Every day, members of the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector seek to find solutions and strategies to put an end to the global water crisis, which leaves 2.2 billion people without access to clean, safe water.
Both urgent and enormous, this crisis can only be solved through strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations.
This past week, members of the Water Mission team had an opportunity to virtually collaborate with WASH industry professionals from more than 120 countries at the annual Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) World Water Week.
During the conference, I sat down with Lara Lambert, Water Mission’s director of community development, and Ritah Nakafeero, Water Mission’s community development manager in Uganda, to discuss their experience at this year’s virtual #WWWeek, and gather more insight about the importance of safe water enterprises (SWEs).
Acadia Munari: Can you give a brief overview of your experience at this year’s virtual SIWI World Water Week conference?
Lara Lambert: It was really great because the conference is usually held in Stockholm, Sweden, and you have to travel there to be able to attend the sessions. It’s been a unique opportunity for everybody to participate and has opened up doors for more key stakeholders and people to be able to attend important sessions. I think SIWI has seen record numbers of attendance and record number of viewers. For me, this experience has been pleasantly surprising and very encouraging.
AM: One of the sessions you participated in discusses safe water enterprise (SWE) implementers. Can you share what exactly SWEs are and their importance?
LL: SWEs sell treated water for either pickup or delivery in containers and they’re usually a more cost-effective approach to expand safe water access. I think it’s important for people to understand that they are non-governmental solutions that are fee-based and locally-owned and operated by communities. Water is usually extracted, treated, and sold from the same location. The opportunity to scale SWEs is greater than if you’re doing a large-scale piped water system. If you think about a local utility that’s piped into large areas, if that system goes down—or is intermittent or that service is interrupted—then everybody in that piped network is impacted. If you have multiple SWEs and one goes down, it doesn’t interrupt the entire network.
AM: What are the top three ways Water Mission has seen success in operating as an SWE implementer?
Ritah Nakafeero: The three top ways are solar-powered pumping, remote monitoring, and prepaid metering. Solar-powered pumping enables remote, last mile communities to have piped water, and reduces operations and maintenance costs. It also requires little-to-no technical skills for its operation.
Remote monitoring helps to keep the quality of the water source in check and measures the amount of water produced, distributed, and consumed. It also provides updates on system functionality like damages, pipe leakages, and more.
Lastly, prepaid metering allows for 100% user fee collection when water is consumed. It helps households plan for their water needs since they can be installed on house connections, and reduces the labor force required for collection of user fees—ensuring everyone pays the same amount of money for every gallon or liter of water consumed. This also prevents conflicts related to payment and collection of user fees.
LL: I would also add that another way Water Mission sees success is providing a high level of service for treated water. We see that people pay for a higher level of service and, if we’re able to provide consistent high-level service in terms of safe drinking water, then that’s also a way that we’re able to make those SWEs financially viable. People don’t want to pay for a low-quality service or product, so having a high-quality product and a high-quality level of service improves financial sustainability in SWEs as well.
AM: For those who are not as familiar with community development or WASH, how does this work play into Water Mission’s goal to end the global water crisis?
LL: As a safe water implementer, we take the community-managed approach because we know it’s more scalable than Water Mission implementing, operating, and maintaining systems for the long term. We want to ensure systems are running 10–20–30 years from now, where communities are able to locally own and operate them, but there might come a time where they need more technical and administrative support down the road and Water Mission can still provide that support.
RN: Our work majorly focuses on community mobilization, stakeholder engagements, formation of management, and promotion structures and capacity building. This helps people appreciate the need for a safe water solution and make a material or financial contribution towards the needed improvement—fostering ownership and responsibility. Altogether, this mobilization helps us to move closer to ending the global water crisis.
The Necessity of Partnerships
Lara and Ritah continue to pave the way in Water Mission’s collaborative WASH efforts—empowering and supporting vulnerable communities around the world with access to safe water.
With this, it’s important to note that putting an end to the global water crisis cannot be done singlehandedly. It requires intentional partnerships with other organizations committed to bringing clean, safe water to the 2.2 billion people currently without access.
Through Water Mission’s newest initiative, the Global Water Center, WASH organizations will have more opportunities to develop strategic partnerships and share resources to bring that daunting number to zero.
Our team is grateful to be recognized as a player in the global WASH sector and thankful to have the opportunity to share our learnings with people from around the world.
Learn more about WASH and watch the seminars featuring Lara and Ritah:
- Session 1: “Results-based Contracts for Rural Water Services: Delivering Reliability for 100 Million People by 2030”
- Session 2: “Climate Change Impacts on Small Water Enterprises Financial Sustainability”