Ensuring water programmes use local expertise

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends monitoring research and development activities to ensure that they make full use of local expertise and other local resources and that they are appropriate for the needs of the country or countries concerned.

The Surat and Standard Cotton Mills Rural Development Project in the Panchmahals District of Gujarat was designed to serve tribal peoples involuntarily leading a nomadic life -- migrating out of their villages for six months of the year due to the lack of work in their own environment. The development of nine small irrigation projects, has initiated a series of changes in lifestyle affecting several thousands of families. A number of supportive services have been developed including supply of inputs for intensive agriculture, access to co-operative credit and health care. The school attendance by children has improved. The awakening and training of local people for their own development continues. The renewed pride and concern among the people to directly involve themselves in their own new situation is clearly visible. The rural development programme has added opportunities and training for people to take responsibility whether as a pump operator, mechanic, teacher or nurse. Villagers now understand the irrigation equipment and can repair it when necessary. Those who have pursued education have returned to the villages as doctors, engineers and teachers. Local leadership nurtured through the programme now negotiates decisions both among the various villages covered by the project and with external agencies like the banks which contribute to the programme.

After the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, several governmental agencies and NGOs began latrine construction and health-improvement programmes in rural areas. Simple pit latrines were introduced with limited success. The digging of pits was difficult in the rocky ground. People living on small plots did not view the pit latrine as useful or practical because of the lack of space to relocate the latrine once the pit was full. In areas with high groundwater, the pit contents became wet, odorous, and attracted flies.

In 1978, the Centro Mesoamericano de Estudios sobre Tecnologia Apropiada (CEMAT) began to evaluate the technical performance and social acceptability of various improved latrine designs for rural areas that could both fight disease and provide fertilizer. It was very aware that subsistence farmers in Guatemala, many of whom must cultivate land with poor soil, could not afford the ever-increasing cost of imported chemical fertilizer. A design was developed which offered several advantages: no digging is required; it can be built in densely populated areas or on small plots; it does not pollute the groundwater; and because the composting process destroys all pathogenic bacteria, it reduces the farmer's need for chemical fertilizer while helping rebuild the organic content of the soil. By 1986, 3600 latrines had been constructed in the country. Since then, surveys conducted by CEMAT have indicated that over 60% of the latrines had either been abandoned or had never been completed.

The first phases of the project demonstrated that the concept was sound, and that fertilizer of high quality (field proven) can be produced. The potential for income generation as well as faecal hygiene was real. It was not enough simply to develop a sound technology. The initial development work was undertaken in isolation from the potential users. User preference was not given sufficient precedence, and the result was that a technology was proposed to communities that may not have felt that it fulfilled their own needs and priorities. The lesson from these projects is that it is not enough to work for people; unless research teams work with people in designing and testing the interventions, demonstration projects are unlikely to succeed at the community level.

CEMAT has since been very active during the last four years developing networking mechanisms between communities and macro-level development agents to promote the exchange of information and collaboration. It has also instituted a number of remedial actions, including standardization of essential design features and monitoring tools; training and technical support through technology-transfer workshops for communities and interested organizations; and providing follow-up support to communities on rehabilitation and proper use of the latrines, as well as on fertilizer use.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation