Paper: "Social Impacts of Water Supply Projects: NGO's and the Human Dimension" June 17-20 1990 (9 pages)


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Paper: "Social Impacts of Water Supply Projects: NGO's and the Human Dimension" June 17-20 1990 (9 pages)
Series Title:
Series 4: General Papers
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Mixed Material
Elmendorf, Mary L. (Mary Lindsay)
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University of Florida
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Mary Elmendorf, Ph.D.
601 Tyler Drive
Sarasota, Florida 34236

Paper presented at the
International Forum of Montreal
S.O.S. Water is Life
June 17th to 20th, 1990
Montreal, Quebec

The focus of this paper is on the impact of water projects implemented
by NGO's (Non-Governmental Organizations)* on the social and economic
well-being of people in unserved communities as well as the constraints
and enabling factors which have characterized these activities.

Let's begin by a quick review of the IDWSSD.


1. The Stage

The stage was set in November, 1980, for the launching at the UN
General Assembly of the International Drinking Water and
Sanitation Decade, 1981-1990, a perfect convergence of the
resolutions from the previous UN Conferences. As Barbara Ward
wrote just before her death in 1981.

If the 1970's were for the United Nations the
decade of conferences, it is perhaps encouraging
that the 1980's have been declared the International
Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. To move
from the general understandings of Stockholm to the
very specific problems of drinking water -- with its
close links to sanitation, waterborne disease, primary
health care, infant mortality and population growth --
is a tremendous step forward.

Here was a priority issue -- improved water supply and sanitation
-- as defined by NGO's and Third World women, now the accepted
focus of coordinated action by international agencies, bilateral
and non-governmental organizations as well as national

The basic principle underlying the IDWSSD is that people cannot
achieve a quality of life consistent with human dignity unless
they have access to safe drinking water and sanitation
facilities, and that such access is therefore a basic human
right. In addition, the adverse effects of contaminated drinking
water and poor sanitation are well documented. It is reliably
estimated that some 15 million children under the age of five die
in developing countries every year, mainly because of water-borne
diseases. The same diseases exact a heavy toll of mortality and
morbidity among the adult population and decrease economic

2. The Curtain is Now Closing on IDWSSD

As the Water DECADE ends there is nearly universal agreement that
the overall objective is:

to achieve sustainable and effectively used water and
sanitation systems which _can be communitymanaged.

*NGO in this paper is used to cover both international and national non-
govermental organizations working in development. Some are welfare
oriented agencies, some are support service groups, but most have
field-based programs with a community development focus.

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There is also growing consensus about lessons learned during the

There is a new understanding of the vital importance of the human
d i men si ons

of the necessity of community involvement men women
and children in the planning, execution, evaluation, and
management of the projects.

This means a new respect for the ability of communities to define
and s_-,e their problems if given a chance

of the need for dialogue between agencies and communities to
understand existing beliefs, behaviors, and new opportunities

of the importance of participatory approaches to:
preliminary planning
technical assistance
data gathering
evaluation and monitoring
-training and capacity building

of close linkages of water to sanitation and environmental
concerns including hygiene education for effective use.

B. Back to NGOs

This brings us backI:: to the NGOs whose world: : for over four decades has
been concentrated in the poorer rural and urban areas with few basic
resources cr in existing infrastructures where government programs do
not exist or are ineffective. NGOs have played significant roles in
many countries because of their close relationships with the local
communities and the people. Their water and sanitation projects are
'/ usually developed in a community development context, with heavy
involvement of the local people, not only in labor, but in financing
and in decision-making about siting, project design, and discussions
of technology opticins. Many of the systems have been low cost,.
simple technologies such as gravity flow, wells with hand pumps,
spring protection, and catchment tanks.

In contrast to multilateral and binational agencies, whose projects
are concentrated in the urban areas, NGOs are the major actors in the
development oif water supply and sanitation in rural communities.f(/-A.

CARE and Catholic Relief Services are two o-f the most active
international NGO's in the sector. In 1989, Dr. Rudi Horner,
Director of CARE's Primary Health Care (PHC) Section, said that the
largest item in the 1990 PH C'budget of over 25 million US dollars is
for 26 water supply and sanitatio-n projects in 20 countries, with the
rest -- a little more than half ---. divided between 34 PHC projects
and 13 food assisted Maternal and Child Health programs. She added
that women are being recognized more and mo-re as key elements in
sustainable, effectively used, community managed water and supply
systems. In 1985 a workshop to develop methods for CARE staff in
Africa to function in a more participatory mode expressed a new
awareness iof a 1pss oif community contact with rapid program
expansion ins ,a & l b / i /-/A/CS

