Rural communities must plan on developing potable water system for the long term

Introduction

Many rural communities in Cameroon lack access to clean water. Potable water is a natural necessity for humans. This need is usually not fully met for multiple reasons, location, source availability, technology… etc. In addition, unfortunately many water projects fail.

However from current available data the most limiting factor that determines access to clean water is funds.

It is true that with the availability of adequate funds the other factors can be eliminated with ease. Some rural communities in Cameroon have benefited from the largesse of international organizations and government efforts for the development of their water systems. Visiting many of the communities today you find dry stand taps (and or with poor water quality in few cases). Investigations show that the systems lasted only for a short time. The question is why were these systems built in the first place if they were to last just for short time? (We will try to answer this question in a subsequent blog).

SAFE WATER SECURITY IS A MUST FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES IN CAMEROON

The question that may be asked is why rural communities don’t invest in good water systems which they know it’s of vital importance? Let us together look at some of the difficulties that rural communities face in terms of investments public services.

Very weak economies

The investment capacity of the rural communities which is mainly agrarian has a very low income base. In Cameroon the average per capita daily expenditure is less than a dollar and in some communities even less than ½ dollar and it is all spent on direct subsistence. Rural communities can hardly carry out huge investments such as constructions of water system because they are poorly organized as they lack;

  • Strong institutions – the village council wields little clout of authority as many members are known to lack fairness.
  • Multiple crops farming – entire villages depend on a single cash crop for their income and the crop is usually seasonal such as cocoa, coffee etc.
  • Scientific knowledge – the communities hold that their forefathers lived in the same communities surviving under similar conditions so they too will. That water is God’s gift to man as well as good health.

With very low household income it is very difficult to convince community members to postpone a fraction of their meager income on direct consumption for investment in potable water. Were it possible to convince the community to save part of their income as investment for a future water system construction it will eventually fail. The reason behind the failure may be due to the very lengthy period it would require to save enough for the construction. In my field work I have learnt that some villages had tried to follow this approach but along the way the villagers gave up not only because of the length of time but also because there were accountability and transparency issues that were not resolved to the satisfaction of the public.

Financially strapped communities at the door steps of grant makers

International funders have a big role to play in rural community development in Cameroon especially in water. Water is life that’s the reason behind the UN millennium development goal for access to safe drinking water for all which has reached 89% globally (www.theguardian.com/global-development/2012/mar/…).

Though this goal is far from being realized in many African countries I believe with the commitment of grant makers rural communities in Cameroon will gradually reach water self-sufficiency in the nearest future than later. International grant makers are thus called to action. Local civil society organizations also have the responsibility to access government funding for rural development in this regard. Furthermore national NGOs need to start lobbying government to increase funding for rural water development in their annual investment budget to increase access to safe water in rural communities. It should be worth noting that a healthy rural community guarantees a high output level of national cash crop production that the country depends on for international trade. We may simply summarize it thus: Safe drinking water (increase sanitation and hygiene) = decrease health problems = increase community output.

Partner with local organization for sustenance

Funding organizations should therefore partner with local organizations with good track records to facilitate their common goal. A low level social enterprise model for water delivery in rural communities will ensure sustainability on the long run. From my experience, for rural communities to accept ownership and manage the system well, they need to be prepared first. Two aspects should be addressed in this regard:

  • Building of institutions and provide proper training in management
  • Support financially the cost of operations at least for the first two years.

These vital preparations will end full community participation with a greater likelihood to sustainability for the long term.

Give rural communities the opportunity

It is common knowledge that we easily right off rural communities as areas for poor and bad social investments. This generalization is not true in every case.

But for the lack of large capital requirement to invest in social goods many rural communities demonstrate the will that would sustain an investment as large as a water system if they are given the opportunity.

Rural communities however need time to get used to depending on the water system for them to be convinced to give up a small fraction of their meager income on a regular basis for the sustainability of their water system. The Kasema water system in Meme Division in the South West Region of Cameroon is a good example.

Rural communities in Cameroon have a high thirst for investments. Other small social economic activities such transformation of their farm produce will enable the communities to sustain their basic social need investments like water in the long term.

Please feel free to request for more details and clarification. You may as well contribute to this blog.

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