INTEGRITY FOR SMALL WATER SUPPLY SYSTEMS IN AFRICA AND LATIN AMERICA: SUCCESSES, LESSONS LEARNED AND CHALLENGES AHEAD
Small water supply systems play a key role in providing access to water in rural and peri-urban areas. Many of these systems are outside any centralised water network or state service provision scheme and they work thanks to volunteers and solidarity mechanisms for collective repairs or extensions of the service to unserved groups.
As many of these systems are not formally recognised, they receive very little support to access credit or legal contract support services. However, they face significant operational challenges, such as ensuring appropriate water quality and timely maintenance, extending infrastructure, or securing land status.
In our Integrity Talk, partners explored different models for small water supply system management in Africa and Latin America and discussed their experiences of working with the Integrity Management Toolbox for Small Water Supply Systems (IMT-SWSS).
This tool, initially developed by Caritas Switzerland and WIN for rural water supply systems in Kenya, links small system management committees with local stakeholders and duty-bearers. It puts them in the driving seat to develop a step-by-step plan for service improvements, using governance and compliance tools as stepping stones for more sustainable service provision.
With special guests:
Peter Njaggah (Water Services Regulatory Board of Kenya, WASREB);
Namarome Lukelesia (Water Sector Trust Fund);
Elvia Arzate (Controla Tu Gobierno);
Girum Girma (Caritas Switzerland).
“The theme of integrity generates trust, and trust is what we need to reach the most vulnerable.”
– Elvia Arzate, Controla Tu Gobierno
Regularisation of small water systems, or at least formal dialogue with local government, can ensure there is at least more data on service levels from small systems, and, importantly, can ensure committees have access to more resources through grants and loans. However such regularisation is only possible when the legal framework recognises water committees and clearly defines responsibilities. It also requires trust from committees in local and national authorities.
Building trust and links between stakeholders, especially between committees and local authorities, contractors and duty bearers, is crucial for communities to gain access to formal resources and services and in some cases for communities to accept external interventions. Trust between committees and users is also essential to increase willingness to pay, support water conservation, and motivate for good service.
Integrity is the motor for trust through all its pillars: Transparency, Accountability, Participation, Anti-Corruption and Inclusion. Increasing transparency for example - on the funds available and how they are spent, or on water quality and tariffs - limits discretionary service. Acknowledging the contributions and know-how of local communities, especially indigenous communities, is also key. As is ensuring participation from communities, for example by adapting tools for low literacy and taking into account the schedules and time constraints of volunteers, especially women.
What is the role of the Water Services Regulatory Board of Kenya (WASREB) and how does it engage with small water supply system managers?
Peter Njaggah (WASREB): The Kenyan Constitution recognises the human rights to water and sanitation and these have been translated into national standards. Every citizen of Kenya is entitled without discrimination to water that is affordable, reliable, easily reachable, and of good quality. We also have a very strong water regulatory system providing clear rules and regulations to protect water resources and to control the quality of the service.
WASREB has set up a licencing system for any entity providing water services. We work in close cooperation with small system managers to ensure uniform standards, collect data to track the progressive realisation of the right to water, improve cost recovery, ensure that they do not operate in isolation, secure access to credit or resources, and create control systems to protect the right of consumers. In this way, we are able to promote integrity.
Why is important to regularise small systems? How do local communities perceive the process of regularisation?
Peter Njaggah (WASREB): There are over 7000 small water supply systems in Kenya that serve a large part of the population, but many of their management committees are not registered as legal entities and there is no data. Committees that are not registered generally cannot access credit or resources and this is problematic.
For example, the national government created a special fund to help communities with small systems during COVID-19. Many could not get these funds because the water committees are informal. We see it as a form of discrimination.
To facilitate regularisation, according to our Water Act of 2016 we offer different licencing models to help small systems depending on their commercial viability. For those systems located in the service provision area of a formal water service provider, we offer four options:
The formal water supply provider takes over the system;
The formal water supply provider delegates responsibilities to a registered water user association that manages the system;
A cluster of small system committees contract a private operator, with a contract with the formal water supply provider;
The system committee has sufficient capacity to expand and become a formal water supply provider.
For those systems that are not commercially viable and are located outside the service provision area of a formal water provider, we offer two options:
The County Government, with linkages to WASREB, establishes a contract with the small water supply system committee;
The County Government contracts a private operator, to maintain service delivery standards.
“We create awareness to show the benefits of operating in a regularised way. Rather than forcing regularisation and the adoption of a particular option, we recognise the diversity of small systems and allow them to select the model that is better suited to them. In this way we limit resistance.”