O e 7- /,7 /41 -

In 1958,CARE's first water project was in a village in Mexico with a
strong emphasis on community participation, self-help and involvement
of women. This community-based system was a demonstration project,
carried out in collaboration with another NGO, the American Friends
Service Committee (AFSC), whose volunteers were trained by WHO.
UNDP, several ministries, state and local authorities were all
involved and the project was replicated.' After 30 years the system
is still operating and has been upgraded but still has an active
Water Committee (Elmendorf, 1979). This project was used as a case
study for designing and funding of the U.S. Peace Corps. The Mexican
government also designed regional responses to increasing local
demands for WS/S with local NGO involvement combined with government

A national NGO, Aqua del Pueblo, which was organized in the 1960's
specifically to help rural Guatemalan villages obtain improved water
and sanitation facilities has been well documented (Buckles, 1980,
Karp, 1982). Peace Corps volunteers working with CARE developed a
methodology with their Guatemalan colleagues to bring gravity flow
piped water and improved sanitation to isolated highland villages and
designed a training course for "barefoot engineers". Gradually a
Guatemalan agency became established, grew rapidly -- too rapidly
some might say -- while serving as a model and a resource for other

These are only examples. No attempt has been made to include the
numerous cases world wide where bilaterals, NGOs, local and
international, have provided successful innovative projects and

The activities of national NGOs so clearly presented in the recent
report Asian Linkages, NGO Collaboration in the 1990's by PACT
(Private Agencies Cooperating Together) includes case studiesfrom
Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Their
findings and recommendations deserve careful consideration as do the
lessons learned from the Philippines in the IDRC seminar reportso! n0,/f

Perhaps now is the time to mention that CIDA (Canadian International
Agency for Development) is far ahead of most of the bilateral donor
agencies in giving a large number of small grants to non-governmental
organizations. CIDA supports at least 75 NGO projects which promote
community participation, women in development training, with a
grassroots approach to the provision of new water supply and
sanitation services.

C. Why the Interest in NGOs?

CIDA and other bilateral and international agencies are increasingly
interested in NGOs because they have been operating over the years in
a much more participatory community-oriented way with notable social
and economic changes and greater sustainability than most government
programs. One reason is that their greatest resource has been the
human resources -- of their staffs, their collaborating volunteers,
and the rural communities. They have been using, not always but more
often than governmental agencies, the lessons learned during the
DECADE partly because they were people-oriented, but also because
their funding was limited. Perhaps we need to look at the potential
policy influence of NGOs on global social and economic issues. The
influence becomes clear in the following section.

/ -
... .

D,,. Selected UN Conferences and NGO Fcorums 1975-1985

1. In Mexico City in July 1975, at the UN World Conference on Women,
participants, particularly the NGOs, from Latin America, Asia and
/ AfKrica struggled to get priority given to such basic needs as
domestic water, which they felt should be satisfied before other
women's issues such as equity in the labor force could be addressed.
The Plan of Action for implementing the objectives of this Conference
proposed that:

Improved, easily accessible, safe water supplies (including
wells, dams, catchments, piping, etc.), sewage disposal and other
sanitation measures should be provided both to improve health
conditions of families and to reduce the burden of carrying water
which falls mainly on women and children.

The Conference also recommended that governments and international
organizations give more attention to urgent water and sanitation

2. During Hdabitat, the United Nations Conference on Human
Settlements in Vancouver in 1976, the participants of a Water Day
Symposium, led by Barbara Ward, raised world consciousness when they
demonstrated by carrying pails of water on their heads. One of the
official delegates asked, "What on earth does water have to do with
human settlements"? During the conference it gradually became clear
that water, as a basic human need has clear priority in every
-' village, hamlet or home, a basic key to human survival. The
Conference after intense lobbying by the unofficial delegates adopted
the target of "Clean Water for All by 1990," and the resolution was
sent on as agreed policy of the participating Governments to the
forthcoming UN Water Conference.

3. At the 1977 UN Water Conference in Mar del Plata, Argentina, more
consideration was given to the problems of irrigation,
hydroelectricity and other industrial uses than to domestic water, in
spite of the recommendation from Habitat. Ultimately the Conference
did propose and lay the framework for the International Drinking
Water and Sanitation Decade, 1981-1990.

