Today almost a billion people in the world lack access to a safe water supply, the majority of which live in rural areas. A recent paradigm shift in the water sector has meant rural communities are assuming responsibility for implementing, managing, and paying for their water supplies – change that has been met with success.
Small scale, community-based water supply systems have proven to be successful in local settings – examples of ‘good practice’. Scaling-up such services, however, (via programme replication for example) often fails; efficiently and sustainably increasing coverage and size of programmes is difficult.
This is a primary challenge facing the sector: finding ways to increase coverage from current ‘islands’ of success to reach entire populations. The other challenge is ensuring that community water services are sustainable in the long-term (meaning adequate institutional and financial arrangements are in place to support community management).
Naturally, some communities struggle with the management of their water services after they assume its control due to a variety or reasons of which ineffective organizational behaviour is one. However, the main reason programme expansion often fails is harder to deduce. The problem lies not only in scaling-up, but also in enabling long-term sustainability.
The Thematic Group On Scaling-Up Rural Water Services formed in 2001 to expressly review and research these challenges. Hosted by WSSCC, the Group also focuses on community-managed water supply, principally in rural areas, within the context of sanitation, hygiene, food production, and economic uses.
In April 2010, this group, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda, organized a symposium called Providing Sustainable Water Services at Scale. Among the topics discussed was the Sustainable Services at Scale (or Triple-S) initiative, which seeks ways to implement and scale-up sustainable rural water systems. The report of the symposium can be found in the Resource section. Shortly after the symposium, the Thematic Group On Scaling-Up Rural Water Services merged with the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN), keeping the name of the latter.