“An NGO came in and dug us a well, but it’s not really used because there’s no money to really keep it. Half of the village goes into the forest for water, while the rest of the people remain on taps, waiting for water that isn’t flowing.”
In southwest Cameroon, a local chief tells the Water Collective team about a broken, abandoned well in his village. To the village’s misfortune, the clean water that the well brought was short lived, with costly repairs the village never had the financial capacity to support.
The chief continues his story with the glimmer of hope that villagers were trained to repair the well. “After they installed it, they trained one child to maintain it.. and that person is no more.” The broken well could only be fixed by one trained villager, who had unfortunately passed away years ago.
Despite several phone calls and emails, the implementing NGO did not return to fix the village’s broken well. In fact, about 30-40% of wells around the world are broken. This story is common amongst water projects in resource-constrained areas. There is a heavy focus on installing new water points without strategies for long-term operation according to local capacity.
The truth about water is that it takes a lot of time, training, and money to keep it around. It has been an unglamorous, unmarketable epilogue to installed water projects around the world, a hidden chapter that many don’t read. Water Collective sees this epilogue as an opportunity for communities to self-create and build their own futures, so that their story of water is completely their own.
Water Collective sticks to its guns when it comes to sustainable clean water projects by advocating rehabilitation, local capacity-building, and empowering neglected areas. All of our projects are built with local hands and co-financed by the communities themselves. We believe in amplifying a community’s ability to procure clean water in a way that promotes local ownership, with dignity.
We make sure that clean water will continue to flow long after we’ve left by helping the community grow their economy, education, and health. We work on capacity building with the community and implement the appropriate training to adopt income-generating skills, life-saving sanitation education, and water repair & maintenance knowledge. This way, there are foundations to make water financially affordable and repair is common knowledge.
Roger Calow recently summarized sustainable water practices in “Size Matters: Africa’s Water Resources” that represents Water Collective’s manifesto perfectly:
- Funders and implementing agencies need to get serious about the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing services, not just the building of new ones. Perhaps one third of groundwater sources equipped with hand pumps simply don’t work, a shocking statistic. Yet those putting the money into new services have turned a blind eye to the sustainability crisis, preferring instead to build new systems and assume coverage increases.
- Investment in new services, or the rehabilitation of existing ones, needs to be better targeted. Services still gravitate to the better off, with hard to reach areas and groups in rural areas, in particular, neglected, as the latest WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report makes clear.