An excellent -statement, Cc.mmunity_Wat.er__Sp..lies_an.d Deveo ...
signed 7 February 1977 by fifty four international NGOS,
which was widely circulated, concluded with eight suggestions still
relevant today:

(a) That planning for adequate and safe water supplies be
included and integrated under a larger strategy of social

(b) That consultations be held with village people when preparing
water supply projects, with a view to their active participation
in such project t s;

(c) That efforts be made to strengthen the involvement of women
in the decision-making process in regard to water;

(d) That, where feasible, local labour and materials be used in
making tools and constructing facilities;

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(e) ]That comprehensive programs of education and training be
undertaken at every age level to foster understanding and action
to protect the safety of water supplies and to effect hygienic
waste disposal;

(f) That school curricula and non-formal education programs, for
example, include instruction in the proper use of water and its
protect on;

(g) That job related training opportunities for water
maintenance, management and technology include women and girls;

(h) That new forms of practical cooperation be developed between
governments, NGOs and the people of the villages in support of
such programs.

The Mar del Plata Action Plan of 1977 stated that priority attention
should be given to the segments of the population in greatest need
and suggests coordination of all sectors active in rural areas,
"utilizing the manpower and other resources." It stated that
"special emphasis should be given to the situation and to the role of
women in the area of public participation".

4. In July 1980, at the UN Mid-Decade Conference on Women in
Copenhagen, the statement outlining the important relationships of
women and water supply prepared earlier by NGOs and concerned
delegates for the Mar del Plata conference was incorporated into the
official goals of the Women's Decade. A strong resolution was
adopted that specifically mandated:

Member States and UN agencies, including specialized
agencies, to prom ot e full participate on of women in
planning, implementationo, and application of technology
for water supply projects.

The pl eas fr om Thi rd Wor ld women in Copenhagien were more f oc used, but
no less vociferous than they had been in the 1975 Women's Conference
in Mexico, as th ey work. ed wit h women from Western Europe a nd the US,
representatives of NGOs and the UN Agencies, as well as concerned
individuals, to develop strategies for giving priority to their basic
needs, especially water and san i tat i on.

5. A skilled Kenya woman, Eddah Gachukia, chaired the Kenya NGO
organizing committee for the 1985 UN Women's Conference in Narobi where
over 300 of the 1000 panels in the NGO Forum related to water and/or

Even though the 1977 Mar Del Plata UN Water Conference did very
little to recommend formal recognition of the importance of women's
roles in water and sanitation, the members of the NGO committee and
concerned delegates pointed out that:

Securing better and nearer water supplies is at or near the top
of development concerns among women's organizations in
development countries. An excellent example is the current
cooperative project among Kenya women's NGOs and UNICEF, to
develop safe and more convenient water supplies at the village

In 1977 Virginal Hazzard was UNICEF Program Officer for Kenya (1974-

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1981).. The same Eddah Gachukia, then chair of the National Council of
Women, with wise leadership helped the thirty or so local Kenyan NGiOs
to organic z e and c cooperatively launch a country-wide program, with
each NGO contributing its special abilities. They wanted a specific
focus that would involve all of them. After examining health,
agriculture, income generation and other possibilities they
Y.DJ..ios..E 'I. y agreed to tackle the greatest need, WATER. Thus the
UNICEF "Water for Health Program" was born (Hazzard, 1986). "It
grew, almost like a weed." There were many difficulties in
coordination of the NGO and management o::cf increased funding, but it
survived and bec ame K K
In early 1983, UNIFEM and PROWWESS discussed possible channels for
cooperation n W i- :K: I WAHO in trai n ing women as trainers of 1 oc a l women
and so improving the sustainab i lity and effective utilization of
water and sanitation pro.jec::ts U NIFEM funds helped KWAHO post two
s:,c i olo gists to the project t who trai ned 5 .lo cal women as ex'te nsi on
workers. PROWWESS funds provided KWAHO with management support and
training in participatory methodologies. UNDP pledged support in
1988 for institution b uild ing on a declining basis over a three year
period. The impact on the women, the users, and trainers, the agency
staffs in this effort is another part of history, but the episode
strongly demonstrated the impact of a Kenya Women's NGO on the IDWSSD
in demonstrating how "software" and "hardware" could mesh in the
field. And the institutional history showed the impact of women at
all levels, of inter-agency cooperation, international, binational,
over mental and among NGOs. A c hart from the interesting case
study, Peo le. Pums aLnd Aencie... (Narayan-Par ker, 1988) slho ws the
organizational st r uc t ur e

Women and NGOs in the developing countries can have impact on policy
makers and policy. Their voices have to be heard and their activities
seen. The 1985 UN Conference on Women was the perfect opportunity.
The KWAHO project demonstrated to conference participants from other
Lount r ies how Kenyan women throw ugh t heir NIGOs could d c o nt r i but e t o
sol ving their sel f-c' h ossen -pr-oTems f- wa Ter' world: Fng wiFTTTFTT sensti- ve_
donors, inTYerTnatoI 7 and national 'origaini zatf1-ons, goivernmenital and

Many people will say Kenyan women are different. And they are!
Ot her s wi 11 say, b u t l oo- k a t all t he t si d e su p or t s Th e answer i s
there are similar examples in other country i es with less money, less
tec hnic::al assistance, bLut with strong s support fo-r m 1 local women and /or
l]. oc al N G 0 s. And their e can be many more .

