Water for all

Water for all

Can multiple use services deliver?

Enter a poor rural community in Africa or Asia and chances are you will find a public pump, tap or well. Here local people gather to collect water for all manner of uses: in their homes, their vegetable gardens – even for their livestock. But in many parts of the world you might equally find government-built irrigation canals being used for the same purposes. Both systems may have been well designed with specific outcomes in mind, but neither adequately fulfills all the many needs that local water users may have.

People need water for many things, but in most developing countries responsibility for water services is frequently divided between different government agencies. Typically, the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and irrigation sub-sectors may operate in very dissimilar ways. The result is that people’s multiple needs are seldom met.


A new approach

Multiple use water services (MUS) is a participatory water services approach that takes account of poor people’s multiple water needs as a starting point of planning. The approach has been implemented, on a limited scale, in at least 22 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Now a new book, Scaling up multiple use water services: Accountability in the water sector, presents one of the first-ever comprehensive overviews of this approach and argues that by designing cost-effective, multi-purpose infrastructure, MUS can have a positive impact on people’s health and livelihoods.

“We analyzed the success factors of MUS, using a framework of accountability for public service delivery,” says Barbara van Koppen from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the book’s lead author. “But we also looked at why there has been resistance against scaling up MUS.”

“A stronger service delivery approach, which includes participatory planning, can overcome this resistance,” says van Koppen. “This can be achieved by rewarding more livelihood outcomes, by fostering discretionary decision-making power of local-level staff and by allowing horizontal coordination.”


Turning on taps in Tigray

A good example of MUS in action can be found among four villages in the Adi Daero catchment in Tigray, Ethiopia. Working with an international donor, the communities planned, installed and now run a complex water scheme that includes a small reservoir, a canal with an irrigation scheme, and piped residential water. That community involvement at inception is vital, say the authors, if MUS is to be long lasting and effective.

“We’d like this book to be read by government and aid agency policymakers in the WASH and agriculture sectors, by development field workers, and by academics, researchers and students of international development,” says van Koppen. “That’s a lot of people! But for this approach to work and deliver real improvements for the rural poor, we need to bring multiple experts together to work far more collaboratively than has happened in the past.”

This publication was funded, in part, by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

Barbara van Koppen is Rural Sociologist and Gender Expert at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Pretoria, South Africa.

About the publication:

van Koppen, B; Smits, S; del Rio, C.R.; Thomas, J. 2014. Scaling up multiple use water services: Accountability in the water sector. Warwickshire, UK: Practical Action Publishing. 89p.