Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Sri Lanka: 3rd Water Supply and Sanitation Project— Participatory, Consultative and Empowering
September 2006

Large-scale water projects have been ongoing in Sri Lanka since 1986, with the initial project focusing on developing the water supply sector. A follow-up project in 1993 covered both water supply and sanitation sectors. Progress, however, remained relatively slow and was delayed when the 2004 Asian tsunami hit the country. Could a third water supply and sanitation project be Sri Lanka’s charm in providing water supply and sanitation coverage to its citizens? THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM A third project in Sri Lanka, which began in 1999, is currently developing water and sanitation facilities in rural and urban communities covering 1 million people. By June 2007, it aims to have provided new and improved piped water systems to 80,000 households tube wells and dug wells to 100,000 households latrines for sanitation improvement to 120,000 households In the past, two large-scale water projects supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)—one on water supply systems rehabilitation in the 1980s, and another on water supply and sanitation expansion in the 1990s—achieved modest results. They were saddled by security risks and high inflation in the local construction industry, among others. Unlike these previous attempts however, this third project introduces a consultation and participation approach in all of the project stages—from project design to implementation and completion and to operations and maintenance—that has never been done in the country before. It is demanddriven by beneficiaries—the poor—who are to choose the type of water supply and sanitation technology they want communicate the level of service they are willing and able to pay for play a dynamic role in project planning and design contribute time, labor, and materials to the project operate and maintain the system to ensure sustainability The project covers six districts in central, western, and southern Sri Lanka— Anuradhapura, Hambantota, Kalutara, Kegalle, Monaragala, and Puttalam.

AN INNOVATION IN APPROACH The modest achievements made by past water projects in Sri Lanka provided the groundwork for the current project, particularly in the formulation of its consultation and participation (C&P) approach. Before 1999, consultations with stakeholders, especially the poor, have been minimal. With the C&P approach, the poor are given a better chance of participating in the project. The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB), Sri Lanka’s principal agency for water supply and sanitation and the project’s implementing agency, has gained the autonomy necessary for mobilizing community-based organizations (CBOs) for the participatory process. Furthermore, some CBOs established by Pradesiya Sabas (PS) or local village councils during previous projects are now more organized. The PS supervises CBOs and acts as their immediate link to the NWSDB. It also taps local nongovernment organizations (NGOs) as partners to provide technical support and advice, and hygiene/health education training programs Each CBO is composed of a few hundred people, each representing beneficiary households. Their willingness to participate has become the most important factor in the project’s success or failure, and the C&P approach ensures their participation. C&P is a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives, and the decisions and resources that affect them. There are four different levels of C&P to engage stakeholders: Information sharing is one-way communication often involving dissemination of information about an intended project, program, or strategy Consultation means gaining stakeholder input on proposed or ongoing activities Collaborative decisionmaking means that stakeholder groups jointly make decisions about the project Empowerment , a deeper level of participation, is where beneficiaries and other key groups initiate action and take control over development decisions and resources

PROCESSES AND SUCCESSES IN C&P Following the C&P approach, discussions were held with CBOs to get them involved right from the project planning stage. The extent and level of public consultation and participation took place over the four C&P levels, and these, in turn, demonstrated the successes the project has so far made. Information Sharing Established CBOs provided the avenue for disseminating information about the project as well as getting feedback. Communities were educated about their roles and responsibilities in the project. CBOs were trained in participatory planning to learn the nuances of project preparation. To date, about 2,000 CBOs have been organized in the six project districts. Consultation CBOs were consulted to get their inputs on the project’s objectives, including the kind of affordable technology to be implemented. CBOs chose the type of water supply scheme (piped water, water pumps, deep-tube wells or water tanks for rainwater collection) and sanitation system (off-set water sealed pit latrines, ventilated improved pit latrines, or direct pit latrines) that suited their respective villages. For most rural households, which never had improved water supply or sewerage facility, it was the first time they chose the type of facilities they wanted. In making their choices, the CBOs were assisted by technical experts from NGOs, the local government and the NSWDB. The discussions became a learning process for all parties. Collaborative Decision Making CBOs facilitated discussions among households to help them make sound choices about the water and sanitation technology they needed and can afford. Communities were expected to contribute 20% of the project costs through cash or in-kind contributions, and are made responsible for full management of the system. Memoranda of agreement were signed between CBOs and the government specifying that the beneficiaries were to contribute their labor and material costs. This contribution gives beneficiaries a stake in the project, which helps to secure the water and sanitation system’s sustainability. Empowerment CBOs’ participation in the project’s decision making processes has been both a learning process and a source of community empowerment. Women and girls have become more empowered through the project since they no longer carry the task of collecting water. Young women have now more time to study and women have more time for livelihood activities to boost the family income.

Women demonstrated a high tendency to form their own informal network, where they exchange opinions on the welfare of their households and villages and ideas for further social and economic change. Such social interactions reinforce the functions of the CBOs, where women are now playing larger roles. Women’s membership in the executive committee of all CBOs has reached 40%. Before the project began, no women were involved in running the village community affairs. Skills training, which ensures that the operations and maintenance of the project can be managed by CBOs, reinforces their sense of ownership of the water supply and sanitation system they now enjoy. MINOR SETBACKS AND LESSONS LEARNED The high level of C&P has clearly helped eliminate potential big issues that could have seriously delayed the project. Two external factors, however, did cause some delays. One was a classic fight over water rights. A group of farmers in Hambantota District were not willing to share their water sources. Since, the farmers were outside of the project area and were not beneficiaries, the government signed an agreement not to touch their water source and to look for other water sources. The project in Hambantota District, thus, started two years later than in other districts. Hambantota was also the only district to be affected by the 2004 tsunami. Although the project site was far inland and was not directly affected, the disaster had caused shortages in construction materials nationwide, resulting in projectwide delays of 6 to 12 months. A TIMELY NATIONAL POLICY An independent audit of the project commissioned by the NWSDB and released in January 2005 showed that communities’ enthusiasm over the project was overwhelming in some villages. Most CBOs met the target and paid up on time. The effectiveness of the C&P approach caught the attention of the Sri Lankan government. In 2001, the government institutionalized certain aspects of the project by making them a matter of national policy. The beneficiary costsharing and responsibility was incorporated in the National Policy for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation, thereby mandating that the water and sanitation sector be demanddriven and based on participatory approaches. The policy further encourages the beneficiaries to take over full responsibility for ownership and management of the assets. The policy particularly mentions women, saying they should play a central role in the decision-making process of the water supply and sanitation sector.

TYING UP LOOSE ENDS As of August 2006, 96% of the project has been completed. While everything seems to be going as planned, the NWSDBcommissioned audit still calls for more technical training to sustain operation and maintenance more CBO training to show management and financial transparency hygiene awareness programs to change behavioral practices for better utilization of the new facilities legalization of the CBOs, as they are currently considered volunteer organizations, so that they can gain access to credit and be held accountable. CBOs are now in the process of fulfilling all of these in time for the project’s completion in June 2007.

____________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in September 2006: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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