"Community plus" WASH Transitions - implications for water resources and climate change

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in rural areas has faced many challenges in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals. The transition between NGO and state support to communities for rural water supply infrastructure has been recognised as a major issue for scaling up actions in this period. I attended an event hosted by Cranfield University at the Australian High Commission in London (photo below) on research funded by Australian Aid on how this transition happens. The different pathways seen in the research across India was interesting, however the implications for water resources management of these transitions is an area where further research is needed.

Australia House in London

The Community Water Plus research involved a detailed analysis of 18 case studies of best practice from India. An analysis framework was applied to the four case studies presented at the event I attended, which demonstrated that varying levels of additional support to communities can be used achieve good service. The key factors behind the different approaches and grouping the case studies were hydrogeology and income levels.

Case studies in Community Plus project in India

Community Water Plus - water resources and climate change implications
In these case studies there can also be seen a transition from handpumps to single village piped supplies, regional piped supplies and even regional bulk water supplies. A question was raised in terms of what this means for handpump investment. If strategically we know that the next stage is going to be achieved even more quickly in other parts of the world should investments be made in piped water directly? Additionally, with the communities effectively becoming utilities for a village or multiple villages, the need for strategic water resources planning and addressing impacts of climate change becomes more pressing.

In my blog on water management transition processes I highlighted the transition to water sensitive cities as one way to look at this. I've added to this figure below some of the transition stages that have been seen in WASH. As the progress of sanitation measures hasn't always kept up with water supply and vice versa the importance of a more integrated approach to water management becomes clear. Additionally, maximising the investment around other parts of the urban water cycle (flooding, adaptation and disaster risk management) along with transport and energy infrastructure could lead to better outcomes.

Rural and urban water supply transition (adapted from CIRIA 2013)

A report by the Overseas Development Institute in 2012 investigated issues of water resources management and climate change within a WASH context. This report found that there are a broad range of actors engaging in pro-poor adaptation functions but these are only being partially fulfilled. A range of screening tools were examined for WASH projects and considering expanding water safety planning to cover climate risks and impacts. The links between strategic adaptation perspectives and local risk screening need to be more clear as supplies transition towards utilities.

A more strategic approach to scaling up WASH will increasingly mean that the concepts developed within urban water resources planning and addressing climate change will be important. This is both for adaptation but also mitigation, where more effective operational practices can reduce emissions from pumping and waste management in single and multi-village schemes.

What can rural water supply transitions learn from urban transitions and vice versa?
Seeing a similar transition happening in rural water supply and WASH compared with my work in urban water supplies suggests that there are opportunities for learning between these professional water communities.
  • The idea of leapfrogging towards later stages in water sensitive cities may or may not be as applicable for communities climbing the sanitation ladder. The "Community plus" investigation aimed to understand how communities can effectively take over and run rural water supply schemes. 
  • The ability to consider water resources and climate change for resilience of these schemes adds another layer to the capability discussion and level of support required from NGOs and governments to continue operation and development of these schemes.
  • Water efficiency may play a greater role as part of managing water resources in community run utilities.
  • How these transitions occur in other low income countries may be different from the case studies assessed in India.


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