Myths of the Rural Water Supply Sector

In a week or so I’ll be at 6th Rural Water Supply Network Forum in Kampala, Uganda. The event’s theme is Rural Water Supply in the 21st Century: Myths of the Past, Visions for the Future. RWSN set out their “seven myths” of the rural water sector in a paper last year (I’ll address the vision in my next post). These range from “Myth 1: The best way to utilize public funds is to heavily subsidise hardware” to “Myth 7: There is a quick fix for rural water supplies.” But just as interesting is the overall message to sector professionals:

… you may decide that some of these are not myths at all, but are glaringly obvious. Take the example of the myth that “building water supply systems is more important than keeping them working”. Your reaction may be that this is not a myth, and that you are well aware of the importance of operation and maintenance. But then ask yourself what you are actually doing in your programmes to address this major problem. Many of us are well aware that the issues set out in this paper are myths. Nevertheless, most of us carry on as before.

This is a good reminder that while it might be organisations that sign up to Sustainability Charters, we need significant self-reflection and commitment to long-term aims as individuals too.

The ultimate myth is that there is a quick fix for rural water supplies; a simple idea, such as a new pump or a clever way to organise a village committee. We argue in order to provide a basic level of reliable service to all rural dwellers, there is no quick fix to substitute for many years of political negotiation, institution building, education, long term investment and innovation.

I hope the debates at the RWSN Forum promote useful reflections from both personal and organisational perspectives on these issues. I’ll be blogging from here and hope to contribute via the WaterAid and RWSN event blogs as well.

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