Water resource management for community resilience

By Lucien Damiba, Head of Programmes, WaterAid Burkina Faso and Vincent Casey, Technical Support Manager.

WASH Matters

20 Mar 2014

Standard approaches to WASH do not adequately prepare communities to manage ongoing threats to their water supplies. Whilst the combined burdens of water collection and disease are greatly reduced when improved WASH services are introduced, communities remain vulnerable to changing water availability, changing water quality and competing demands for water.

Local coping strategies can be fragile and communities often lie outside the reach of local government and basin management authorities responsible for Integrated Water Resource Management.

In West Africa, WaterAid has been working on an approach that combines WASH service delivery with actions to increase resilience against ongoing water related threats likely to impact on health and livelihoods. Community-based water resource management (CBWRM) aims to build stronger links between national government, local government and communities, and compliment national strategies for water resource management.

People living in remote rural villages in the Sahel region face long, dry seasons of six to eight months, unpredictable rainfall, and high risks of drought and seasonal flooding. Surface water sources are also highly prone to contamination and seasonal drying.

There are very limited access points to groundwater, with few boreholes and wells. Large numbers of livestock are dependent on boreholes when surface sources and shallow wells dry up. Increasingly, bucket irrigation is practised to meet growing food needs.

These pressures result in long queues at boreholes, queue jumping and individuals taking more than their fare share of water, provoking conflict. Heavy use of pumps for cattle watering causes mechanical breakage and pollution around boreholes.

Graph water resource management for community resilience

The community-based water resource management approach is facilitated by WaterAid’s local partners. Communities and local governments collectively identify threats to their water resources, nominating volunteers to monitor rainfall, groundwater levels, demand for water and land use.

Information from these simple measurements indicates whether threats such as drought or conflict over water access are likely to emerge. Communities periodically discuss these threats and take action to better manage them.

Operating principles are set up which include agreeing allocations for different water users, agreeing times when different users can and can’t access different water sources, rationing water when it is known to be in short supply, and temporarily restricting certain water uses. For example brick making when water is known to be in short supply. Water catchments are also protected to limit pollution.

There is no incentive for communities to engage in this approach unless it delivers tangible benefits to their wellbeing. Operating principles alone are not sufficient to safeguard water security. They must be coupled with incremental improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.

These improvements include designing services for multiple uses, deepening or constructing hand-dug wells, borehole construction, investment in domestic rainwater harvesting, constructing water harvesting structures to enhance water retention and recharge, bringing about total sanitation to eliminate faecal contamination, and improving hygiene practices.

The approach enables communities to decide what improvements to WASH services are necessary, in collaboration with local government representatives. The link between communities and their governments is strengthened and finance can then be sought to reduce the risks that people face.

WaterAid is promoting this more holistic approach to WASH service delivery to bridge the gap between traditional approaches and high level national or basin level efforts to improve water resource management.

For more information please download our report on strengthening WASH services and community resilience through community-based water resource management >