Steps for developing a successful water project
Top: A woman gathers water from the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. Photo by Monika Lozinska Lee/Rotary Images
Bottom: Ron Denham, a member of the Rotary Club of Toronto Eglinton, Ontario, Canada, is chair of the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group. Rotary Images
Sustainability is critical to a successful water project.
Ron Denham, chair of the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group, says the nonprofit world is becoming more aware of that fact. Sustainability means not only securing local support for a water project but also making sure the community can keep it going, he explains.
"The number of nonfunctioning wells in the world is mind-boggling," says Denham. "Rotarians and water agencies are becoming increasingly sensitive to local needs, local capacity, and the local ability to make things happen."
Denham lists several keys to a successful water project.
Steps to success
1. The first step is conducting a local needs assessment. He notes that it is critical for the community to help identify the problem and the type of project that can solve it.
2. A second step is to identify international partner clubs that can participate in the funding and provide expertise to find the right solutions.
3. Third, the participating clubs need to identify the most appropriate technology to address the issue. Again, the community should be involved, because the decision will affect how much it will have to pay to sustain the project.
"Too often, clubs or districts start with the idea of putting in a well or delivering filters," Denham says. "The technology has to fulfill certain technical requirements, but it also has to be maintainable and operable by the community. And this includes paying for maintenance once the installation is complete."
4. This leads to a final step, providing for ongoing maintenance. Denham says that maintaining water quality requires the proper use of equipment and the right parts to keep it working.
"With some items, such as filters, the quality of water will deteriorate if they are not kept up properly," he says.
Denham recommends that projects include a training component to teach members of the community how to operate the equipment, as well as business skills to enable them to set up a committee or agency to collect water fees that can cover operations and repairs.
"People should be paying for their water," Denham says. "An important part of capacity-building is raising funds to keep things running."
Water projects can also involve hygiene education. According to UNICEF, hand washing with soap reduces the rate of death from diarrhea by 44 percent.
How-to for sanitation
During the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group’s World Water Summit in May, a panel on sustainable sanitation offered these tips for a good sanitation project:
- Simpler is better. Project designers should try to avoid overly complex tasks.
- It’s best to establish realistic expectations of roles and responsibilities. Projects should be designed to maximize the strengths of participating Rotarians.
- Projects should get strong buy-in from community members. That can mean educating potential local partners about the issues to help them identify attainable solutions -- a more effective strategy than simply proposing a particular project. With this approach, the community is more likely to ask, "How can I solve this problem?" or "Can you help me solve this problem?"
- Project designers and the community should have an accurate understanding of the problem based on evidence from surveys, focus group discussions, and assessments.
Order Rotary’s Areas of Focus Guide to learn more about what you can do to improve water and sanitation.