Towards Sustainable Water-Supply Solutions in Rural Sierra Leone: A pragmatic approach, using comparisons with Mozambique

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This new Oxfam report about water supply in Sierra Leone questions current draft policy prescriptions that place heavy reliance on high-tech hand pumps to supply safe water to communities, and recommends that a wider menu of low-tech options should be piloted. It suggests that a broader approach is likely to be more sustainable, and to boost demand, if it uses technologies that are within the capacity of poor communities to operate and maintain. At the same time, and drawing on WaterAid's experience in Mozambique, the report says that the expectation for communities to pay for 100% of operation and maintenance costs is not realistic, sustainable or equitable, unless the technology offered is appropriately simple. It urges donors to build government capacity at local level to do those repairs that are beyond the capacity of communities, and to spot contamination problems. The report also says that health education is a crucial component of water supply development
    Towards Sustainable Water-Supply Solutions in Rural Sierra Leone  A Pragmatic Approach, Using Comparisons with  Mozambique  John Magrath (Programme Researcher, Oxfam GB)  A report by Oxfam GB, in collaboration with WaterAid   OXFAM RESEARCH REPORT      Contents Executive summary 2 Introduction: the water challenge in Sierra Leone 4 Government water policy and guidelines in Sierra Leone 5 The water situation in Kailahun District 6 Oxfam’s research in Kailahun 7 General findings from the research 8 Community ownership and care taking 9 Mechanics, tools, and spares 12 The problem of contamination 13 People’s views on technology choices 15 Encouraging self-supply and private investment 16 Demand-responsive approaches: WaterAid’s experience in Mozambique 17 Technology choice under the demand-responsive approach 18 Stimulating community demand 20 Conclusions 21 Recommendations 22  Acknowledgements 25    Executive summary Despite making considerable progress since the end of the civil war in 2002, Sierra Leone is a long way from being able to meet the needs of its citizens for safe water, still less attain the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without access to safe water by the year 2015. To protect the population from water-borne diseases, the government of Sierra Leone has established firm guidelines to prescribe the types of hand pump that may be used. To improve sustainability, the government says that communities should pay the full cost of operating and maintaining their own water supplies. Oxfam is concerned that these guidelines may be having, or may in future lead to, almost the opposite effect: of constraining people’s ability to obtain regular access to safe water. Unless the technology matches the communities’ capacity to maintain their water points, then officially prescribed systems will not be sustainable. Oxfam research in Kailahun District in February 2006 set out to investigate this hypothesis and potential options for extending access to safe water. This report also uses research by WaterAid to compare the situation in Sierra Leone with that in Mozambique. It ends with recommendations for consideration by the government of Sierra Leone. The report shows that hand pumps supply the safest drinking water and are the water-lifting device that most people prefer. Most pumps are working, but then most have been installed only recently. However, the report questions over-reliance on Kardias and the other pumps specified by government, and it also expresses some concern about excessive reliance on hand-pumps generally. It raises questions about the capacity of communities to maintain them. Obstacles are both social – poverty, lack of community cohesion, women’s workload and position in society – and technical – including lack of tools and spares, and the need for extensive training of caretakers and mechanics. The survey found that people were not informed about the likely long-term financial cost of hand pumps when they were being installed, which made properly informed choice impossible. When pumps break down, the difficulties of doing repairs mean that people have to go back to less-safe sources. But communities anyway cannot meet all their water needs from improved sources, especially in the dry season. They continue to resort to traditional wells, springs, and streams on a regular basis. The research showed that traditional wells were particularly prone to bacteriological contamination. Given that people will continue to have to use these wells anyway, it is important to find ways to improve water quality. Most traditional wells are privately owned, and owners continue to invest in them. (In contrast to the problems involved in raising funds for the maintenance of collectively owned supplies.) The report suggests that finding ways to do low-cost upgrading of traditional wells could lead to significant improvements in access to safe water. Furthermore, no matter what the water source, whether it be lined wells supplied with hand pumps, or traditional wells, or spring boxes, water becomes rapidly contaminated once it enters people’s homes. This fact demonstrates the urgent need for more integrated public health and hygiene interventions alongside all or any water-supply improvements. Regular refresher training of mechanics is also needed. Such training should particularly focus on women, who are the principal users of water and less likely than men to move away from the community. But it needs to be recognised that this added responsibility would add to women’s workload, which is already heavy. Towards Sustainable Water-Supply Solutions in Rural Sierra Leone , Oxfam GB Research Report, April 2006 2    Overall, the report suggests that the government of Sierra Leone could move further towards a demand-responsive approach. (Interesting parallels with Mozambique support this view.) This would mean giving communities a real choice of technologies that best suit their financial and social resources. Development of lower-tech options does not preclude the possibility of upgrading or modernising systems in the future, as resources become available. To enable this to happen, donors should support the government’s efforts to decentralise responsibility for infrastructure to the local level, which means supporting communities’ own efforts to achieve sustainable supplies of safe water. Expecting communities to pay all operation and maintenance costs is simply unrealistic, so appropriate government assistance is essential. This should include devising and implementing systems for more regular water-supply surveillance. The research findings suggest that sanitary surveys could be a simple and effective first line of defence to spot potential contamination problems. For the immediate future, the report endorses the government’s efforts to establish a functioning chain and network for the supply of spare parts for the specified hand pumps, together with training for mechanics. But it suggests that agencies and government should together explore, through pilot schemes, wider water-supply options (spring protection, gravity schemes, and rainwater harvesting) as well as developing appropriate types of pump. Towards Sustainable Water-Supply Solutions in Rural Sierra Leone , Oxfam GB Research Report, April 2006 3
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