Water Meters Provide an Opportunity for Success
February 20, 2013
By Erin Wright
Water For People believes water meters can dramatically change the way we respond to the international water crisis. Why? Because using water meters means we are practicing a fundamentally different approach to solving the water crisis that leaves two in seven—1.8 billion—people worldwide without access to safe drinking water.
International development organizations historically define success as reaching as many people as possible (“beneficiaries”) with the water they need to survive and flourish. This is great in theory, as it reduces the number of people who live without this basic need; however, in practice we see a different story—young boys in India taking apart a broken handpump to use as cricket paddles; women walking two miles to the nearest water source, a dirty river, passing a broken kiosk in their community along the way.
This is because defining success as reaching more and more beneficiaries is the wrong approach; it only provides a temporary, one-off solution to get people the water they need—not a permanent solution that will last for generations to come.
Water For People has instead set an ambitious goal, defining success as reaching Everyone with water, Forever. We are testing this approach in 30 districts across 10 developing countries. This means that we set our sights higher than number of people served to entire districts (multiple communities), so that all families, schools, and clinics have water coverage. Additionally, Water For People’s investments in the district stimulate the local government, businesses, and the communities themselves to invest as well, meaning the district itself is contributing to the solution for the local water crisis. Yet, the work is not done there as we will monitor these systems and report on progress toward the goal of reaching Everyone Forever for at least 10 years, making sure to embed these monitoring systems within local, permanent institutions, so that they are able to respond to challenges on their own, and have the capacity to repair, extend, and replace systems over time without additional donor funding.
Everyone Forever is ambitious in scope, especially when you take into account the challenges that will inevitably arise if we are truly committed to ensuring water flows Forever. Who will operate and maintain the systems? How will we know that there is enough money in the bank to expand and/or replace the system one day? How will we know that the water system provides enough water to meet its users’ needs every day?
Water meters help us answer these questions, and to prepare for these Forever challenges so that we can truly succeed in our efforts.
To move beyond installing water systems, to a program that provides a comprehensive solution to the water crisis, we have to get the right kind of local management of water systems in place so that they are always being maintained and repaired when they inevitably break down. Unfortunately, examples of successful community water management that provide truly sustainable services to residents are few and far between. This means we have to change the incentive to get management in place that will ensure lasting services. And we’re working with the local private sector, by developing viable businesses that supply reliable water services to paying customers. We know that community members will pay if the service is reliable and they know their needs will always be met; local businesses could certainly fill this market for water service provision. Yet, the private sector needs to find profit in this venture, so they need to know how much water is being drawn from the system, so they can control costs and set competitive and flexible pricing. Enter water meters. With precisely measuring how much water is coming out, entrepreneurs can not only make a profit in the short term, they can also prepare for the future by growing and reinvesting in the system when it needs to be expanded to meet the needs of growing populations, or to be replaced when it reaches its end of life.
Water meters also allow us to respond to another challenge the international development sector is increasingly facing—managing the water resource itself, both in terms of quality and quantity. Water meters help us to address the latter of those resource issues. Having an accurate measure of the water flowing through systems means the operator has a sense of the amount of resource available, helping the district to understand the quantity of water available and whether it is enough to meet current and future customer demands, and flagging a potential crisis before it ever even happens. Additionally, it helps the district to promote efficient use and conservation of the water resource.
Metering water usage in districts worldwide is helping Water For People to find the right incentives to keep water flowing now and in the future—addressing water system management, system financing for eventual repairs, expansion, and replacement, and water resource management. In this way, we know we are helping to embed the ability to respond to water challenges in the districts where we work, leading to a truly sustainable impact on peoples’ lives worldwide. We ask you to join us as we continue our journey in providing lasting water services to Everyone Forever.
What do you think?