Community management for rural water supply

Community management for rural water supply is dead, long live community management!

The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill invited Harold Lockwood of Aguaconsult to contribute to a policy research digest on the future of community management. The Digest has a considerable readership among policy makers and is disseminated through various channels that allow us to access them, such as the Sanitation and Water for All partnership.

The focus of this edition is on the viability of community management as the predominant model - and policy approach - of many countries in the global south. Based on a review of existing and recent literature Harold sets out the argument that while community management may not be sufficient as the predominant, or only, management approach in many contexts, it should be retained, with greater professionalization and support, alongside a range of other options, including utilities, local private sector operators and, at the other end of the rural spectrum, structured support for self-supply approaches to improve services for the most dispersed communities.

The reality is that  community management is still 'working',  to the extent that many many millions of people around the world still receive a level of service provided for under this model, albeit with a range of experience and use satisfaction, from very high to completely dysfunctional – the key questions is, where does that range of experience sit?

The literature suggests that no one calls for the complete abandonment of community management, but that the model clearly needs (much better) improvement and support in many contexts. In the USA for example, where many millions of rural people still manage their own systems there is a very well-structured system of support, advice, training, access to financing etc. (RCAP is one of a couple of organizations helping to do this: Clearly the USA experience is not reflective of the global reality, so the question then becomes how to provide better support in resource scarce environments – through increasing tariffs, more public financing or some other route?

Finally, he highlights the reality that in countries which are growing in economic terms, where expectations are rising (either through migration, urban-rural links, IT and mobile phone links) and rural demographics are changing the nature of communities (with more densely population villages and small towns), a form of voluntary community management is no longer enough to service complex assets and technologies, large customer bases and the need for proper customer service.

The policy research digest is available here.