Nothing new under the sun: the global failure of water projects

We recently reported on a study revealing that up to two thirds of the drinking water supplies established in response to the arsenic crisis became inoperative (in highly contaminated areas). Improve International collects statistics showing that failure rates for water systems are high in many parts of the world. It is particularly tragic that this is old news. Referring to research and field observations from the 1970s, USAID wrote: “the main obstacle in the use and maintenance of improved water and sanitation systems is not the quality of technology, but the failure “in qualified human resources and in management and organisation techniques, including a failure to capture community interest” (Nieves, 1980). An appalling 35 to 50 percent of systems in developing countries become inoperable after five years.” (USAID (1981) quoted by Improve International) In our view, failures are not so much related to the communities’ lack of skills or interest. They are related to our own failures as intervening agencies. Without appropriate ways of collaborating with marginalised social groups (communities are not homogenous), the solutions won’t fit culturally and economically. As a result, they will generally not last.

Posters of failed technologies

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