Interview with Ian Langdown: ODI’s research on the ASUREP model
Ian Langdown is a Research Officer working for ODI’s Water Policy Programme. He is currently conducting research on the professionalisation of water user committees in the DRC within the SWIFT programme.
Reasons behind the research
The idea of this research came up after a week-long workshop with the programme teams in the DRC. We wanted to understand the challenges that arise from the professionalisation of water user arrangements, particularly the ASUREP model. It was decided to focus on those of Sake, Beni, Butembo, Mataba and Lubiriha.
We interviewed a lot of people on how the ASUREPs were set up, how they are working and the problems that they face. We talked to the staff, the village chiefs, local health department representatives, etc. We were able to identify a combination of technical, environmental, social, financial and institutional factors that contribute to their success – or failure – which are all interconnected.
The SWIFT project provides training to ASUREPs on financial management. The payments received are used to pay for simple repairs, the installation of fences around water points, labour costs for the cleaning of tanks, the replacement of taps and pipes…
The financial sustainability challenge
We noticed that financial viability is a challenge for all the ASUREPs. They all struggle to collect enough money, but the reasons behind this are different for each of them. In the small village of Mataba, we observed that most people are happy to pay for water, but there is only so much money that can be raised from 1,000 households that mostly rely on small holder agriculture for their income. On the other hand, in the bigger town of Sake, the problem is convincing enough people to pay for water. This is one of our key findings: every situation is different and so the ASUREP management arrangement must be flexible.
Each of the ASUREPs also has a slightly different payment management process in place. Sake has a rather complex system, which includes incentives for the tap managers to get more people to pay. In smaller ASUREPs, they use logbooks for each household to keep track of the payments. In one location, they have contracts that users sign, which specify what happens if they don’t pay and what the duties of the ASUREP are. This shows that there is not one way of doing things, what is important is having everyone involved and for people to take ownership of the system.
In Lubiriha, 5 volunteer water management committees were brought together to form an ASUREP that has real expertise in water system management.
Road to success
In all the locations I visited, people had been recruited and elected into the key positions in the ASUREP, they knew their responsibilities, and were taking an active role in running the water system. This certainly isn’t always the case, especially in purely volunteer management arrangements. It’s a positive achievement for the ASUREPs, particularly given the challenging circumstances, as it’s a key step towards the sustainability of the water systems.
Another step that some ASUREPs had taken towards financial sustainability is to diversify their income sources. Lubiria has a shop where they store materials to fix their own pipes and they also allow other people to come and buy material from them. So if a small business needs to do some work and needs supplies, they can get it there. The Sake ASUREP wants to set up a mill and buy cows. In Mataba, where the water comes from a gorge, they would like to set up a small hydroelectric turbine. It seems that when the management group sees itself as a professional entity, it starts to think of ways to be sustainable. Developing an income generating activity could be one way of achieving that.
I think there is potential for more ASUREPS in DRC in the future but my feeling is that they will come in many different shapes and sizes!
Since 2014, the Sustainable WASH In Fragile Contexts (SWIFT) Consortium has been working to provide access to water and sanitation and to encourage the adoption of basic hygiene practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in Kenya.
Various partners implement SWIFT’s actions in both target countries, in collaboration with governments as well as water providers, including utilities. The consortium is led by Oxfam, and includes Tearfund and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) as global members.
The SWIFT programme is funded by UK aid from the UK government under a Payment by Results (PbR) contract.