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March 20, 2009

Water projects are a waste of money when there is no provision for maintenance

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on rural water projects in Africa because the donors and aid agencies that built them ignored maintenance, a new report claims.

London-based research organisation the International Institute for Environment and Development said about 50,000 water supply points across rural Africa had failed, representing a loss of 215 to 360 million US dollars.

"It is not enough to drill a well and walk away. Water projects need to support long-term maintenance needs and engage local communities. Without this, it is like throwing money down the drain," said report author Jamie Skinner.

The report says that of the 52 deep water borehole and supply systems built by the charity Caritas in Senegal's Kaolack region since the 1980s, only 33 are still functioning.

It also quotes research by the Global Water Initiative, which is backed by numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs), showing 58 percent of deep water boreholes in northern Ghana need repair.

Of 43 such boreholes in western Niger, 13 are abandoned, 18 stop working for at least three days once a year, and 12 do not work for at least three days more than three times a year.

"Every day that a borehole does not provide safe water, people are obliged to drink from unclean pools and rivers, exposing them to water-borne diseases," Skinner said, urging a change in the way NGOs and donors approach the problem.

Patrick Nicholson, head of communications at Catholic development charity Caritas, said it was impossible to guarantee that all the boreholes set up with the help of his organisation were still functioning. But he said Caritas focused on setting up such projects with local people, and ensuring they had a stake in their ongoing maintenance.

"Whatever project we are working on, we are trying to make sure that it has a long-term impact on the community and that it survives," he said. "The people who build these boreholes are not us, they are those communities. From that point onwards they have a stake in ensuring that they are maintained."

The IIED report was released as nations meet in Istabul for the week-long World Water Forum and ahead of the United Nation's World Water Day on March 22.


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