Community-driven: Bhalwal contributes viable business model of drinking water

Published: May 30, 2016
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The water supply scheme was initiated in 2006 but the contractor left halfway after laying substandard pipes and getting significant portion of project amount. PHOTO: AFP

The water supply scheme was initiated in 2006 but the contractor left halfway after laying substandard pipes and getting significant portion of project amount. PHOTO: AFP

DELAWARE: While economists, bureaucrats and politicians are busy in developing plans, crafting fancy communication strategies and debating policies and ideologies on television shows, sometimes disingenuously in the name of the poor and the disadvantaged, the good news is that the communities, where most of the disadvantaged and marginalised live, are finding solutions to their common problems themselves.

I am not arguing against researchers, utility of public investment and efforts of government officials, but the point here is that we need to listen and observe as communities develop and implement innovative solutions in many cases which are far more effective, contextual and timely, than the lengthy and costly processes entailed in achieving the goals of central plans.

Impure tap water

For instance, in the water and sanitation area, lack of access to clean and safe water is a major issue for a majority of the population as few can afford bottled drinking water.

Every day we find a new study or news about the poor quality of drinking water and its consequences in terms of disease, deaths and social inequality. There is not much meaningful debate and deliberation on effective ways to invest in and manage drinking water schemes in Pakistan.

However, some community-led initiatives have been undertaken to address these challenges without a large involvement of the public sector.

Bhalwal, a small town in Sargodha district with no major claim to fame other than its surrounding citrus farms and processing units, has become a trailblazer in evolving a community-led initiative to develop, operate and maintain a water supply scheme in one of its union councils.

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While the facilitative role of the provincial government and district authorities has not been insignificant, it is the commitment of social activists and the citizenry that is the moving spirit behind this activity.

‘Changa Pani’ model

The initiative entailing partnership between the Tehsil Municipal Administration and the community-based social organisation for providing metered drinking water is being implemented on the “Changa Pani” model. Malik Nazir Ahmad Wattoo of Anjuman Samaji Behbood of Faisalabad has developed the Changa Pani programme in Lahore and Faisalabad and later introduced it to Bhalwal on community demand.

This is based on a viable partnership framework amongst a civil society organisation with expertise in social mobilisation – Anjuman Samaji Behbood, local community and different tiers of the government.

It aims to provide 24/7 clean and metered drinking water with affordable tariffs to recover the cost of maintenance and operations. Recovery rates of Changa Pani are more than 90% compared with traditional models having less than 50% recovery on very low flat rates, giving rise to wastage and causing water scarcity and vulnerability issues, currently being faced by the country.

During my visit to Bhalwal, I was told that the water supply scheme was initiated in 2006 but the contractor left halfway after laying substandard pipes and getting significant portion of project amount.

Later, the community approached Wattoo to help them to build and maintain the water supply scheme as they were paying a huge monetary and indirect cost for poor quality water being transported to them on donkey carts.

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It triggered the process that eventually culminated into a partnership framework for a viable business model. The government provided finances for tube wells, water tanks and six-inch pipes while the community bears the cost of three-inch pipes and meters. The meters have enhanced efficiency of water usage by almost 50% as now water bills are based on quantity used instead of flat rates.

A local steering committee has been formed with across-the-board representation from the community to oversee operations and water pricing issues to ensure transparency and accountability.

Innovative governance structure

Earlier this year, I got a chance to present this model in an annual conference of American Society for Public Administration focused on “New Traditions in Public Administration” held in Seattle, USA. Quite surprisingly, there was enormous interest in the relevance and effectiveness of this model, partly its innovative governance arrangements and partly due to the similar issues in America where vulnerability of aging water infrastructure has recently been exposed.

Of particular interest was the adoption of a quasi-market solution through community-government partnership instead of unviable and inefficient government control or handing it over entirely to private players.

Such community initiatives definitely need public investment in putting in place large-scale infrastructure but the governance structure for operations and maintenance on a sustainable basis is different than the traditional models.

The initiative in Bhalwal is not without its share of multiple challenges of institutional capacity and complexity of the partnership arrangements.

The gravest challenge, of course, is to find local committed social activists/entrepreneurs like Wattoo to lead and nurture this small-scale initiative on its journey to maturity and sustainability.

Politicians, researchers, policy practitioners and communities must learn and contextualise it to resolve mounting problems of access, conservation and quality of clean drinking water across the country.

The writer is a public policy researcher and practitioner

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Takuya Nakaizumi
    May 30, 2016 - 7:58AM

    May 30th 2016
    That is quite interesting report of local community water supply governance system in Pakistan.
    This is so important to be further researched. Sustainability is important and I would like to research it in detail, especially below.

    Quotation: Such community initiatives definitely need public investment in putting in place large-scale infrastructure but the governance structure for operations and maintenance on a sustainable basis is different than the traditional models.

    The initiative in Bhalwal is not without its share of multiple challenges of institutional capacity and complexity of the partnership arrangements.

