Opinion
Reasons for unsustainable water and sanitation projects
Publish Date: Jan 08, 2014
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By Simon J. Mone

A lot of news sources have on many occasions published information about user communities fetching water from unclean and unsafe water points and communities littering bushes with human waste.

Other sources have gone ahead to reveal that communities share water points with domestic animals.

On my many travels to the countryside, I often see water access points that are not operational. With the looming prolonged dry spells ahead, one would expect water points to be serviceable during the January to March period when the dry conditions severely affects not only humans but also livestock.

Continued break down of water pumps and drying up of wells and springs leaves a lot to be desired. During the dry season, lack of water has usually forced communities to seek unsafe water sources. Sections of communities have often ignored sanitary facilities provided through the various government and non-governmental organisation interventions.

This has attracted questions whose answers can be provided through a careful analysis of the socio-cultural make-up of the different communities, their environment and traditional norms. In trying to answer such questions, it is also pertinent to incorporate the definition of “sustainability” of such project interventions.

Sustainability should be a deliberate process with the intention of providing reliable services over a period of time and this should be characterised by the following factors.

The first one being coverage of intended projects. We need to answer the question of how easy it is for communities to access water and sanitation facilities that are provided for them. Facilities should be equally located within the user population.

Secondly there has got to be continuity of service provision. It ensures that the tendency of people resorting to the old practices of accessing contaminated water sources is stopped.

It is the common case in Uganda’s rural communities where broken down hand pumps leaves user communities with no option but to access water from contaminated sources. If hand pumps are unserviceable, there should be a process to have them repaired as quickly as possible.

This is where members of the user community should be empowered with the necessary skills to repair unserviceable pumps.

Thirdly for a water supply project, there should be adequate quantity for the population. This reduces the time and effort that many people take in colleting water. Instead it increases the effort in the other productive areas of their lives.

It also allows that school going members of rural communities spend more time in the classroom and less in walking for long distances to look for water. The forth factor is the quality of services provided. Water quality is critical in its acceptance by the user community.

Should the user community find that water from a given source taste different from what they have been accessing initially, most likely that source will be abandoned.

The fifth factor is the cost of providing these projects as well as the cost of maintenance. This goes a long way in ensuring whether or not projects are successful and sustainable. Lastly, there should be a sense of ownership of these interventions.

Communities should be involved right from the initial phases of the project because their participation provides essential inputs that would have otherwise been omitted by not involving them.

Implemented projects should be in agreement with the socio-economic and gender aggregation aspects of user communities. Unless these factors are taken into account and duly implemented, there shall be many more unsuccessful and unsustainable interventions.
 
The writer is a civil engineer

P. O. Box 36045, Kampala, Uganda, Mobile: 0772 676174
E-mail: smone@mail.com

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