Can the ability to sustain rural water systems be captured by a simple score? A new multipurpose four-page tool seeks to measure the likelihood of sustainability by assessing the capacity of a village water committee. Previously, such tools were often either too lengthy and academic or the assessment was left to the discretion of local officials with the risk of omitting critical components. Now a more practical model has been developed that aims to be user-friendly but detailed enough to detect gaps and prioritize interventions for village water committees.
This journey started in a rural village in the district of Karatu, Tanzania where a new water system had just been commissioned. The district water engineer was about to inaugurate the water scheme after a five-day training of the village water committee, giving them full ownership of their water scheme. During the opening ceremony, one question kept puzzling her: “Was the village water committee fully equipped to manage, operate and maintain their newly installed water scheme?”
In an attempt to address this question, Indonesian water practitioners developed a 14-page Community Competency Model in 2014 to assess the village water committees’ ability to operate and maintain rural water schemes by focusing on four main competency domains: Governance, Operations, Financing and Technical Issues. This monitoring tool is not only comprehensive, but provides a much-needed roadmap for village water committees, setting a clear standard for the minimum requirements for the water scheme to be sustainable. In its application in Indonesia, the model facilitated competency self-assessments by the village water committees, allowing local government authorities (LGAs) to identify capacity gaps as defined by the water committees themselves. Furthermore, as LGAs have performance contracts with village water committees, the model allowed them to carry out quality control to ensure that the committees met their contract requirements.
The tool was then shared with Tanzanian colleagues who applauded it for its ability to clearly articulate the core competencies of rural water committees. The model was revised and carefully tailored to the Tanzanian context, giving emphasis to brevity, ease of use and mapping the steps to high performing village water committees. A simple scoring system was added, to better quantify the level of capacity in a transparent and easily comparable manner. It ranked each village water committee in one of three categories: i) “Minimally Operational”, associated with a high risk of system breakdown, ii) “Partially Operational”, associated with a medium risk of breakdown, and iii) “Fully Operational”, associated with a high likelihood of sustainability and cost recovery.
In Latin America, far away from both Tanzania and Indonesia, rural water committees were facing similar challenges and as a response, water sector government officials developed a sustainability monitoring tool in 2011. The Rural Water and Sanitation Information System (SIASAR, as per its name in Spanish), adopted by nine Latin American countries, assesses the performance of rural water committees, the quality of service delivery and its sustainability. For that purpose, SIASAR defines four fundamental entities involved in the provision of WSS services: the community (users), the water committee (or service provider), the water infrastructure and the technical assistance provider (role usually assumed by the local governments). The performance of each entity is evaluated in a metric of four levels, denominated in an ABCD rating. The A rating corresponds to an optimal level of service whereas D, in the other end of the spectrum, corresponds to a level with no service and where a strong intervention to build or rehabilitate the service is necessary. SIASAR’s comprehensive yet pragmatic framework to assess the integrated performance of the rural water sector is a powerful tool for decision makers at all institutional levels.
Scoring competencies of village water committees, while clearly highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, enables local level authorities to identify and plan for appropriate interventions. Either through the competency models in Tanzania and Indonesia and their characteristics descriptive of all three levels of development, or through the SIASAR framework in Latin America and its ABCD performance ratings, these models serve as a practical roadmaps to help villages achieve the highest level of competency and provide sustainable water services to their village. For example, the rural village in Karatu district scored 56 out of 100 points, and was categorized as only “partially operational” shortly after inauguration. Using the model, the village subsequently invested in water meters for all of its standpipes, made a plan for preventive maintenance, and slightly raised their water tariff to ensure the sustainability of their water scheme.
Do you know of any practical, concise and ready–to-use tools in your country that can score competencies of water systems and ultimately help improve their performances? Share your experience by leaving a comment below.