Field Lessons: Inspiring Community Ownership

This article captures the field lessons of Rotary Pacific Water as water and sanitation development projects are executed in rural Fijian communities.

Community ownership in this context implies; the possession and exclusive right to tangible assets such as water sources and infrastructure; the kind of ownership that allows a community to influence its operation and enjoy the benefits of access to safe water.

Furthermore, ownership is defined as the result of communities’ confidence and responsibility to actively participate in the planning of their water scheme.

The ownership of water resources in Fiji is intertwined with local tenure of land and the general theory of public property, whereby access to water is everyone’s right.

The objective for Rotary Pacific Water is to plan, design and construct water and sanitation projects that remain fully functional for 10 or more years of operation. This is achieved with co-operation from water committees set up within the assisted communities. Generally, our initial site visit brings a promise of reliable water supply, and that alone inspires community involvement and cooperation in the solution.

A technical evaluation of rural water projects in late 2013 reported that 18 out of 22 were still operational after a year of being built. Further assessments measured project efficiency, water quality and to what extent built water systems mirrored our designs.

Retiled toilet blocks, additional standpipes for drinking, and hand washing facilities built near toilet blocks were all indications of an active school committee.

The limited capacity of water committees to organise maintenance nor understand the operations and basic plumbing of their built systems resulted in rural water schemes breaking down and households reverting back to their old water sources.

This usually happened when there was no surveillance, mentoring or support mechanism in place for water committees.

Recognising this gap spurred Rotary Pacific Water to increase its level of support by strengthening community water committees’ skills and knowledge of how to operate their built water systems.

A self help maintenance guide strengthens communities sense of ownership and confidence with setting up and maintaining their water and sanitation schemes.

This written resource guide makes operation, maintenance, and hygiene aspects of the water and sanitation systems permanently available to the community.

1. Strengthening cooperation

We make sure the community is involved in every step of project implementation. Local knowledge and support guides our technical assessment of the site, necessary for designing the rural water supply scheme.

Co-operation from the Ministry of Health as well as Rural and Maritime Development, rallies support from the community and helps Rotary Pacific Water engage with key leaders.

Provincial administrators and health inspectors also assist us with monitoring and evaluating the operation of installed rural water systems in their locality.

Rotary Pacific Water builds on its good relations with government partners to foster replicability, build capacity, and avoid overlap. These measures ensure long term rural water supply and adequate sanitation are realised.

Every assisted community establishes a water committee responsible for governing their water resources and built supply systems.

A water committee is usually led by the village headman or spokesman (district councillor) and consists of 7 to 15 members of the community, including women and youth representatives. Water committee members are often seen digging trenches, sorting and sieving gravel or providing support to the able-bodies working the pipeline.

School water committees vary with the kind of management that oversees students’ access to clean drinking water, as part of the overall development plan.

School management can consist of a headteacher, a manager elected by parents, and the caretaker responsible for general maintenance of the building, toilets, and water- related infrastructure.

Our experiential learning from regular interaction with water committees suggests that it is imperative to build trust and maintain a strong relationship with key leaders.

Rotary Pacific Water provides ongoing technical support to water committees for at least 2 years following project completion.

2. Raising awareness

Rotary Pacific Water encourages water committees to regard their rural water supply as a communal investment, despite the oversight being the responsibility of a few.

Cultivating healthy water, sanitation and hygiene practices within the community is a key component of Water for Life projects.

WASH awareness sessions are carried out while construction is underway and community action planning takes place once the built water scheme is supplying water.

‘WASH Activity guide for communities’ was developed in 2013 to help our staff facilitate community awareness raising. Written in consultation with local health inspectors, this resource promotes dialogue and inclusive participation in making decisions about water accessibility, sanitation and service quality.

The guide structures how Rotary Pacific Water staff facilitate community awareness outreach and education sessions, to furnish a community’s sense of project ownership and responsibility.

We encourage participation of women and youth in this process, as hygiene and behavioural changes need to take place to address their needs.

3. Building capacity

Successful interventions correlate with the active involvement of women in water committees. Women are major water users and often manage their household budgets, which includes paying the water committee levy for repair and upkeep of infrastructure. Their practical experience should influence decision making regarding the management of water. Rotary Pacific Water, in partnership with provincial administrators, includes women in all aspects of capacity building.

In 2016, three coordinated provincial workshops catered for community water committees in Bua, Lomaiviti and Macuata. A three-day workshop program focused on water committees roles and responsibilities to ensure the long term water supply needs of their communities are met. WASH awareness, basic financial literacy skills (to aid in budget planning for repair costs), tailored water conservation strategies, and action planning activities were included in the training program. There are plans to coordinate similar training workshops for water committees in other provincial areas where a cluster of assisted communities with rural water development projects exist.

Ultimately, the success and failure of rural water development initiatives will depend on the degree to which communities are empowered to take ownership and responsibility for their water supply and sanitation standard. Through inclusive participation and activities that promote dialogue and learning, Rotary Pacific Water inspires assisted communities to take ownership of their rural water schemes. Our set targets are meeting the integrated framework for building capacity in rural development subscribed by the Ministry of Rural & Maritime Development and National Disaster Management.

More Information

For more information, please contact: Monifa Fiu [email protected]