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Who serves the in-betweeners?

By: Marieke Adank, IRC

Small towns and peri-urban areas are by definition found in the grey area in between the truly urban and the truly rural. Also in terms of water supply, fifty shades of grey are found in these types of settlements. People living here often fall in between the cracks of urban utilities and rural water committees. Their water supplies have characteristics of both these service delivery models – though not necessarily the best of those two worlds.

In Ghana, urban water supply is the domain of the Ghana Water Company Ltd (GWCL), the national water utility. Community management is the main service delivery model in rural areas, whereby water committees do the day-to-day operation and maintenance, supported by local government and facilitated by the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA). Such community-managed water service provision is supposed to take place in small towns with 50,000 people or less. In reality, several of these small towns actually fall under GWCL management, while several larger towns have community-managed water supply.  Over the last decades, a variety of community-management models with various degrees of private sector involvement has developed. In additions, hybrid models with community-managed bulk water supply from the utility, and private owner-operator models have emerged for the provision of small town and peri-urban water services.  The diagramme below shows the formal service delivery models as well as the main groups of emerging hybrid models.

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The TPP (Tri-Partite Partnerships) project tried to untangle this web of small town and peri-urban water service delivery models. It looked across the traditional urban – rural sub-sector boundaries, mapping and bringing together information on a variety of small town and peri-urban water management models and assessing their strength and weaknesses. Findings from the different studies done under this project have been brought together in the TPP Synthesis report.

One of the findings was that these models differ considerably in terms of tariffs charged. People in one area may pay far less per unit of water than people living in a similar area, but served under another service delivery model. And paying more does not necessarily mean receiving a higher level of water services, as shown in the figure below, which gives an indication of price and service level ranges for different models. It shows that people with access to high level water services through GWCL household connections pay far less per unit of water than people getting basic level water services through privately-managed standpipes.

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This begs the question: who decides which model is applied where, and based on what? These decisions seem to be taken rather arbitrary, mostly influenced by where which donor-supported implementation project is taking place, not necessarily based on consumer demand.

As small town and peri-urban models are emerging and developing, there is a need to address (increasingly detailed) questions on roles and responsibilities related to these models. Who is responsible for long-term capital maintenance? How to regulate service provision under the different models? What structures and mechanisms need to be in place for service providers and authorities to ensure sustainable small town and peri-urban water services? What are the costs of these and who pays for what? At the moment, these questions remain largely unanswered, as the service delivery models are still largely under development and not fully articulated yet.

With ongoing population growth, urbanisation and economic growth, demand for high(er) levels of water services in the in-between areas is likely to grow. These demands cannot be met by service delivery models that are poorly defined and articulated.

As described in the recently published Thematic Overview Paper on trends, challenges and models for small town water service provision, these issues are not unique to Ghana, as many countries are struggling with developing and defining detailed models for ensuring sustainable water services to the in-betweeners. Further development and formalisation of these models will therefore be a must, in Ghana and beyond.

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Photo credit: Dr. Kwabena Nyarko

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