E. S .c -i al.l and l c_ c '...- !..' ii.n.. an .e

Social and economic changes brought about by NGO water projects will
vary from community to community depending on many factors --
technological, ecological and cultural, and the agency's approach.
The benefits first perceived by the users are usually convenience,
quantity of water, and privacy -- with latrines.

1. Household-Level Effects

For women, the primary drawers of water, the relief from this
daily drudgery gives them more time and energy often used to
increase household food or income. In fact, improved nutrition

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and cash f r om home gardens, po ultry, or o their mi cro-activitie s
dependent o:::,n water availability add si gnificantly to family well -
be:i. ng and women s i n creasing sel f-confidence and dec ision-ma I::ing

To a large extent t he achi evement of household level benefits,
social, economic and health-related, are dependent on the ability
of women to manage the new facilities and to influence water and
sani t at i on-related t bepivicr of, -t-.oLisehil d members. As
carriers of water ilwhee Ih.ousehold taps do not exi.T, women
influence directly the volume c::onsumed and thus the possibility
of achieving health effects related to quantity of water (i.e.,
decreased diarrheal mco rbidity, diminished skin infections,
trachoma, and other so-called water washed diseases). As the
selectors of water sources, women determine the quality of water
delivered to the house based on their perceptions of what is a
good and acceptab 1e source. As those who manage household water,
women select the transport and storage vessels, wash them, and
cover them, influence both the volume of water consumed and its
quality. Finally, as those who feed and care for infants and
small children, they determine the cleanliness of their eating
and drinking utensils and the quality as well as the quantity of
the food and water they consume,. Women are responsible to a
considerable degree for the prevention of diarrhea and the
recovery of the infant or toddler with d dehydration.

A 111 potential health benefits o:::f :i. mpr cived water and san itat i on
are in thu n in fl uenced b y-tfe w.omans c-7eavior a-Tanrre --in
resp:ion se t o per cei ved dandini-r-Fnrherent in excreta, unclean hands,
I 1.Tt -er" Df..cF, in ..i.e recr -aTe an"wtie fl i L es., It is she wh--to" 'rT.s a
0n-tat lint:: in the chain of ccontami nat i on from feces to fingers
t o f o :d, and she who iin t urn c~ -n:_"Tf'.tT--yrbiy afri"ne use,
hand-.wasi ing p an d p r otecti o n l oncfif':F! ( Sin :i:t "13980) .

Co:rnmmLun i t V-l...evel. E f fec:: t s

In the vast majority of co::mmuni t where a si ngl e water source
serves from 30 to 200 or more persons-, health and soc:io-ecconomic
benefits depend on the roles of women,,. Women control to a great
extent the possible contamination of the source:: through i the
main er :i. n whi c h they use the :i n stallat:i. on F or ex ample e, in the
:a se of op:: en we l..s, the use o f a clean b ucl:: e t and the prevent i on
of water r u"n n irnc: bac k :i nt o the well. (prevention of G inea
woir m t r ans mission) depend s o:n thi e pos i t i ve act i on s o f women.
Women are usually the first to n ot i c e defec ts :i. n th e structure of
the well or break--.downs in the pump or other lifting mechanism,
and cal 1 attention to t h ese p r ob::l ems, apply simple e solut i ons, n or
arrange for repairs if: possible. In many parts of the world, the
women collect and handle water committee funds. Some have raised
money for upIr adina, particularly to patio standpipes where
feas l:::I e C:o m mu n i. t y level outcomes of i nt r oduc::i::. n i mpr o ved water
t ec hn olo. cq :i es o:c f t en gi ve women new res : c t, st at u.s an dc: se lf--
confidence as they assume more group responsibilities and public
act i vi t ies.

