This is an archival version of the original KnowledgePoint website.

Interactive features have been disabled and some pages and links have been removed.

Visit the new KnowledgePoint website at


Revision history [back]

click to hide/show revision1
initial version
CDietvorst gravatar image
Safe Water Strategy

Here is an annotated bibliography compiled by my IRC colleague Senior Programme Officer Stef Smits:

Annotated bibliography on community-managed water supplies

[1]. World Bank Group. 2017. Sustainability Assessment of Rural Water Service Delivery Models : Findings of a Multi-Country Review. World Bank, Washington, DC

This is a study into the sustainability of rural water supplies in 16 countries across the World. This included in almost all the countries community-managed supplies, but also other types of service delivery models. The 16 countries included some of the least developed countries, but also upper middle income countries, such as Brazil and China. As such, it allowed not only analysing the opportunities and limitations of sustainability of community-managed schemes, but also looking into alternative models to community management. It is a big report, but there is an executive summary which already covers quite a bit of detail.

On the finance side, the study concluded that tariff policies remain urban-biased, ill-defined, and not tailored to the rural context. They tend to require full cost recovery, without detailed guidelines, or differentiation between operational, capital maintenance and capital replacement costs, and lack mechanisms for enforcement. A common approach is that local governments are called to the rescue upon scheme failure through a “fix-on-failure” rather than a planned life-cycle cost approach. Some countries have good examples of tariff guidelines that accurately define and allocate responsibility for financing different life cycle costs (e.g. Brazil). But this is mainly the case under service delivery models, where institutional support is an integral part of community management. Where community management is isolated (i.e. there is no explicit or well-developed mechanism for institutional support), it scored poorly across the board, including on financial sustainability. No cases were found where tariffs only could cover all life-cycle costs. Even where urban utilities are tasked to serve neighbouring rural areas – such as in China – this is done either through cross-subsidy between urban core and rural areas, or by taxes (government subsidies).

It also systematically reviews other aspects of sustainability, and how that needs to be addressed in the enabling environment. It proposes a gradual approach to improving sustainability, depending on the starting situation. See figure ES.3 in the executive summary for guidance on that.

[2]. Academic papers with case studies on financial sustainability of community-managed water supplies There are many academic articles that have explored financial sustainability of community-managed water supplies in a particular case or country. Good papers include:

Al’Afghani, M.M.; Kohlitz, J. and Willetts, J. 2019. Not built to last: Improving legal and institutional arrangements for community-based water and sanitation service delivery in Indonesia. Water Alternatives 12(1): 285-303

Chowns, E. 2015. Is Community Management an Efficient and Effective Model of Public Service Delivery? Lessons from the Rural Water Supply Sector in Malawi. Public Administration and Development 35, 263–276 (2015)

Foster, T. (2013). Predictors of sustainability for community-managed handpumps in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. Environmental Science and Technology 47, 12037-12046

Hope. R. 2014. Is community water management the community’s choice? Implications for water and development policy in Africa. Water Policy: 17 (4): 664-678.

Hutchings, P. 2018. Community management or coproduction? The role of state and citizens in rural water service delivery in India. Water Alternatives 11(2): 357-374

Schweitzer, R. and J. R. Mihelcic. 2012. Assessing sustainability of community management of rural water systems in the developing world. Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development 2 (1): 20-30.

Truslove, J.P., Miller, A.V., Mannix, N., Nhlema, M., Rivett, M.O., Coulson, A.B., Mleta, P., and R. M. Kalin. Understanding the Functionality and Burden on Decentralised Rural Water Supply: Influence of Millennium Development Goal 7c Coverage Targets. Water 2019, 11(3), 494

Though these are all papers with different entry points, and from a range of countries (from least developed countries such as Malawi and Sierra Leone to middle income countries like the Dominican Republic), they all point to the same issues: - There are no examples where communities are able to manage water supplies sustainably on their own at scale. There are individual communities who have been able to do so. But when looking at the scale of a country, or a region within a country, a very significant percentage of communities fail to manage water supplies sustainably. What that percentage is depends on the type of system (handpump or piped supplies), the country context, etc. - Sustainability of rural water supplies depends on a large number of factors. Much effort has gone into trying to untangle which factors are most or least important. But in the end it becomes clear that there is not a single, not even a small set of factors. It depends on a whole set of actors and factors. In other words, sustainability is the outcome of the system. - Sustainability tends to be better if and when the service delivery model is better defined, particularly in terms of its legal responsibilities, institutional mandates, roles and responsibilities. The case form Indonesia makes that very clear. - Sustainability tends to be better if and when water supplies are in some way ‘co-produced’ or co-managed between communities and government. This can take the form of post-construction support (as in the case of the Dominican Republic) or major financial support (as in some States in India). This in turn reinforces the importance for the previous point of having legal and institutional clarity, particularly in the division of roles between community based organisations and (local) government, and the financial responsibilities of both.

[3]. Studies on pre-paid water meters

Boakye-Ansah, A.S. Schwartz, K. and M. Zwarteveen. 2019. Unravelling pro-poor water services: what does it mean and why is it so popular? Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development 2019086

Hanjahanja, R., Omuto, C. and E. Biamah. 2018. Comparing Pre-Paid Communal Water Metering and Delegated Management in Urban Poor Setting: Case Studies in Nakuru and Kisumu in Kenya. Current Urban Studies, 6, 483-498.

Heymans, C.; K. Eales,; and Franceys, Richard. 2014. The Limits and Possibilities of Prepaid Water in Urban Africa : Lessons from the Field. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank.

The results of these studies is nuanced and mixed. Prepaid meters are but one of many elements of strategies to expand services to low-income areas, whilst allowing utilities to remain financially viable (as argued in the paper of Boakye-Ansah and Heymans). They are definitely a magic bullet. They are often preferred by consumers, as it avoids them building up large water bills or getting into debt. But, they also do limit the quantities of water that people consume and in that sense may be excluding, as Boakye-Ansah make clear. So, they are not by definition pro-poor. They may not even always make sense form a utility point of view, as there are big capital and operational costs associated with installing meters, and reading those on a regular basis. Whether the benefits outweigh the costs depends on a large number of factors (e.g. whether they are installed for household connections, public standposts or kiosks), and how they fit into broader strategies of the utilities. I have not come across cases of prepaid meters in community-managed schemes. All cases are from utilities.