    The gravest challenge, of course, is to find local committed social activists/entrepreneurs like Wattoo to lead and nurture this small-scale initiative on its journey to maturity and sustainability.Recommend

  • Tariq
    May 30, 2016 - 10:00AM

    Great Case Study. As government not taking keen interest in water sector we all need to resolve water issues by following bhalwal model.Recommend

  • Bhalwal
    May 30, 2016 - 10:23AM

    Useless. It fails to mention how does the whole mechanism/model work. I will not be surprised if it is an old pudding with a new fancy label.Recommend

  • Sardar Mohazzam
    May 30, 2016 - 10:35AM

    This is a wonderful piece which re-iterate the work done by Noble Laureate Elinor Ostrom on how societies can develop diverse institutional arrangements for managing natural resources and avoiding ecosystem collapse in many cases, even though some prevailing institutional arrangements have failed to prevent resource exhaustion.Further, in this case, the water pricing mechanism to for O&M cost needs more thorough analysis which can be utilized in irrigation sector to develop a policy framework. Recommend

  • Hamza Khawer
    May 30, 2016 - 1:23PM

    The article is very interesting and useful. This model of Changa Pani should be replicated under surveillance of Local community organizations/ Boards.Recommend

  • Shujat Ali
    May 30, 2016 - 1:45PM

    A great story highlighting the role of the community and social activism in addressing serious public policy challenges such as how to ensure provision of safe drinking water to the people in the context of limited resources- financial as well as human/ managerial- in the public sector for such endeavours. It is very clear from the structuring of the partnership model that the TMA on its own was unable to operationalise the service delivery potential of the water supply infrastructure that it had its disposal as a result of investments made by the PMDFC-The Punjab Municipal Development Fund Company as part of a World Bank funded project. It is to the credit of Anjuman Samaji Behbood (ASB) that they responded to the need expressed by the community and came into the partnership to fill in the gaps with their mobilisation and managerial expertise to operationalise, maintain and sustain the water supply services. The community having gotten used to 24/7 metered water supply has raised expectations and benchmarks so that the TMA would not be able to meet them if for some reason ASB decides to walk out of the arrangement. Herein lies the sustaiinability of the entire arrangement. Such initiatives need to be experimented and piloted in other parts of the country as well.Recommend

  • Mirza Shafique
    May 30, 2016 - 2:21PM

    This is a great initiative We request to the researchers come up and make detail research on change pani program Bhalwal initiative Recommend

  • Girl
    May 30, 2016 - 9:19PM

    It seems interesting to explore gender and climate change dimensions of this project. Though water pricing and metering need to be carefully studied in developing countries but it is pivotal for encouraging water conservation. Context should be given most importance in similar projects. Women and other community members must be onboard to understand the importance of clean water and make collective efforts.Recommend

  • ABDUL WAHID
    May 31, 2016 - 11:46AM

    I visited bwpr on the unfortunate death of my brother in law and during my stay I happened to go to see water supply arrangement for new housing societies cropping up in the suburbs of the city. It was disgusting to see that all the pmt’s and the suction motors erected alongside the canal had been stolen. What a waste that a scheme meant for general public had been destroyed. The Punjab govt. or whoever was funding this project has gone to waste because of some unscrupulous persons out there to make a quick buck. How shameful.
    How can we improve this society if such thieves are thriving undeterred.
    Is there any solution for such a situation.
    Please guide.Recommend

  • Jun 1, 2016 - 4:00AM

    @ABDUL WAHID, you have raised a pertinent and common issues being faced in the management of government assets and infrastructure. Community engagement and ownership can improve this problem as they would look after it more if they have contributed financially in the assets. However, let us share our strategy. We have employed guards and their salary is being paid from revenues ad O&M costs. 2 guards do duty in day time for 8 tube wells and 6 guards do duty at night. Community is also vigilance as they have contributed 30% of the costs of the project and we have done lot of mobilization to give them awareness about importance of looking after common assets and resources. We are willing to provide all kind of information in this regard and can be contacted at [email protected]Recommend

  • Ray
    Jun 1, 2016 - 11:59AM

    Greetings Nazir,
    You are getting some valid positive responses upon the Bhalwal CP initiative.
    I hope that you have the capacity to match the potential interest that could result.
    Congratulations and best wishes,
    Ray Engineering Adviser WaterAidRecommend

  • Imtiaz Zafar
    Jun 1, 2016 - 12:03PM

    Everything is easy when you are busy and nothing is easy when you are lazy.Recommend

  • Naveed Iftikhar
    Jun 1, 2016 - 6:27PM

    There are five important lessons of this project which need in-depth deliberations. First, social mobilization to strengthen community’s ability to develop a shared agenda and then to take it to implementation; Second, water pricing and community awareness to enhance water conservation and efficiency; Third, community’s contribution in financing and operations/maintenance of service delivery infrastructure; Fourth, collaborative and multi-level governance; and Fifth, contextual solutions to design and implement service delivery models at local level.Recommend

  • Ali Salman
    Jun 9, 2016 - 3:23AM

    On one side, there is a social entrepreneur called Nazir Ahmad Wattoo, whose successful market based model is being replicated by local governments of Punjab, and on the other side, there is provincial Govt of Punjab, which is pumping hundreds of billions of rupees for safe drinking water with hyper corporate structures. A few years down, we ll know the relative costs and benefits of two policy choices. As a witness of both models, I find the social entrepreneur model- which is basically a public drinking water supply with a measurement and fee method- more preferable, and more sustainable in the long run.Recommend

  • Amjad Saqib
    Jun 9, 2016 - 6:31PM

    This validates your model and it demonstrates that water issues do have solution if we are willing to involve community and agree to the mechanism of public private partnership. Well done and congratulation Wattoo Sb on this great success. May Allah bless you and may you achieve success in Khushab too.Recommend

  • Usman Khan
    Jun 12, 2016 - 1:47AM

    Very good Masha AllahRecommend

  • Umair Ali
    Jun 18, 2016 - 4:10AM

    Pakistan despite having an efficient network of rivers and canals is one of the severe water stressed country. 70% of population has no access to clean drinking water. Due constant utilization of ground water as the prime source in cities and towns, the water table is depleting at alarming rate. As a proof of his claim, he pinpointed at the sharp difference in consumption pattern of an American who utilize far less volume of water for washing and cleaning purposes than an person who is living in Faisalabad, native city of Mr. Wattoo, the proportion of misuse exceeds far more at least 10 times annually .Recommend

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