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Piped Supplies for Small Communities

Keyword: Women & Gender equality


The Piped Supplies for Small Communities (PSSC) Project started in 1988 with a view of stimulating the development of more appropriate, sustainable and successful methods to plan, implement and manage piped water supplies with peri-urban communities. Among the main activities were the development of a methodology for improving planning and implementing piped supplies with communities through demonstration schemes; training; hygiene education and sanitation. A new strategy was developed to have more women occupying key positions in the water committees and it was proven that the quality of women's participation was more important than their quantity. Special training programmes were then organized.


Malawi is still in an early stage of urbanization with 11% of the total population living in the urban centres. It is estimated that up to 60% of the urban population live in the fringes of the urban centres.

Malawi is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, covering and area of 118,400 km2 of which 80% is land area and the rest is under lakes. Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa and provides a large reservoir of water for development of hydropower, fisheries, communications, irrigation and domestic water supply.

The project was carried out in the communities living in the peri-urban areas of the country, the so called Traditional Housing Areas - THAs. Before 1980, there was no regular water supply service in these communities. Some people got their water from various unreliable, contaminated open water sources; others got their water from vendors at very high costs. THAs often lack the most basic facilities, normally provided to urban communities.

In order to ensure that the people in the THAs were adequately supplied with potable water at a cost which they could easily afford, the government launched the Urban Communal Water Point Project in 1981, with financial and technical assistance from the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and WHO. The objective of this initial project was to construct 600 communal water points in 50 urban centres in Malawi, in order to provide affordable and safe drinking water to over 24,000 low income fringe-urban families. This aim was achieved in 1985, but over time problems with water-point management began to surface and people stopped paying the tariffs to the local tap committees. A new phase was started in 1988: The Piped Supplies for Small Communities (PSSC) Project. The objective of this project was to stimulate the development of more appropriate, sustainable and successful methods to plan, implenent and manage piped water supplies with rural and peri-urban communities.

The project was carried out in two countries: Zambia and Malawi. In Malawi the project responded to the need of improving piped water in urban areas. Main activities were a revision of the earlier project's experience: the development of a methodology for planning and implementing piped supplies with communities through demonstration schemes; adding training; hygiene education and sanitation; special studies; technical activities, monitoring and operational support to old demonstration schemes, project self-evaluation, and dissemination of project knowledge and information.

The initial study showed that the reason for non-payment was not lack of willingness or capacity to pay, but too rigid and poor local management practices and lack of management skills. One of the aspects that soon became clear was the need to tackle the relationships between men and women in water management. Initially, no gender analysis was carried out and the project personnel assumed that the committees responsible for managing the communal water points would automatically be dominated by women. However, in practice, 80 to 90% members of the water commitees turned out to be men. The male-dominated committees were not performing satisfactorily, mainly because the majority of the men were outside the neighbourhoods during most of the day time. Not consulting women during the planning phase also resulted in poor location, inconvenient design and subsequent wrong use of the water points.

To increase the involvement of women in the management of the water points, a new strategy was developed: (1) guidance of the committees to ensure free participation during voting for committee members; (2) development of positive attitudes of men to the involvement of women; (3) separate consultation of women during meetings: (4) use of male and female extension workers; (5) involvement of women in design and location of the communal water points. The results were encouraging. More women occupied key positions in the committees. Special training programmes were organized for women which aimed at increasing their leadership/management capacities. The committees became more active, membership of the water points improved, as well as financial management and maintenance of the water point surroundings. Hygiene education and sanitation promotion also had more impact. On the other hand, collaboration between the female committee members was not always easy, leading to resignations from the committee and migration of users. It was also observed that female-dominated tap committees perceive keeping tap surroundings clean as their main duty. Simply including women on water management organization is not sufficient. The degree and quality of participation of women and men during the whole process of a project are essential for a sustainable impact.

The project working group was formed by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Community Services and the Centre for Social Research of the University of Malawi together with the Water Department of the Ministry of Works. project officers assigned by these ministries worked together in field extension. At the community level, community representatives joined Central Water Councils, whose function was to assist in mobilizing communities, selection of sites for construction of water points and generally support operation of tap committees and monitoring operation and maintenance activites. Technical advice came from IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre.

