Community-driven water investments. (Abstract only) uri icon


  • Participatory approaches in the water sector tend to come with many implicit strings and financing earmarks that reflect the compartmentalization of the public water sector administration. Even 'participatory' water projects still prioritize one single water use, either domestic uses, or irrigation, or livestock watering, or fisheries, and, related to this, only one dimension of livelihood benefits: either health, or food security, or income, or women's empowerment. Other projects take the resource as entry point, for example Integrated Water Resource Management, or ecosystem services, or the river. These approaches tend to ignore and undermine the ways in which communities integrate social, economic, and political aspects in their management of local resources. On the ground, communities and local government struggle to match their holistic, locally specific needs, constraints and opportunities with these top-down defined, technocratic public silos. Moreover, fragmented public institutions miss two 'best practices' in water development and management, which have been obvious for communities' own water governance since time immemorial. First, communities construct infrastructure to serve as many uses as possible, in order to meet their multiple needs. Second, communities combine multiple water sources for enhanced resilience and coping with natural variability. In the past decade, a new approach to water services developed that builds on people's holistic management of the local water cycle: multiple use water services (MUS). MUS takes people's multiple water needs from multiple sources as the starting point for community-driven participatory planning. The paper presents progress in innovation and impacts of the MUS approach, from the angle of the WASH sub-sector, the irrigation sector, and, increasingly, participatory development and employment generation projects in general. The latter is important because communities often prioritize water asset creation if they are given the choice. This appeared to be the case, for example, in India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Global experiences will be compared with approaches in South Africa

publication date

  • 2012