Understanding water supply maintenance needs to plan smart solutions


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Why do some water supplies get repaired while others do not? Having assessed the scale of the problem in one district in Cambodia, SNV and partners spoke to communities to understand the issue and begin tailoring solutions. SNV Cambodia is working closely with the Provincial Department of Rural Development (PDRD) in Kampot Province to implement the Functionality of Rural Water Supply Services (FRWSS) programme for Chum Kiri’s 50,000 residents.

In early 2014, provincial and government staff surveyed and mapped all 1,055 tube wells, dug wells, and community ponds in Chum Kiri. This revealed that there were 85 tube wells and 18 dug wells that were no longer providing water to their communities – most commonly because they were dry or because of pump mechanism problems. The survey also reported that nearly half of all the water supplies had broken down at some point since their original construction.

During several community Operation and Maintenance (O&M) sessions in June 2014, SNV and our government partners gained a better understanding of the issue. After visiting broken tube wells, the viewpoints of the community and the local and provincial authorities towards operation and maintenance issues also became clearer. Drawing on the water supply users perspectives, we discovered there are several common reasons why wells and other water supply infrastructure are not being repaired:

  • Alternative water supplies are already available and households don’t feel the need to conduct repairs, even though the alternatives – such as surface water supplies – are often less safe.
  • Water from many tube wells tastes bad due to hardness and other aesthetic reasons, so people don’t value water from these wells.
  • Households who were not involved in construction of the water supply feel that whoever funded construction should be responsible for repair too.
  • Communities know that the provincial government has a programme to repair wells, so rather than spending their own money, they prefer to wait for the government to do it.
  • People don’t understand the technical problems leading to breakdown and may not even know how to perform minor repairs.
  • Sometimes the water supply has a major problem that is beyond the technical or financial capacity of the users. Such issues appear to be most common with Afridev pumps.

The reasons for rural water supply infrastructure remaining broken over the longer-term are just as diverse and complex. For example, Kampot PDRD has an annual budget for well repair including providing spare parts kits for free to households and conducting repairs to hand pumps. Each year they rotate through one of the seven rural districts in the province to implement repairs. However, currently the budget is only enough to repair 60 to 100 pumps per year. Therefore users who decide to wait for government support may have to wait up to seven years before the government reaches their district.

With the understanding gained from the operation and maintenance sessions held in Kampot this year, SNV and PDRD are drafting a community-based O&M toolkit. This toolkit will provide a way for water users to learn how to perform minor repairs, know where to access repair services, technical advice, and spare parts, and to record and report details of major mechanical problems that arise.  Such records and reports will inform local and provincial government and allow for better identification, diagnosis and repair of breakages that are not being resolved by users themselves.

Watch out for the next blog on how the toolkit is developed and deployed alongside other tools, including the testing of a social accountability approach to water supply functionality - a first in Cambodia’s rural WASH sector.

Best estimates* suggest that each year the Cambodian government, NGOs, and donors invest USD $6-12 million in rural water. With additional contributions from communities and private households, this equates to a large amount of investment - a significant part of which is spent on new water supplies. Eventually this infrastructure will encounter problems during its lifetime. But why is it that some infrastructure is repaired but some is not? Do the communities not need the water that these supplies provide? The Functionality of Rural Water Supply Services (FRWSS) programme focuses on five key components: national dialogue and learning; WASH governance and planning; post-construction support mechanisms; performance of implementers; and performance of operators. The objective of the two-year programme is to improve the health and quality of life of residents by increasing the number of people using drinking water supplies that meet at least a basic service level.
(*Report on Partner Mapping Survey Rural WASH, August 2013, Ministry of Rural Development)