District-wide sustainable WASH in Timor-Leste
In Timor-Leste, we face many varied challenges in reaching everyone with clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. Alex Grumbley, Country Director, explains how the programme has used a district-wide approach in its drive towards greater sustainability.
Here at WaterAid Timor-Leste we have been doing a lot of thinking about sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, and about what a successful district-wide approach involves.
Timor-Leste is a small, mountainous country with a population of 1.2 million, the majority of whom live in rural areas and are subsistence farmers. The Government expects these rural communities to form voluntary water user groups to operate and maintain their community water supply and sanitation. The Government briefly trains members to make technical repairs and collects user tariffs to finance the ongoing costs, similarly to many other developing countries.
Reflecting on this community management model, it is clear that it has not worked as intended. In most cases in Timor-Leste this 'service' has not performed well, with water supplies falling into disrepair or 'limping along' from breakdown to breakdown. If business as usual continues, the possibility of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6's target of 100% coverage by 2030, with a tap in every household supplying reliable and clean water, seems small.
Identifying and mending WASH service gaps
WaterAid Timor-Leste started work in the country in 2005 and, as the programme has evolved, our focus has increasingly been on sustaining rural water supplies and sanitation, and bringing local government and communities together through a number of initiatives. These have included supporting the establishment of an Association of Water User Groups and introducing the community scorecard process, where users and service providers score the service provided and agree a plan to make improvements, for rural water supply services.
The Association of Water User Groups has evolved into an umbrella organisation representing its members. It provides peer support and assists local government to collect the ongoing information required to keep services running, as well as acting as the regular link between the groups and local government.
One of the association’s regular activities is identifying community water supplies for which the water user group has stopped working, and to reactivate and retrain the group in partnership with local government staff. Often the groups have been found to have formed for the initial planning and construction phase of infrastructure and lost interest when the less engaging tasks of operation, maintenance and tariff collection begin.
Although the local government is engaged and appreciative of the association supporting the district to achieve targets in water supply service, it depends on WaterAid for funding. We envision that when WaterAid one day transitions out of the districts we work in, there will be an association supported through member fees matched by government subsidy which represents members’ interests and identifies and responds to members’ needs in partnership with the local government to keep services running.
The application of the community scorecard approach to rural water supply services has been a very useful process for stakeholder understanding and engagement in sustaining services. The process has enabled WaterAid and partners to work with community users to understand the level of service they can expect and the quality of the service currently provided, and has been a practical exercise in developing and tracking an action plan to improve the service along with the service provider.
Currently the service provider is the voluntary water user group with the support of the local government outreach staff. The process then brings the users and service providers together to agree on the quality of service provided and action plans to improve the service.
Actions for sustainable services
Common actions in the plans have included: users agreeing to pay tariffs more regularly and taking better care of infrastructure; water user groups being more accountable and transparent in their management of funds; developing stronger links with village leadership; and more regular support visits from government outreach workers. In the future we see this process linking closely with village councils and working as a regular assessment and update of WASH service plans across the village.
These two initiatives form part of WaterAid Timor-Leste’s district-wide approach, and have developed and evolved in an iterative process that shall continue as WaterAid works to support government and service providers to deliver sustainable WASH services. Further information is available in Harold Lockwood’s case study: 'Supporting sustainable water supply services in difficult operating environments: a case study from Timor-Leste'.