Aid projects are often criticized for waste, for creating redundancies and for displacing local efforts.
On a larger scale, this leads to questions such as: if an aid agency helps build a school in a locality, does that displace or minimize the local government’s own efforts to build schools? Likewise, if an agency supplies water to a village through its NGO partner, will that provision then act as a disincentive to the district water supply office or to villagers themselves to do anything on their own when the supply fails?
On a smaller scale, especially in water supply work, when we talk about the functionality of water schemes (meaning: that they work all right), there are often times when it pays off to think ahead to have a few redundancies built into the system.
For instance, say a previously well-functioning public tap starts mal-functioning for a variety of reasons. The revolving head of the tap goes missing or gets broken due to overuse. A screw at the head of the tap slips off: either water stops coming or continues to pour without stopping.
Perhaps the pipes leak: someone slices off a part of the pipe when collecting fodder for cattle, and so on. All these and more pose a problem for the long-term sustainability of water supply schemes in Nepal’s villages.
In such cases, having redundancies built into the system helps. If NGO partners take a few days to train two or more willing villagers on matters such as how to spot potential water supply problems before they occur, show them where they can keep a few spare parts handy and how to make use tools that help replace the parts when necessary, teach them how to procure appropriate pipes and other materials at reasonable rates, then creating this sort of redundancy in the system actually helps with the long life of the water supply systems. In case of water supply failure, the villagers have their own more than one resource to tap into (pun intended!) to get the water flowing.
So next time, when you hear someone criticizing aid agencies for creating redundancies, ask: Are they talking about redundancies that displace local efforts or redundancies that sustain local efforts? In WASH work, we find that it’s often the latter we need more of.
Written by Ashutosh Tiwari, Country Representative, WaterAid in Nepal.