The role of community assessments in safe water projects

Working towards long-term safe water solutions requires a deep consideration for the local community.  With this in mind, certain factors can be identified as playing an important role in determining whether a community is firstly in need and secondly ready to accept, a long-term safe water solution.  Unless dealing with an emergency situation, Water Missions International’s (WMI) first point of call is the collection of basic water and community data.  This is a key step in preparing the groundwork for the safe water solution implementation.  This article will explore the importance of community assessments as part of preparing for a safe water solution, and specifically how community assessments contribute to the success of the project in the long run.

Describing the community

 Describing the community is an important start to the safe water solution project design.  WMI characterizes communities in terms of population size, population density and the average household water consumption and demand.  This data forms WMI’s design basis for a water solution.  With the data, WMI can work alongside the community’s specific needs.  Physical parameters also need to be taken into account.  Parameters such as community water consumption will for instance determine the storage units needed for the project.

Data collection is launched through WMI’s “Safe Water Project Request” – a simple administration form.  This administrative exercise allows WMI to gain an understanding of the community’s technical and financial circumstances – something which greatly determines how the project should be implemented, ultimately contributing to the sustainability of the project. At this early phase of the community assessment, technical data is the everyday information about the community.  What is needed at this early phase is the population size, community security, existing infrastructure, and where water is currently sourced from. As part of the community assessment, it is of critical importance to gain an understanding of the community’s abilities and willingness to participate in the project over the long run.  What can the community contribute in terms of time, resources or even expertise?   Once this data has been secured, WMI evaluates the information to determine the feasibility of the community for successful long term water solutions.  This is followed by a detailed community assessment led by WMI in-country staff.

Community members can contribute to water solution projects by helping with labor.

Community members can contribute to water solution projects by helping with labor.

As we’ve noted before, the need for safe water solutions is huge.  With such a significant need, one cannot otherwise but wonder how to select communities for project implementation.  WMI’s priority is to provide lasting water solutions – projects that can secure safe water supply for a community for many years to come.   As such, WMI’s careful assessment of communities and their needs help determine whether lasting success with the intended project and technology is within the community’s reach.

Community involvement

Emphasis is placed on community involvement – from the earliest possible phase.  It is therefore WMI’s priority to determine to what extent the selected community can be involved: what financial support is available, what labor opportunities are available, the extent of natural resources that the community can contribute to the project for building materials (rock, sand, concrete), and how community members can assist with WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) promotion.  Once this has been determined, WMI enters discussions with the community on the establishment of a Safe Water Committee.  This committee has a very important role to play in the operation management and financial management of the planned water solution. Community involvement is a critical part of projects like WMI’s safe water solutions which work towards achieving socio-economic goals in economically depressed communities.  Considering this, it is clear how thorough community assessments play such an important role in the overall success of implementing safe water solutions.

Community mapping, as part of community assessments, involve the local community and identify its specific needs.

Community mapping, as part of community assessments, involve the local community and identify its specific needs.

No infrastructure to support the water project?

WMI realizes the need for safe water solutions extends well beyond the availability of infrastructure or business experience within a community to properly manage the project long-term.  To provide for these situations, a new management model, TradeWaterTM, has been developed.  In these cases, WMI maintains a very close management and operational role.

Evaluating current water sources

Once the available water sources have been identified, WMI needs to evaluate the water sources in terms of quality, quantity, accessibility as well as ownership.  Water sources and characteristics are unique and different for each community depending on where the water is sourced from (water may be sourced from rivers, lakes, groundwater or rainwater), geographical location, climate and other bio-physical attributes.  The distance between the community and its main water source is another important factor to consider in the design phase.  How is the community currently reaching their daily water and what distribution system will best serve WMI’s water solution?  As WMI is concerned with safe water, a basic water quality assessment is needed to determine which treatment options will be necessary for the planned water solution.  By applying Hach water quality tests, WMI obtains a basic assessment of the type of contamination that need to be dealt with.

WMI’s experience and successes in implementing lasting water solutions are evidences of their understanding that each community’s situation is different, and that water solution projects need to be tailored according to community circumstances and alongside community input.  WMI’s success also lies in their multidisciplinary team of community development practitioners, including skilled social workers and technicians.  WMI’s teams are in-country teams, meaning they nationals working on the ground alongside local communities for dedicated solutions.  And with WMI’s emphasis on lasting, sustainable safe water solutions, their detailed community assessments are part of their formula for success.

 

 

Sources: Water Missions International (2013).

Photo credits: supplied by Water Missions International (2013).

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