– Peter Njaggah, WASREB
What is the importance of promoting integrity in investment programmes targeting small systems in Kenya?
Namarome Lukelesia (Water Sector Trust Fund): The role of the Water Sector Trust Fund is to provide grants to counties to assist the financing and development of water services in underserved areas.
We have done the following to promote integrity in the management of our programmes and these grants: applied a project risk management tool, enhanced the capacity of implementing agents, reduced ineligible costs by auditors, and developed a manual for project implementation with clear processes.
Strengthening integrity in our operations has ensured continued support from international development partners (e.g., KfW, World Bank, IFAD, EU).
What are the main integrity risks you see related to investment programmes for small water supply systems?
Namarome Lukelesia (Water Sector Trust Fund): The main integrity risks are conflicts of interest occurring during the identification and implementation phase. In many cases, the identification of the project is politically motivated and in the implementation phase, there are many interested parties.
Other issues include the limited capacities of implementing partners, poor compliance with laws and regulations, and activities being implemented outside the contract, leading to increasing costs.
To reduce integrity risks, we are investing in capacity building and we have created a project guidance tool with an internal and external audit checklist. We are recruiting officers at the county level, including engineers, and they have played a key role in enhancing accountability. We have also established a mechanism to ensure that grant recipients report back continuously to the Water Sector Trust Fund.
With all these measures we aim to secure access to clean water and sanitation to at least 75% of Kenyans by 2030.
What are the opportunities related to applications of the integrity management for small water supply systems (IMT-SWSS)?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In Mexico, there are at least 4000 small water supply systems in communities that have been historically marginalised. They face a lack of infrastructure and poor access to training, technology, or financing.
Controla Tu Gobierno has used the Integrity Management Toolbox for Small Water Supply Systems (IMT-SWSS) with partners and WIN since 2020, with seven small system water management committees (known as comités autónomos or comités comunitarios de agua).
The benefits for integrity and for the performance of the systems are numerous. For instance, some committees worked to set up differentiated tariffs for residential and commercial users. This facilitated the payment of debts to the Federal Committee of Electricity. Another example is improved communication with the community, which has encouraged community participation, generated trust, and promoted water conservation.
Girum Girma (Caritas Switzerland): The Government of Ethiopia has policies and, regulations for water supply in remote areas. One of them is the Ethiopian WaSH Implementation Framework (2013) which puts a clear focus on defining the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, including WASHCOs (community water supply systems in Ethiopia).
However, the framework has limitations. Here is where the IMT-SWSS becomes very useful, especially in building the capacity of WASHCOs to manage and operate their water system. The tool, which is visual and didactic, and includes games, clear exercises and hands-on activities, was easy to apply in communities with low literacy levels, allowing for their active participation.
The process has had positive results, notably that the IMT-SWSS has helped to create trust between users and management committees.
“The IMT-SWSS created favourable conditions to build trust between management committees and users. For example, we saw that people were willing to pay for operation and maintenance services when they were properly informed, trained, and motivated.”
– Girum Girma, Caritas Switzerland
What are the main integrity challenges small water supply systems face?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In Mexico, water committees face many problems. First, collective forms of water provision are not recognised in the National Water Law. Second, much of the work of the committees is performed voluntarily. Third, the development of megaprojects (e.g. airports) is preventing local communities from accessing water resources by altering land tenure rights. Fourth, it’s a challenge to carry the responsibility of securing water services in the face of natural phenomena such as water scarcity and erosion.
Girum Girma (Caritas Ethiopia): Small water system committees face several challenges. For example, maintenance costs are highly dependent on external finance, there is low state involvement and support for remote systems, and there is no transparency or exchange between committees and water officers or technicians. Building trust requires time.
What have we learned from communities for promoting integrity? What can we learn in particular from indigenous and autonomous communities?
Elvia Arzate (Controla tu Gobierno): In the beginning, it was not easy to start working with the IMT-SWSS. There was resistance and distrust because the committees did not know the work of WIN and Controla Tu Gobierno. The committees asked, “Why are they giving us something without asking anything in return? Why don’t they ask for money?”
Once we got to know each other, we created trust and they recommended our work to other water committees. We have had to adapt to their necessities, timings, and traditions. This is a process of responsibility and mutual learning. We do not teach them, we share knowledge.
The committees managing water supply systems in indigenous or autonomous communities have existed for longer than the institutions supplying water at the state level. Autonomous communities have a strong respect for nature and common goods. They also have their own forms of community practices and collective work. This is a good starting point for us to learn about integrity.