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Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP)

Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

WASEP was instituted with an integrated approach to address the multidimensional context-specific issues identified in the water sector. WASEP has provided access to clean drinking water to more than 68,000 households in 773 settlements covering around 0.56 million population, led the construction of over 22,000 latrines, and initiated an extensive behavioural change communication campaign with 6,611 community health and hygiene awareness-raising sessions and 6,635 health sessions in schools: raising awareness amongst 154,000 community members and 98,000 students respectively. WASEP’s remarkable success is reflected in multiple fronts, for instance, community’s average medical expenditure reduced from PKR 3,070 to PKR 118, the average travel time to fetch water decreased from 50 to 2 minutes, 67% households experienced an increased attendance of their children due to reduction in diarrhoea and 19% had the same experience due to water availability. WASEP was the culmination of an extensive research and planning in the isolated and rugged mountainous areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral (GBC) characterised by harsh geographical terrains, severe climatic conditions, underserved communities, and ecological sensitivity confronting myriad adverse effects of climate change. The research results indicated that prior to WASEP, around two-thirds of the region’s population lacked access to clean drinking water. 60% of the inhabitants collected water from contaminated open channels. Some areas recorded water contamination 500-times of the WHO-suggested standards. 50% of child mortality was attributed to water and sanitation-related diseases. Moreover, 80% of women were responsible for fetching water, while negotiating rocky slopes and snow-laden fields for up to 3 kilometres.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

WASEP’s vision is to provide sustained access to water in the isolated rural communities of GBC while reducing waterborne diseases. To ensure that its interventions are owned by local communities, have a long-term sustainable impact on rural communities, are environment-friendly and cost-effective, WASEP employs a holistic and integrated six-step methodology coalescing hardware and soft components through: potable water supply infrastructure, community mobilisation and participation, water quality management, health, and hygiene education, household sanitation infrastructure, and grey water drainage. The phenomenal success of WASEP in heralding a profound change in the water sector is rooted in its distinctive research-driven approach involving the recognition of grass-root realities of the mountainous disaster-prone regions as well as of the local indigenous communities, and engineering bottom-up solutions. The infrastructural longevity against natural disasters is ensured through the identification of safer sites via topographical surveys. To gauge the community’s health and hygiene awareness, base-line Knowledge, Awareness, and Practice surveys are conducted which guide the community-level communication and awareness campaigns. The fundamental philosophy is that in order to attain a long-term change it is indispensable to educate the communities and build local capacities abreast the infrastructural provision, which makes WASEP a comprehensive package to address multifaceted challenges in the water sector. Lastly, the element of sustainability is intertwined in WASEP’s design, as it entails the involvement of local communities at each successive stage and formation of local bodies: Water and Sanitation Committees’, which ensures its maintenance and functionality through a community-based financing and maintenance mechanism.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

The northern mountainous areas of Pakistan are characterised by isolated mountainous terrains, harsh weather conditions, and disaster-prone and climate-sensitive ecosystems. The corresponding uncertainties also result in increased vulnerability, interruptions, and alterations in the water supply owing to natural disasters. Cognisant of these contextual vulnerabilities, WASEP was devised to enhance the infrastructural resilience and functional efficiency of the water schemes. Scientific approaches and local indigenous knowledge, resources, and skills were leveraged in the overall process from site selection, material deployment, engineering design to construction and maintenance. These structural considerations were complemented by non-structural measures of extensive communication strategies and community mobilisation geared towards building an overall environment conducive to better water and sanitation management. WASEP’s proactive approach has reaped positive results on multiple fronts including reliable access to water in far-flung areas even in harsh weather conditions, infrastructural resilience, and improved capacities of communities on health and hygiene maintenance.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

Through an integrated approach WASEP has concocted an overall ecosystem conducive to better health and hygiene maintenance, water availability, and management. At the heart of it is a holistic and systematic mechanism to involve local communities for effective water-related management, governance, and maintenance. A representative body known as Water and Sanitation Committee (WSC) is formed based on the participatory approach, with representation from all the segments of the community, to also ensure that the ownership and responsibility for water schemes is entrusted to the Village Organisations. This committee handles the day-to-day progress of the project, mobilises community in the planning and implementation of the projects, and collects community members’ financial contribution through the Operations and Management (O&M) fund, which is established to ensure maintenance and sustainability of the water scheme. To ensure technical sustainability, local plumbers are also trained, some of whom have been employed in the project. Health and hygiene promoters are also employed who are responsible for spreading essential health and hygiene awareness and for collecting monthly tariffs. What sets WASEP apart is that it is an overall package designed to cater to the diverse aspects of the problems on structural as well as non-structural levels.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

In the underserved geography, the issues related to the water sector were multi-layered. For the change to be impactful in the long-run, it was realised that a tailor-made approach has to be devised coupled with a mechanism to mobilise communities and bring behavioural change. It was particularly challenging to confront the psychological barriers, rampant social taboos, and stigmas on health and hygiene. To counter these, creative approaches were designed and integrated. Designated health and hygiene promoters were engaged to initiate the mobilisation at the grass-root level, WSCs were formed with mandatory female representation to cut through the prevailing gendered impact in the water-sector, local institutions were engaged, and comprehensive Community Health Improvement Programme (CHIP) and School Health Improvement Programme (SHIP) manuals were created and disseminated. Also, initially, the communities were hesitant to partake in the community contributions. However, with the passage of time, they realised that these schemes are more efficient, sustainable, and worth the contributions. This trust inflated the demand to the extent that now meeting this extensive demand has become an issue. Thus, the rigorous grassroots-level mobilisation and proven positive outcomes, have generated a massive demand for WASEP in the far-flung isolated areas of northern Pakistan.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

The water schemes under WASEP are envisaged to harvest positive results in the long-term with various drivers of sustainability incorporated into the project design. For instance, maintenance and sustainability of schemes is a pivotal component that is ensured through community-based financing in the form of an O&M fund, which is collected at the outset of project implementation and deposited as a fixed-term deposit, owned and managed by WSC. Each committee is composed of a voluntary administrative staff and two salaried employees: a male Water and Sanitation Operator (WSO) and a female Water and Sanitation Implementer (WSI). Furthermore, to assist the WSC, WSO, and WSI to perform their duties as envisioned, WASEP provides training and a manual to outline their roles and responsibilities. The sustainability of WASEP is attested by the fact that even after around 15 years of completion, more than 98% of the WASEP’s schemes are still fully operational.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

Behind WASEP’s success is a context-specific research-based approach integrating both hardware and soft components. Another key learning drawn from WASEP’s change journey is that for an intervention to be truly successful, sustainable, and impactful, it is crucial to devise a mechanism to actively engage the local communities through a participatory method and leverage the local resources for engineering and implementing contextualised solutions. It is also indispensable to change the mindset of the people through rigorous awareness and communication campaigns. Overall, proactive participation and contribution of communities are fundamental for the effectiveness and sustainability, although sometimes it requires a lot of efforts and patience on part of the implementer. Most important of all, WASEP’s success demonstrates that if done thoroughly, improvement in the water-sector, can create a ripple effect and catalyse change in areas as diverse as health, gender, education, climate change, habitat, etc.