maintenance. They plan the capacity-building of Water User Committees (WUCs), the training of hand pump caretakers and the set-up of cost-recovery schemes to allow WUCs to afford the reparation of their hand pumps when necessary.

The challenge of hand pump maintenance

Experience has shown over the years that community involvement, while necessary, is often not sufficient. For long-term sustainability, hand pumps require more than work at the community level. Ensuring their efficacy also depends on external factors which, unfortunately, are harder to work on. This includes maintaining access to an efficient spare-part chain as well as the existence of affordable and skilled service providers to carry out the repairs which are out of reach for the community pump caretakers.

But, as for any service designed to function autonomously and be financially viable, the income from the cost-recovery systems must balance out the expenses.

This is only possible in communities of a certain size which have enough “customers” who pay regular contribution fees, and do not live in areas that are too remote. Otherwise the likelihood of having access to skilled technicians decreases while the cost of their service–increases dramatically. Consequently, small and remote communities, which are often the poorest, do not have the capacity to pay for the maintenance of such services.  

Finding a new solution

Therefore, most of the time INGOs are left with no choice but to subsidize these water services by performing or paying for the big repairs each time the pump breaks. But this is not a sustainable way of working.

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