Operation and Maintenance of WASH

Operation and Maintenance South Asian Conference on Sanitation 2018, Pakistan

Operation and maintenance refers to all of the activities needed to run a water supply and sanitation scheme, except for the construction of new facilities. The overall aim of operation and maintenance is to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of water supply and sanitation facilities. Operation and maintenance (O&M) activities, which encompass not only technical issues, but also managerial, social, financial and institutional issues, must be directed towards the elimination or reduction of the major constraints which prevent the achievement of sustainability. Maintenance requires skills, tools and spare parts (CARTER 2009). Operation and maintenance is a crucial element of sustainability, and a frequent cause of failure of water supply and sanitation service facilities in the past. Many failures are not technical ones. They may result from poor planning, inadequate cost recovery, or the outreach inadequacies of centralized institutions and organizations . Generation of revenues through tariff collection and insufficient staff in most developing countries undermines the sustainability of services.

Operation and maintenance has been neglected in the past, or been discussed and introduced only after a project was completed. This neglect or delay in applying proper operation and maintenance has adversely affected the credibility of the investments made, the functioning of the services, the well-being of rural populations, and the development of further projects. However, the importance of O&M has gained considerable visibility over the past few years, and it appears that policy-makers and project designers are now more conscious of the direct links between improved O&M practices and the sustainability of water supply and sanitation services. There is also greater recognition of the need to approach these projects in a comprehensive way, emphasizing not only the design and construction but also post-construction activities. But with all this realization, the dynamics of O&M in urban and rural areas is quite different and have a complex nature. The solution of urban O&M does not fits well for rural and vice a versa.

It is being understood that safely managed water and sanitation services require three times more financing than the current investment being made on access to water and sanitation services. The additional amount needs to change the status of currently unsaved schemes (in 2015) into safely managed services. Although, it would be very challenging to achieve the huge financing volumes for the sector in developing countries especially from South Asia. For basic Water and sanitation service, the global O&M costs increase gradually from $4.2 billion (range: $3.1 to $5.6 billion) in 2015 to $31.1 billion (range: $14.3 to $55.3 billion) in 2030. To achieve SDG targets 6.1 and 6.2, the global O&M costs must increase gradually from $18.0 billion (range: $14.0 to $23.6 billion) in 2015 to $128.8 billion (range: $96.7 to $166.7 billion) in 2030. By 2029, spending on O&M for the newly served from 2015 to 2029 will outweigh capital costs by 1.4 times for basic WASH and 1.6 times for safely managed WASH services.

Many countries have wide regional differences in climate, topography, land use, social and religious customs, economy, and access to services and materials. Climates may range from tropical to arid, requiring significant differences in the approach to WSS projects. Mountainous regions may offer abundant spring development, while arid flatlands may require deep drilling. Local cultures can differ considerably and can be separated by philosophies and geographic distance. Some regions may have a relative abundance of natural resources. In large countries travel to remote areas may be arduous. All these differences are conducive to the creation or strengthening of regional administrations, which may end up resulting in challenges to operate and maintain the technological projects and development in the region.

Therefore, it is necessary to take into account all the socio-political as well as geographical factors when it comes to planning operation and maintenance for development projects. It is vital to understand and quantitate the adherence level of the community for whom the development is being done. To ensure that the operation is being running smoothly, it is important to design such projects, which do not clash with the general operation of the society. Besides the limited coverage, the wide disparity between rural and urban areas in these services is one of the major concerns at the global level. The global data informs us that rural areas lag far behind in provision of services of safe drinking water and improved sanitation. The different country papers presented in last SACOSAN in Bangladesh indicated that key reasons for poor operation and maintenance include: lack of trained technical staff, low budgets allocation for operation and maintenance of projects and no accountability of O&M funds.

The recent policy transitions in the drinking water and sanitation sector in different countries of South Asia has resulted in a transformation from a government oriented, target-based, centralized, non-participatory, supply-driven approach, which pays little attention to the actual preferences of end-users, to a people oriented, decentralized, participatory demand-responsive approach, where users get the service they want, and partially pay for the services they demand. As per the new paradigm, the government is supposed to play the role of a facilitator by way of responding the demands for improved water supply and sanitation, which should come from the rural communities. The reforms have resulted in a shift of governments’ role from direct service delivery to that of planning, policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation, and partial financial support.

