Community-based water supply and management organisations (B2.03)


Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) fill in two important gaps in service that public and private water and sanitation suppliers may not be able to adequately provide. First, from a participatory perspective, public and private water organisations share limited potential for the active involvement of local communities, especially in the post-construction phases of water projects. Second, such organizations are limited in capacity (financial, technical, etc.), in a way that, a significant number of areas, particularly remote villages, lie beyond their operational reach.

Community-based water supply and management organisations normally organise themselves as Water Users Associations (WUAs) headed by a Board of Directors or need to report back to a General Assembly. These organisations can exist on their own but may very well form larger collectives (e.g. Regional and National Water Users Associations). Strategic partnerships and can also built with other entities such as government agencies and non-governmental organisations. While CBOs are predominantly self-funded, these partnerships can provide useful financial and organisational assistance in setting up WUAs. Regulatory bodies must provide a clear legal and policy framework (A1; A2) so that community-managed water supply and sanitation is held to the same standards and legislation that applies to other kinds of service providers.

Community-Based Organisations are adapted to supply for small-pipe water networks, which in general does not comprise for more than 1000 households. Alike their public or private counterparts, CBOs are involved in all aspects of building the basic infrastructure for a water supply and sanitation network; from designing the plans, to constructing the treatment facilities and connecting homes to a sewage system. Because community-based management model is owned by the beneficiaries, the maintenance of operations and facilities is typically managed with oversight of the respective communities themselves. A part from building and operating the actual water supply network, WUAs can also provide assistance to social service programmes, such as disseminating knowledge of national sanitation and hygiene strategies. In rural areas, WUAs but also different kind of farmers’ associations have been active in constructing and managing small-irrigation schemes.

WUAs with good performance records can also attempt to expand their water network to more users. However, network expansions require much more than infrastructure works alone. Tapping into new sources of water, for instance, most probably involves some legal implications such as the signing of renewed water extraction contracts with the relevant authorities. A significant constrain that CBOs might face in trying to enlarge their service base relates its internal finances. CBOs have traditionally opted for more simple financial systems but basic income statements and balance sheets might not be appropriate when dealing with larger number of users. In a nutshell, water and sanitation network expansions should be based on CBOs’ abilities. Feasibility studies and forecast projections should always be conducted before network expansions as to ensure that water can and will still be supplied in adequate, quality and affordable provisions.

Lessons learned

Experience with community-based water supply organizations show that:

  • Proper legal framework should be adopted so that community-based water supply organisations work alongside other entities of the water governance structure;
  • Increasing the sense of ownership works not only to promote stakeholder engagement but also help in minimizing project costs and programme efficiency;
  • The relative performance of WUAs at managing water and sanitation supply networks largely relies on the competence of the participating manager and community members;
  • Close contacts between Water User Associations and governments, especially at the local level, is needed so that active coordination and collaboration can be reached;
  • Network expansions should be done in accordance to a WUA’s competence and abilities. It should not overstretch a WUAs’ financial, human and administrative capacities.