In evaluate i :::n of pro..ects, whether one is describing the function
of a pump or its use by villagers,, one talk with the women
to find out what the real im acts are,, Wo men's ro:es as
d:i. f fu..ser o: cf k-::nowledge. attitudes, an.d behavior associated with
new water,: and sanitation technologies are key factors in

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e 1:,._p 1 a:. n i n t he f f ect ve J .. se a n d s usta. a b.i :i. :i. : i water an d
s a n i t a t i ,o n p r c.j s ,

F. Constrain n st s and En ab1I. i n c Fac t or N f i

T h ere are N Gs o f ever sE :. e rm t he nh i t i cat t e d i n t e r n at : o n a 1
dev el:.. o::,pin.ent a Ec:. e nc i =:, s E u% ch aI s C.: CARE. t o B1 tma 1. n at :i. ona 1 sec t or spec i f i c
ag(nc ies Li. k-::e Aqua del Pueblo 1 c,,

CAR E, which started L outx in the U,,S,,A., during World iar I W & :I as a
Coop ex at :. ve ::: f d :i r :i. vf .i eyid i G iLs i ep r e, sen It. :Ji r cl I:'r o t es t ant s C: a t hi :::, i c s,
J .euws ..u ak (er s Me ,::,n 1i. t e.. .. abor un :i s o ... C I and A!L.. e: ,, t o send
des i. ci nated ei cmere:ncy e ood to -:L Europe has b come an autonomous
Cdlevel ,...fme nt aency, K WJAHJ st art ved out in a s ar way as a
coor c:nat ed ef fort of < enyan women's MT ii.:O s in 7.':7, to concentrate on
water project s, ii Os are proud of their r grassro : ts acti vi T ties an d
many avoid c a : ont ( : :,.t with o:1i r V(-- ernmen t aciencies fo. r I ear of l osing t heir
auto nomy and/ o r t.h e c. onfi. d ience of the c communities. h e s e p a r a t e nes s
o f is i ml:::p rtant but the age nci e: s wihi c::h have been able toC
d e v i. 1 i. n I-:: s wiv Is w:ith I 1 a Lthat I..t 1 oS i n g- t e ir t n o m y
seem to have had clr re:at er i Fm)pact, wheni C, rI measured E b:y rnumbe1r of
: o m m u.n :i t i Ge s er ve C a'ncr' Iep5 it :i. t /y A r e at e d p o s i t i v e
c t r rib ut.. i on i s that the Ia'iOs c:an d 1emon st r ate to c: ommun iti. es ways t o
relate to governmentt agencies as they expand their gr assraocots
ef forts t ,,

Ss t f t h e ,::: n t r a :i n t are r e a t e d t o management and a: :: o u n t ab i i : t y
wh i i: h c: an b e com:. a a a vc a a eated wi t Ih r ap i c e :-; p a n s i o n A n o t h e r c o n s t r a i n t
whi. ch is often meant i. oned is .he inability. y oCf NMiiOs to .,or k.:: tcl, get her,
b u t w e ae c n umer ous e x a m p 1. eUs w h e r e s eem:in n g y i :: c: m p a t i b 1 e
cx r 'ups form c oa C i t i c n t c a ch i ee L l ca 1 al s. -c- and water r ....for a
I -etter :i. f :i. s one f tC_: se

W'Jeater is a basic c need( f::or human cl.nity and health,, 'ater is life,,
Water pro je-::'t s l sponsored II:y ,NiOs i bec, me an ei ential. 1:: art of r ur a 1 l
! -..infrastructure, The NGiO water :r'.:.jects which d epend ::n f"I
co m I munit ": partici :. tion, wi th i oI"v,. ment of en" women ;, atnd
i:h:ild rne ofti: n si e r ve as entry ::o:i nts fo'r ot .he.r dceve lop:: ment
a .ctivities. While stren cthenini cooperative -action at the grassroots
level, NGiOs also increase human potential, dignity and cive people::
h 1 p e f o r a b e:t er f u t u r e ,

Many NG1\ s n:eedc assist anc in -report:ing.. man :aging arnd eac. o ...! :untin c as
they attempt ti e.:i :.. p -,an d and repl icate coo:c water i::: r ojects, P perhaps a
st and ar di ze!d Vi llage Level Accounting and Management System I.- ...AMIS) 9
co ..uld be level oiped acc:ep:tablel. to q::governments and cl-donor agency: es at
the s .ame t ime contr a:::t s anc:l reporting are s: mplifie. f l,,

T he o n i:: in a nd g ras roots co n nect i c n s t: ha t sma l 1 l iG:s i. r i-q h tly t ak : e
p r ide i n are (., n a b In :i. n :: lg a~ c t e r i s t ti. t i o n 1 a n d r an n a. g e m e n t .L an be improved, .. int-::ages witl other agencies including
g o v e r n m e n t a n be i. n C: r a s e da, b u t t h e- h u m a n cl i m e n s i ns, t h e
p art :. c i cipat or y approach a nid th c ommu n :i. ty :involv emen t are t::: be