In a bid to identify how governments can be supported to ensure more sustainable services, the World Bank's Water Global Practice, which made rural water supply services a key challenge area, commissioned Aguaconsult to conduct a 16-country study, with the objective of developing and applying a simple framework to assess the sustainability of rural water supply. The study was conducted in association with IRC and the framework was used to identify good practices and challenges faced by a range of countries.
Although global figures on functionality and sustainability of rural water systems and services are difficult to pin down, the reality of broken hand pumps or ill-maintained small piped water systems is all too well documented. The durability and reliability of water services has long been of concern to the sector, for both national governments and development partners alike.
Building on the Triple-S initiative, the framework identifies five main building blocks of rural water sustainability: institutional capacity, financing, asset management, water resource management and monitoring and regulation. These building blocks represent the optimum conditions for sustainability of service provision and should, ideally, be in place at all three levels of rural water supply governance, namely national level, service authority level (normally, but not always, local, district or municipal government) and service provider level.
Based on documentation review and in-country visits, the framework was applied to assess progress towards sustainability in the 16 selected countries. Overall, the assessment found that institutional capacity has advanced furthest, as countries have made progress in identifying institutional responsibilities and corresponding policies for rural water supply. How to translate these policies into practice, at local levels remains a challenge, however, as local governments still lack the tools, and sometimes incentives, to ensure inclusive rural water services. Asset management practices (starting with assets inventories) remains to be implemented in most countries. Similarly, water resource management has yet to be taken into account in the implementation of rural water services (except in water-stressed countries, as in Morocco). Sound financing strategies were found where governments have developed sub-sector investment plans, based on a bottom-up assessment of investment needs and sub-sequent prioritization, as in Vietnam and Morocco. However, across most the 16 countries, the financial sustainability of services remains fragile: in many context, tariffs remain to systematically applied, and when they are levied, they rarely cover the actual costs of delivering sustainable services and an adequate allocation of financing responsibilities between the service provider and the service authority is often lacking. Finally, the assessment found several country monitoring frameworks in place or in development (as in as China, Morocco, India, Philippines, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Ethiopia). Challenges persist in the pro-active use of monitoring outputs to take remedial actions, improve performance and inform programming.
The full account of this assessment, with practical recommendations to policy-makers for improving the sustainability of rural water supply, is now available to download below. A short policy briefing note based on the study can be found here. For questions or comments on this report please contact Harold or Goufrane.