Report Identifies Barriers, Offers Solutions to Water and Sanitation Service Delivery

More children die from illnesses related to poor water and sanitation than from HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.  As of 2006, there were still 900 million people across the world who drank unsafe water, and 2.5 billion who did not have adequate sanitation.

This week at World Water Week in Stockholm, hundreds of professionals are gathering, hoping to find answers to reduce the millions of deaths and illnesses caused by poor water and sanitation each year, and the billions of dollars in economic losses that this causes.

One area where some answers have already been found is in providing water and sanitation services for poor urban dwellers, a growing concern because of the rapid urbanization taking place in developing countries.  Guidance Notes on Water and Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor Services, released by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), provide powerful examples of such lessons.

Mumbai’s Slum Sanitation Project
From Mumbai’s Slum Sanitation Project, for example, we have learned that giving poor people the opportunity to participate in the planning and design of their water supply and sanitation systems can be the determining factor in getting the service to succeed. Under the Mumbai project, many new connections were established and water and sanitation services were improved for some 400,000 slum-dwellers between 1996 and 2005. As a result of the participatory approach adopted, community members were willing to pay fully for an upfront connection fee, for the water and sanitation services that followed, and also for routine operations and maintenance expenses.

NGOs were engaged to mobilize communities, facilitate relationships with the local government, and train the communities in essential skills and attitudes. They initially carried out a general information campaign and assessed the willingness and readiness of the communities to participate in the sanitation scheme.

Once communities mobilized and demonstrated an interest, CBOs/SLBEs were created (if not already existing and active). These organizations were then  registered to obtain the legal status, which would allow them to manage the community sanitation block (that is, obtain water, sewerage and electricity connections, sign a memorandum of understanding with the municipal corporation, open and maintain a bank account to deposit the maintenance fund and earnings, pay utility bills, and so on).

It was only after the CBO or small enterprise had collected at least 50 percent of the expected maintenance fund from prospective users and had developed a technically sound and community-endorsed plan for the toilet block, that the municipal corporation issued the building permit and the actual construction of the community toilet block began.

Participation in the formal process of planning the services, creating a viable business entity, having it registered, opening a bank account, and working with the municipal corporation provided invaluable experience, created confidence, and inspired further entrepreneurial and community activities on the part of participants.

Brazil, PROSANEAR Project: People Were Asked What They Wanted
Sometimes, vested interests among water vendors, landlords, public officials, and utility staff can prevent better services from reaching poor people. These confrontations can be avoided if new roles are assigned or suitable incentives given to informal service providers and other vested interests to bring them into the formal system. Where neighborhoods are not served by any utility company, we have seen how legitimizing small private service providers and providing them with finance can promote the expansion of services to poor people.

Prior to planning water supply and sanitation projects, PROSANEAR (a Portuguese acronym for the Water and Sanitation Program for Low-Income Urban Population) teams went into communities to ask what kind of water project the people wanted, if any, and what kind they would be willing to support with their money and labor.

Residents were allowed to talk about the full range of problems they faced, but once the discussion turned to the importance of water supply and sanitation, they were generally eager to hear how PROSANEAR could help them. Neighborhoods were allowed to choose from a range of simple, innovative systems that made water and sanitation affordable and environmentally appropriate for poor crowded settlements. There were no blueprints. In many places, groups of households were batched together in a creative condominial sewerage system approach that not only made the networks more efficient and affordable but also forged new bonds among neighbors.

PROSANEAR sought to make a permanent impact by mobilizing local clubs, as well as women’s, sports, and religious groups to educate people about the importance of sanitation and to teach them how to operate and maintain their new systems. The results were powerful, and they went far beyond the better health and greater convenience enjoyed by 1 million people newly connected to water taps and toilets.

For example, getting formal postal addresses and water bills in their names meant they had graduated from squatter status to resident—a new status in society.

Case studies from the Guidance Notes demonstrate that the issues involved go well beyond mere investment in infrastructure. The crux of the matter often lies in the establishment of underlying systems of affordable, hygienic, and sustainable service delivery. 

“Hundreds of millions of people are living in these conditions, but the underlying reasons preventing service delivery can vary depending on whether a person lives in the city or in the countryside,” said WSP Program Manager Jae So.  “To identify appropriate solutions, we must identify these contexts, examine the barriers, and formulate logical and practical steps that can be implemented to overcome them.”  

To read the full report, please click here.
To read the press release for this report, please click here.