The new approach treats water as an economic good and believes in economic pricing for services, and thus, expects the communities, demanding for such service, to pay for it. Whether the National Policy for Safe Water Supply and Sanitation, 1998 of Bangladesh, or the Sector Reform Project, 1999 of India and/or the National Drinking Water Policy 2009, all these documents reflect these trends. The new demand-responsive approach in (rural) water and sanitation promises several opportunities for the un-served rural population; while at the same time is faced with certain challenges for its success. To begin with, a demand driven approach ensures that people will get the services that they desire and can afford to pay for it.

The full cost recovery of operation and maintenance (O & M), and replacement costs will ensure financial viability and sustainability of the schemes. Vesting the O&M with the user communities, through proper institutional arrangements, is definitely a step towards ensuring long terms benefits from the schemes. Investments in the drinking water and sanitation infrastructures at the community level by the users would create a sense of ownership and accord property right over the resource. The WASH schemes in the new approach demands monetary payment from the users, thereby, according property right over the resource to the users. With these well-defined rights and with a proper institutional arrangement, the rural communities can manage their own drinking water and sanitation requirements at the local level in an efficient manner. In South Asia, majority of rural water points between 77% and 90% found functional. The ratio was higher side in Bangladesh and Pakistan with 90% and 92% of public water points are functional respectively.

Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is another success model. The whole thrust of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is on sustainable outcomes. Therefore, the main emphasis is on community involvement. Emphasis of the programme is on individual toilets with ownership of beneficiary household. Hence the operational and maintenance responsibility of the toilets rest with the beneficiary household. In Seri Lanka the major water supply schemes and piped sewerage systems is operated by the National Water and Sanitation Board (NWSDB) in Urban Areas. The board developed waste treatment facilities and handed over to local bodies for operation. NWSDB focuses on urban water supply and Sewerage development and operations. In rural areas, the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) handed over the WASH schemes to CBOs for O&M. Bangladesh and Pakistan adopted and make necessary adaptation for community led total sanitation (CLTS) that empowers the communities to construct and sustain their own latrines through demand creation with strong social mobilization backed with an effective sanitation marketing that develops local skills and necessary materials available locally for O&M.

Sustainability means two things when applied in the context of the WASH sector. Firstly, it is commonly understood to mean ‘sustainability’ beyond the life of a given project or program. Within this definition, the perennial challenge for WASH activities is about: long-term solutions for keeping up operations and maintaining infrastructure, maintaining behavior changes over the long term. The second definition is environmental, social and economic sustainability, and the broader concept of sustainable development as living within the carrying capacity of the environment.

Resourcing and stronger monitoring of effective ongoing operation and maintenance are critical and have been a continual challenge in the sector over many decades. Committees in charge of community-managed systems are often not resourced, monitored or supported, and can suffer from political disturbances and power dynamics. The usual response to the call to achieve sustainability has been to encourage a sense of ownership through maintenance program activities. This remains a valid approach, particularly when ownership is increased through partner government systems. As far as monitoring equipment goes, sustainability is sometimes contrary to what might be expected. For example, a more durable pump (or other item) may not always be the best investment. A cheap, easily breakable pump that is produced in-country may in fact be more sustainable as local people can afford it, install it themselves and buy spare-parts.

The challenge of operation and sustainability of the projects could be divided into categories namely; structural and institutional. These challenges may include;
  1. Lack of appropriate financing for the operation and maintenance of the projects.
  2. Shortsightedness when it comes to constructing policies.
  3. Exclusion of the locals from the project. Exclusion leads to repulsive behavior, which further results in indifferent attitude by the local population towards the developmental projects.
  4. Lack of understanding regarding just how important it is to invest time and effort into helping the local community to develop everyday habits, which eventually lead to a change in attitude (ownership).

Therefore, it is necessary to take a sociological turn when it comes to operation and maintenance. The operation might be owed to the functioning of leadership, however, most part of the maintenance has to be done by the community itself. In order for that to happen, it is necessary that the operational pace and design of the project to be in sync with the operational pace and design of the community itself.

  1. What is our broader understanding for O&M? How this is reflected in the project cycle of government/ public funded projects in the region?
  2. Challenges in developing institutional arrangements for O&M? Understanding the value chain of O&M for Sanitation interventions in the region?
  3. Role of communities including women in O&M of sanitation and WASH services? Any success story of social mobilization that sustained O&M
  4. How O&M is ensured in established service delivery models for water and sanitation? Where accountability falls, and how it is responded?
  5. What is the scope of technical solutions and innovative models; does region has any such model?
  6. Developing capacities for O&M of WASH services? What (the activity which is to be carried out), When (the frequency of this activity), who (the human resources required for the task), with What (what are the materials, spare parts, tools and equipment needs.