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Sierra Leone Eau © Action contre la Faim Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone

Access to safe water thanks to a new governance model

The aim is to increase access, availability and affordability of safe water supply in hard to reach areas of Wellington and Calaba Town, through accountability, transparency, and resource mobilization using a Public Private Partnership approach. John Swaray, Wash Program Manager in Sierra Leone, reflect on the secrets of success.


What is the change we wanted to bring about?


The current community based model of management is not working: 20% of water points in Freetown are decentralised (not connected to the main system), yet 46% are non-functional. Communities demand substantial external support in management, repairs and it is challenging to keep these water points running over the longer term. Our project aim was to provide cost-effective service that are available and accessible. So that households have access to safe water throughout the year, especially during the dry season in Sierra Leona where poorer households cannot access water.


What is the new Governance model?


In 2017, Action Against Hunger contracted Hydroconseil to determine a new sustainable management model for decentralized water facilities in Freetown. The consultant visited 54 water points and interview 30 key stakeholders. They identified various options for a new governance model based on case studies from 5 African countries and Government stakeholder selected public private partnerships as the best fit. The model recommends the management of the decentralised water points by a professional operator hired through a public bid. One operator is responsible for 15-20 water points within an area, they sign a one year contract with the water utility which is renewable based on performance and they pay a monthly fee to Guma Valley Water Company (who are responsible for maintenance, tariff setting and ensuring supply of water).

Over the last 2 years Action Action Hunger presented the model to the Minister of Water who agreed to a pilot; mapped all water points in the pilot zone; worked with GUMA to develop a tender for new operators, who were selected in October 2019 and trained and in operational since February 2020.


How to get buy in?


The Public Private Partnership is about communication and buy in. The main challenge has been getting people to sufficiently engage with the details so that they understand the implications and see how they need to adapt. To get community acceptance of the project, Action Against Hunger developed and adopted a comprehensive community engagement approach with clear messages for the target audience (landowners caretakers’ community stakeholders/water users etc.). The steering committee engaged in an extensive community mobilization and media campaign to raise awareness, consult and develop ownership of the projects.


How is it a sustainable solution?


The project is meant to professionalize the service, a part of this is the fact the 4 operators are now more visible in the system and by being more visible they actually strengthen the system. The authorities only have 4 contracts instead of 70, that’s a lot less administration. The operators cover 90 water points in the two pilot communities of Wellington and Calaba Town. They know now what are the roles and responsibilities of the different actors, the enforcement mechanisms, and the feedback channel. They are also aware of the local bylaws, and citizen rights. Hopefully this should help them hold the government and stakeholder more accountable – they’ve become more important to have at the table.


What is the outcome of these two years?


It seems obvious that more accountability is a good thing. But if we break it down, and unpick value – how is that measured? If only the structure and setup of a system change, making it more transparent, with clearer accountability on how money is used, but don’t actually change the physical system, do we change individual willingness to pay, do we end up with a better service? What is the impact? Through professionalising of the services does the extra layer of management mitigate the challenges faced by communities? Bringing in the model ask questions at the core of what we do: how we work in partnership with government, support the transfer of ownership, empower communities and strengthen the systems. All terms that are often reduced to a few questions, whereas this project has been focused on seeing the outcomes.


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