In line with the project's objectives, its main achievements are the improvement of methods of approach to small community water supplies which include: the integration of social, economic, cultural, organizational and technical issues in water projects; the coordinated development of piped water supplies, hygiene education and sanitation; community based approaches in planning and preparation, design, construction and mangement of local level water and sanitation services; institutional strengthening by the development of community management capacities; inter-agency coordination; improve community financial management; effective local organization, training for all groups involved with community water supply; the development of guidelines for various groups at all project levels; information exchange at both national and international levels; information application at both programme and national sector levels. The methods developed in the demonstration projects were replicated over the country.

The intervention succeeded in raising the percentage of women in Tap Committees from 20 to 60% and later to over 90%. These committees became more active due to the women's constant presence and direct interest. With appropriate training, women gained self-confidence and became effective managers of the communal water points, including their operation and the maintenance.

*Kwaule, Fabiano (1993) Gender and peri-urban water supplies in Malawi : paper presented at the Workshop Gender and the Development, Management and Utilization of Water - Lessons Learned and Strategies for the Future, Stockholm, December 1-3rd 1993.
Ministry of Works, Water Department (1993) Piped Supplies for Small Communities (PSSC) Project Malawi - final report by Fabiano Kwaule, Lilongwe, Malawi, July 1993


Operational demonstration piped water supply schemes successfull developed in 9 peri-urban neighbourhoods of cities.
Community managed and maintained communal waterpoints established.
Tap committees established and operational.
Men and women trained on community managed water supply.
Water point committees paying water fees in time.
Water point committees making profits, part of which is used for maintenance and repairs.


One of the major factors contributing to the sustainability of the project is that the communities in the piped water supply demonstration schemes play a bigger role in the maintenance of the water supply system. These schemes have been successfully developed in nine urban centres in five regions of the country.
There has also been a remarkable improvement in community financial management with the result that all tap committees have big surpluses which are kept in bank accounts to be used for maintenance. The fact that there is not only cost recovery but the opportunity of new investments (for instance in maintenance) ensures the sustainability of the project.
An additional activity on awareness raising on cost recovery and resources coverage was taken up by the project: a guideline manual on these issues developed by the WHO in collaboration with IRC was revised and further utilized by the project when carrying out review and other baseline surveys.
Also, an appropriate public standpost design has been developed locally through consultations with especially women to ensure its adequacy to meet people's needs. The modified design has been used in the demonstration centres and a completely new design, also incorporating suggestions and comments from communites, was field tested in the new demonstration centres.
Through a series of training courses for Tap Committees and local leaders, and also for project staff, cadres of skilled people have been developed who are expected to sustain community based water management in the absence of donor funding.
The improved liaison developed between the Ministry of Community Services resulted in a practical collaboration in project activities at all levels. The government-community partnership between these governmental instances and the local community has been accomplished through an institutional structure formed by the Project Working Team (representatives of the Ministry of Community Services, Ministry of Health and Water Department), the Project Team at implementation level (1 project officer of each of the three Ministries), the Local project Coordinating Teams (field staff and extension workers from the Water Department and of the three Ministries together with one representative of the Centre for Social Research of the University of Malawi), Auxiliary Project Committees (established at the regional and district levels and comprising regional and district representatives from the three collaborating ministries, mostly to ensure sustainability of the programme after the finalization of donor support; Central Water Councils in each demonstration centre and formed by community representtives such as members of parliament, party leaders, councillors, chiefs and village headment; Tap Committees (at each water point, communities elect a ten-member committee to manage operation and maintenance activities directly answerable to the Central Water councils. Ninity percent of the committee members are women.


    Ministry of Works - Water Department
    Private Bag 390
    +265 780344;fax:+265 730389


    Ministry of Works - Water Department
    Ministry of Works - Water Deparment
    Private Bag 390
    +265 780344;fax:+265 730389


    Ministry of Community Services
    Kwaule, Fabiano
    Private Bag 390
    Lilongwe 3
    +265 784200; fax:+265 783328

    Centre for Social Research of the University of Malawi
    IRC - Water Supply and Sanitation Centre
    P.O. Box 93190
    The Hague
    The Netherlands

    IRC International Water Supply and Sanitation Centre

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