By Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji
‘’ The Karonga water project in Malawi provided communal hand pumps to a population of 60,000. It included a four year maintenance phase after installation during which the project team maintained a high profile in the community and provided capacity building support. In 1997, two years after all project support ended, 95% of the hand pumps and boreholes were working, with 75% working ‘’well’’. Communities repaired their hand pumps and purchased spares when they needed them’’.
This project till date is a good example of successful water projects to development workers globally especially those working in the water and sanitation sector.
Based on a review of several sources, the financing gap for meeting Millennium Development Goals water and sanitation targets in Nigeria is approximately given as water is Naira 200 billion while sanitation is Naira 150 billion. Also based on available information, current budgets for water supply represent a small fraction of the financing requirements. The most significant budget allocation is at the federal level. It was estimated that over the period 2000 – 2005, allocations averaged some 4 billion Naira per year.
Actual releases are more difficult to determine but are known to be somewhat less. Available information indicates that secured financing covering the period 2005 - 2009 from major external support agencies such as the EU, DFID, JICA, UNICEF etc. is in the region of Naira 18bn. The actual figure may be somewhat less if the co-financing requirements of government are taken into account.
However, far beyond the financial requirement for such projects, the involvement of the community in all stages of any proposed water supply and sanitation programme in Nigeria is very crucial and should no longer be overlooked. Fairness and equity should be promoted through multi-stakeholder participation using appropriate participatory tools.
In view of this, it should be brought to the attention of the government at all tiers of governance in Nigeria, the many examples of community water and sanitation projects that were built and ended up being abandoned or broken down soon after commissioning. This was because the needs of most of those communities were taken for granted. ‘Top down Approaches’ was used and this meant that communities were given whatever projects the government thought fit. Those communities were never really consulted and their real ‘’felt’’ needs were never identified. This resulted in unwanted projects which were neglected and became ‘white elephants’.
Current realities demand the involvement of a community at all stages of a project. This is important in order to ensure that the community owns the project and willingly takes responsibility for it. The era of project implementation in which experts and officials made all decisions and the community were directed as to how they should participate is gone. Such projects are often products of poor participatory planning and design processes because the government or donors merely bring it, fixed support packages and work to tight schedules, often only ‘’informing’’ community (male) leaders, and lacking time and resources to engage in true consultation and capacity development.
It is important to highlight that the community is the end user of the proposed project. End user’s needs, especially those of poor women and men are at the basis of integrated needs-based planning processes that are cost-effective, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. Community involvement is therefore essential to ensure genuinely sustainable projects particularly water and sanitation projects. In order to make sure that projects are sustainable, there is every need to identify clear steps in the project implementation process that will engage the community.
The involvement of the community in the proposed service provision will enable their commitment to it. The sustainability of the project will therefore depend on the quality of cooperation by the community at the various stages of the project implementation and even afterwards. However, it is often a challenge in many places to ensure long term sustainability of community participation and management. The Nigerian government and her development partners have a task to overcome this challenge by listing relevant strategies for community involvement and its approaches during project identification and design.
Effective participation in development projects affords communities greater control over decisions affecting their lives. Nigerian rural communities should no longer be denied such opportunities. By incorporating their ideas and values into the planning process, the prospects for appropriate and valued outcomes, and hence sustainability, are also much improved.
Community involvement in this case could be either through Community participation, Community management, Demand responsive approaches, Social marketing; Right based approach and partnership. If for example, the community participation approach is used then vital participatory tools will include processes that can enable the building of self esteem, sense of responsibility, increased awareness of problems/issues and options for change and capacity to change their own lives etc. The expected outputs therefore are decisions and solutions that are identified and implemented for greater common good in the community.
However, and to effectively achieve this, it is suggested that the community be involved in all stages of the project such as; First, Project identification stage; at this stage, community needs can be identified by assessing their development priorities. What do they really need at the moment? Or is their another immediate pressing need? Such need identification could be made using a variety of approaches like the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA).
Second, Feasibility, design and planning; the important principle for community involvement in this phase of the project is to understand and collectively correct problem area and chart a way forward. It is imperative to ensure that the community takes part in site selection, survey, environmental impact assessment and many other investigations or discussions forming part of the feasibility and design. This may mean spending time explaining the design to key members of the community. The design must also consider community preferences and practices. Issues like capacity assessment, cost sharing and other relevant information are extracted or unveiled at this stage.
Third, construction, the roles of who should do what should be clear at this stage. Typical community roles during construction may include labour and/or gifts to labourers. The management committee and possibly other members of the community should be involved in measuring and approving the work carried out. This gives some level of project control to those involved.
Fourth; Operation and maintenance; the community should have a greater role and responsibility in the management and operation of the project; this is so because the community is the principal beneficiary. However, the operation and management of a water supply and sanitation requires awareness, skills and experience that many communities may lack. Community capacity may therefore be strengthened so that they can manage such new projects with ease. This stage has often richly demonstrated to bring immense benefits in terms of increased ownership and sustainable management.
And fifth; monitoring and evaluation; there is need to assist the community to develop suitable system for monitoring the performance of the water and sanitation infrastructure. This is important for management, re-adjustment or introduction of new approaches towards improving the new project when in use.
The adoption of community participation or management does not imply that the users must carry out all repairs and maintenance. No! only that they are responsible for ensuring that it gets done. It is also germane to emphasise that the way forward lies not in assigning all responsibility either to government or the community, but in matching community capacity to the capacity of government to provide an enabling, supportive environment.