Why water systems fail part 5: insufficient training

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By Susan Davis, Executive Director

What leads to success or failure of water systems?  Everything we read points to a complex mix of factors.  In this series, we will share compiled quotes on various topics related to failure of water systems from our literature search and interviews for the resolution action brief as a way to highlight pieces of the puzzle.

I wish I had the manual!

I wish I had the manual! (photo by Susan Davis)

Today’s blog focuses on a particular aspect of implementation of projects – the training (or not) of community members to manage their water point.  Since these communities are often expected to deal with any issue that arises without external support, good quality training could be an important contributor to sustainable services (soon we’ll have another blog explaining why up-front training alone is not enough).

Contrary to common opinion and previous findings, the training of water committees in Uganda bore no significant adjusted association with handpump functionality. This may indicate that training of water committees is poorly designed and delivered, or that even if done well it provides little benefit as a once-off exercise without periodic follow-up. (Foster, 2013) First, the dichotomous indicator in the Uganda analysis that tells whether or not a committee was trained says nothing about the content, quality, or timing of the training. In contrast, when Whittington et al. found technical training to be a significant predictor of handpump functionality, the sampling frame involved specific targeting of “well-designed demand driven” rural water supply programs. (Foster, 2013)

More than half of the EU’s drinking water projects in sub-Saharan Africa have failed to deliver: a sample was examined of the WASH projects from 2001 to 2010 costing about 1 billion Euros. Equipment was usually installed properly but local communities are not sufficiently prepared to manage the projects long term. (European Court of Auditors, 2012)

The analysis of the data in this study area showed that communities or committees in the functional water points had more training than in the nonfunctional scheme. However, the overall training was very low. We might have missed the informal training that took place, but more training is needed to increase the capacity of these village water committee members to operate and maintain the water supply system. (Beyene, 2012)

Further, some user committee members were not sensitised about their roles and how to execute them. This stems from inability by overstretched and logistically constrained district officials to perform that function. Consequently, members of some user committees do not know what to do and how to do it. (Golooba-Mutebi, 2012)

As the evidence implies that water committees are not necessarily applying the lessons taught by partner organisations…, it questions partner capacity and approaches to effectively educating communities. (Jansz, 2011)

In Paraguay, while SENASA provides training, unfortunately it is only done when the Sanitation Boards start their activities as service providers and are not always trained in other relevant areas (specifically electrical and plumbing). (AVINA, 2011)

Despite the rhetoric, pre-construction community mobilization and training is not always carried out, or is of poor quality. Furthermore, there is an assumption that all communities and all schemes face the same set of basic challenges and require the same amount of training and preparation time. Many sector players do not respond to the specific ground realities. There are also questions being raised as to whether newly established formal community committees are universally appropriate and the extent to which voluntarism can be relied upon. (Rural Water Supply Network Executive Committee, 2010)

There was a perception that initial training is enough, refresher courses are unknown. Numerous, as much as 40%, of the communities have never received [community based management (CBM)] training. NGOs normally delegate the CBM training to the [district water office] staff. [Village water committee] members do not receive a documentation that would allow them to refer to the training later. (Baumann & Danert, 2008)

However, most [water & sanitation committees (WATSANCos)] complained that although trainings were relevant they were insufficient and short. Moreover, they stressed that trainings given by the [local government] and [NGO] did not have training manuals. Notes were taken in exercise books from the blackboard. This kind of training does not give lasting knowledge, as most of the WATSANCo members have limited education . . . and have poor handwriting; the absence of pictorial demonstrations means that training is forgotten very soon. This shows that installing organisations are in general not equipping WATSANCos sufficiently in terms of providing relevant training. Some training was found to be irregular and shallow. Most WATSANCos felt that trainings were relevant and useful but bemoaned the lack of training manuals to refresh themselves. Moreover, in most of the Kebeles, operators complained that the trainings given at the Woreda were more theoretical and very short (given in less than five days) and were not sufficient to pass on good technical skills. (Deneke & Abebe, 2008)

[Operations & Maintenance (O&M)] training is consistently proving to be inadequate.  O&M training as currently practiced consists of one training course – usually verbal with a little bit of practical work when the handpump is installed.  This is not sufficient.  O&M training needs to be on-going, which means that donors and the State need to realise that no water point will be sustained if only one training occurs.  (WaterAid Mozambique, 2004, Revisiting Broken Projects Programme, Niassa Province, 2000 – 2004)

A village in Kenya with broken handpump: no leadership and management skills training for the committee, and there was no technical training for pump maintenance either. According to the members present, they had been requested by RWD to provide two young men to be trained on pump maintenance and indeed the community chose them but no training was actually done. (Harvey, Ikumi, & Mutethia, 2003)

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