“Instead of talking about people having access to water, we should talk more about people using safe water”, says Richard Nyrishema, an SNV advisor in Rwanda. “Even if water points and latrines are present, people do not always use them or use them properly”. In each water supply system one can find water kiosks that are not (fully) operational. And in schools, for example, it is not uncommon to see that parts of the installations are not used, even when they are badly needed. Some water points have long queues and people wait hours for water: is this indicative of real access to water?
Locals mending water cans
The causes of non-functionality are varied. Often, it is due to a lack of maintenance stemming from limited availability of spare parts, and lack of knowledge and skills. Sometimes, it is a question of money; if people can get rainwater for free, why should they pay for water services? Not everyone is aware of the benefits of consuming treated clean water. Other causes are related to underlying problems in management such as unclear ownership, lack of stakeholder participation, or hidden conflicts between system managers and water point operators.
It is the right of users to demand good service provision. If users are silent about the problems they face, there is not much that can be done to solve them.
“That’s the reason why SNV Rwanda focuses on functionality”, says Michiel Verweij WASH team leader at SNV. “We not only increase people’s awareness of the importance of having a latrine, but we also teach them to use and maintain it properly. Functionality is not an easy topic to address as it requires looking beyond whether or not action has been taken, to consider if the facility or service is operational and really contributing to larger development goals (clean water, less illness, improved well-being) and if not, why? “
SNV Rwanda works with the Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to address functionality issues in the districts of Nyabihu, Musanze, Burera and Rubavu, through training and coaching project staff, local authorities, and water and sanitation organisations. One aim is to support users to assume roles and responsibilities in the operation of water facilities, alongside district officials and technicians.
Water users are the first ones to notice when something is wrong, thus, they are the first line in protecting and managing the system. They might not be able to do repairs, but they can inform the technicians and appropriate officials. It is the right of users to demand good service provision. If users are silent about the problems they face, there is not much that can be done to solve them. Solutions can be as simple as opening the gate to let the water flow. But the process of having the gate opened can be complex, involving different actors and decision levels. People don’t know where to go with their problem and stop trying. Who relates to whom, who takes decisions, who implements and when in the case of a water point failure? Having a clear organisational structure is key: people need to know who is ultimately accountable for WASH facilities and services.
Having a clear organisational structure is key: people need to know who is ultimately accountable for WASH facilities and services.
Social dialogue is another effective means of finding solutions to these types of problems. Through WASH commissions of the Joint Action Development Forum, SNV brings stakeholders in the WASH sector together to express themselves and to listen to different points of view. A schoolteacher sees the same problem differently from the engineer or the district official. The solution often lays in the intersection between these groups. The challenge is to build capacity for more inclusive and effective dialogue for problem solving.
One of SNVs priorities is to set up and strengthen Water Users Associations capable of taking responsibility and participating in water management to achieve greater functionality of water service delivery.
For more on SNV's work in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, please click here
For more on SNV's work in Rwanda, please click here