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Published on 01/09/2011

Acting to Improve Access to Drinking Water and Sanitation

Despite the progress that has been made over the past decade, access to drinking water and sanitation is still a pressing issue in many countries. The numbers are clear: in 2010, more than 2.5 billion people suffer from a lack of basic sanitation, and one billion people still do not have access to drinking water. In response to this situation, GRET is working to improve drinking water and sanitation access conditions for disadvantaged populations through innovative projects. Its actions are integrated into collective learning processes in which strengthening local institutions and improving the professionalism of actors in the sector play an important role.

Multiple Stakes and Considerable Challenges

The leading cause of death in developing countries, lack of sanitation and poor quality water kill more than two million people every year. Repeated illnesses, infant mortality, water chores that hinder children’s school attendance—these are the painful realities of those who do not have access to these vital resources.

In addition to the public health stakes, one must also consider the economic, social and political dimensions of water and sanitation. Extending access to drinking water and improving sanitation determine all economic development efforts in favor of everyone. If you need convincing of this, remember that disadvantaged households that are not connected to conventional water services often pay more for their water than wealthy households that are connected to these services. In Nouakchott, for example, water in poor settlements located on the outskirts of the city cost fifty times more than it does in central neighborhoods connected to the piped system.

Alongside these challenges, there are numerous challenges with “variable geometry.” For instance, the lack of public control over urbanization in large cities in developing countries hinders policies to extend piped systems in precarious settlements. Similarly, in large towns, where modes of life are changing rapidly, village hydraulic systems (wells, boreholes, etc.) can no longer meet households’ demands.

However, the major technical and economic models are not the only ones at fault. More generally, the forms of governance used for these services must be re-designed. The aim is to move beyond systematic—even ideological (“all public”, “all community-based”, “all private”, etc.)—approaches in order to work from within negotiated methods whose coordination modes are the result of true collective compromises.

GRET’s Actions: Increasing Professionalism and Building Institutions

For more than thirty years, GRET has helped improve drinking water and sanitation access conditions for disadvantaged populations. From digging wells and distributing latrines in the early 1980s, its actions have progressively turned toward institution building and support improving the professionalism of local water and sanitation actors.
Read more about GRET’s experience in the field of water management >>> []

Following a dual logic of collective learning and service sustainability, GRET’s projects endeavor to help capable professional operators emerge regardless of their status, and offer quality services that are accessible to all and meet households’ expectations. Among other things, these actions aim to strengthen the leadership provided by public actors and their capacity to exercise their prerogatives when it comes to planning, contracting authority, support/advice, and regulation.

Over the years, GRET has extended the scope of its interventions in rural areas to semi-rural and urban agglomerations; it is now active in several regions of the world.

 Examples of GRET’s Interventions in the Field of Drinking Water and Sanitation

  • In Burkina Faso, GRET is working to consolidate a community management system for small piped water networks through a federation of forty users’ associations, following a logic of shared responsibilities and cost pooling.
  • In Cambodia and Laos, GRET is implementing several programs to promote and support the increased professionalism of small water operators active in large towns and secondary cities.
  • In Madagascar and Cambodia, GRET is testing a mechanism to disseminate individual sanitation called “sanimarché”; the mechanism is based on the promotion of low-cost equipment, the establishment of a certification system, and financial incentives.
  • In Haiti, Cambodia and Laos, GRET is providing support to public drinking water companies in capital cities in order to modernize their management systems and integrate social practices to supply areas excluded from the service.
  • In Laos and Mauritania, GRET is helping national regulation agencies define monitoring and assessment tools and procedures for water services in small cities.

 GRET’s Strategic Orientations:

Develop innovative technical and economic systems: GRET elaborates technical references suited to the provision of drinking water and sanitation. In addition, it elaborates innovative service financing mechanisms that reconcile, as much as possible, the requirements of financial viability and the imperatives of service accessibility.

Develop suitable modes of management and regulation: GRET supports the elaboration of multi-actor management modes that acknowledge the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved (contracting authority, management, regulation, etc.) and are based on shared rules. To do so, GRET relies on consultation procedures and social engineering methods.

Help water-sector actors increase their professionalism: Believing that one of the necessary conditions to improve service is improving local actors’ capacity to fulfill their roll, GRET invests heavily in setting up systems to provide training and disseminate innovations and local know-how.

 Contribute to Public Policies: The ContrEauverses Workshop at the 2012 World Water Forum

The projects that GRET implements in the field of drinking water and sanitation do not aim only to provide concrete responses to the target populations. Beyond these direct outcomes, its interventions aim to build references that can be used by others and make it possible to contribute to the definition of more relevant sectoral policies.

In this spirit, GRET has for two years organized, jointly with the AFD, the “ContrEauverses” exchange workshops to mutually deepen knowledge of the issues related to drinking water and sanitation, and draw lessons for good practices and strategy. The ContrEauverses 2010 workshop on August 30 and 31 brought together nearly forty people on the subject of financing approaches for drinking water supply in small and medium-sized agglomerations using small-scale operators.

GRET also contributes to national and international public debates on drinking water and sanitation issues. Its mobilization within the Water Coalition (a group of French NGOs active in these fields) [] and its presence at World Water Forums are signs of this. The next World Water Forum will be held in Marseilles, France, in March 2012. It will provide GRET with an opportunity to share its field experience with other development actors, and allow it to urge decision-makers to make concrete promises in favor of drinking water and sanitation.