Water for human consumption is one of the focal areas for Aguaconsult in the provision of technical services. Access to potable water, coupled with improved environmental sanitation and positive hygiene behaviours are all critical factors in public health and broader social welfare. Improving water services can also provide livelihood opportunities for the poor and thereby contribute to poverty reduction efforts. Unfortunately, for many millions of poor people around the world such access to sustained services is still lacking, despite the large-scale investments made in the sector over the past decades.
Despite the tens of billions of euros invested in delivering new and improving existing water infrastructure, there is evidence that many such physical systems cannot be maintained, fall into disrepair and all too often fail. Aguaconsult has been at the forefront of driving change particularly in the context of rural water provision and has been instrumental in building a new paradigm in policy and practice. Our work in the late 1990s and early 2000s challenged the long-standing orthodoxy that community management of systems was a panacea and we carried out research into the provision of long-term support, specifically in the Latin American region. Since that time we have been at the forefront of the global debate, bringing new insights and action research findings, and building a compelling case for addressing rural water supply as a service rather than the provision of one-off infrastructure projects.
Evidence from a range of countries including Ghana, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Uganda, India and elsewhere suggests that to sustain true services the development community at large – including national governments, donor agencies and civil society implementers – needs to change policy, practice and funding to support a ‘whole system’ to function better. This system includes not only sound construction and appropriate technologies, but also effective support for communities, strong and well-trained local government, a vibrant private sector supplier of goods and services, robust monitoring and some form of asset management to ensure physical systems are maintained.
Above all services will only be sustained properly when there is a clear intuitional framework in place, in which different actors understand their mandates and where national governments and regulators show effective leadership. This requires a commitment to public finance as well as relying on strategic aid funding. Aguaconsult has deep expertise in the analysis and development of the institutional context of water services in developing and transition countries. Examples in this core area include:
- The organisation of the water supplysector
- The design and execution of sectoral analysis of water supply
- Strategic support to decentralisation efforts and policy reform
- The role of national and local government in service provision
- Support to planning for scaling up of service provision
- Research into sustainability issues for community-managed models
- The design of long-term institutional support mechanisms for community-management models
- Establishment of alternative management models, including self supply and private build and operation