Water services in the danger zone
During the afternoon session on “post construction support and partnerships for sustainable rural water services” my colleague Jeske Verhoeven makes a presentation based on our latest WASHCost working paper on the costs of providing recurrent support to service providers.
One of the slides showed the diagram that I’ve included here. This is a slightly modified version of a concept we first aired during a presentation at the World Bank back in September. And that we’ve now shown to two different audiences here in Kampala – first at a meeting with government actors on Monday and then in the forum.
I like it because it provides a one-diagram overview of why much of the rural water sector feels as though it’s running to stand still – especially countries that had been congratulating themselves on doing rather well by raising their baseline rates of coverage.
At its simplest, it identifies a ‘danger zone’ where countries that succeeded in raising first time coverage by constructing new infrastructure (capital investment) fail to maintain the infrastructure (due to lack of capital maintenance) or to operate it adequately to provide a service (due to lack of effort on recurrent expenditure and support). The result is that after what may have been several years of rapid growth in coverage a point is raised where this stagnates – basically as new systems being brought online are offset by old ones failing. During our workshop last Monday, there seemed to be general agreement that Uganda currently finds itself in the ‘danger zone’ – with both coverage and functionality levels stagnating.
The underlying cause of the danger zone is that as we rush to lift baseline coverage rates, we invest in building capacity for project delivery – often quite effectively. But we neglect to build the capacity (or create the systems) to actually manage the service over the long term (or we fob it off onto the wonders of ‘community management’ – which is more or less the same thing). We ignore the need to ensure that recurrent support is properly financed – and we don’t put in place mechanisms by which service providers can access finance for capital maintenance (rehabilitation).