Policy Brief n°7 - Community management of rural water supply in Malawi: part of the sustainability problem, not the solution


October 2017 - Ellie Chowns, PhD as Research Network Consolidated Grants Recipient.


Community management has been seen since the 1990s as the key to ensuring clean water supply in rural villages in low-income countries. Community management approach is ‘the idea that communities should operate and maintain their own water supply systems’ (Schouten and Moriarty, 2003). The core of the community management model is the Water Point Committee, typically a group of 6 to 10 villagers elected or otherwise delegated by their community to take responsibility for a water point such as a borehole with handpump, a protected spring, or a gravity-fed tap. Its proponents argue that community management is both efficient and empowering, because it places responsibility on water users themselves. However, a growing body of evidence is calling the model into question. This Policy Brief contributes to that debate, drawing on a study conducted in four districts of Malawi and covering 338 water points.

The study tested ten determinants of water point sustainability, and critically examined the way that community management works in practice. It found that technical factors – such as installation quality – are in fact the key determinants of sustainability. Community management itself has only limited positive impact on water point functionality, while generating problematic social side-effects, including erosion of trust and consolidation of existing inequalities. These findings seriously challenge the assumptions that underpin the community management model, and suggest that true sustainability requires greater professionalization of water point installation and management, and on-going public investment in
recurrent costs.

Read more in the following document. Click on image to open PDF (824 KB):