DWASH Improves Water Project Sustainability in Timor-Leste

Woman Using DWASH Water Supply Facility, Laclubar, Manatuto District, Timor-Leste.
WATER IS FOR MORE THAN JUST DRINKING: Woman Using DWASH Water Supply Facility, Laclubar, Manatuto District, Timor-Leste.

In the tiny country of Timor-Leste in the Indonesian Archipelago, only 60% of the population has access to safe water and a mere 40% to sanitation services. In some rural areas of the country, access to sanitation can be lower than 30%, open defecation is prevalent, and people travel extraordinarily long distances to gather water. Since poor access to water and sanitation results in serious health problems—including water borne illnesses and stunted growth—there is a pressing need to improve access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services.

Although there is a strong NGO presence and bilateral aid in Timor-Leste, a large proportion of WASH investments throughout the country are non-functional. This is due to many reasons, including poor district-level systems maintenance capacity, unclear roles and responsibilities, resistance to service charges, budget constraints, limited capacity at all levels, and insufficient national budgetary support for district level operations. As a result, water and sanitation systems fail to serve the populations they were built to support, and health consequences persist.

According to Peter Cloutier, USAID Timor-Leste Governance and Health Program Director, "Conflict and lack of sharing between communities, lack of a sense of 'facility ownership', and unclear district official responsibilities threaten the viability of Timor-Leste's rural community development model." 

In order to improve the sustainability of WASH interventions in Timor-Leste, USAID introduced District Water Sanitation and Hygiene (DWASH), a project that trains district government and water agencies, community-level water user groups, community health volunteers, and natural resources management groups to more efficiently operate their water resources and delivery systems. Training has improved stakeholders' understanding of their responsibilities, facilitating a better sense of stewardship and reducing conflict.

In Manatuto and Oecusse Districts, participation in sanitation strategy development, construction training, and implementation is part of an overall plan to instill sustainable management of the facilities.

The DWASH community-based management framework promotes decentralized decision-making for all program service areas. Water Management Groups (GMFs) are established to manage newly rehabilitated water systems. To sustain the local structures, the project is training district and sub-district level government institutions responsible for community water supply and sanitation services (called Servisu de Agua no Saniamento, or SAS), in facilitation and monitoring skills. As a result GMFs and SAS have established permanent relationships through sub-district facilitators. Facilitation and maintenance of these relationships is critical for sustainability of WASH interventions.

Also in Manatuto District, where there is a 70% water systems failure rate, the GMF for Marmer Water System gained support from traditional leadership to set a monthly family contribution of one US dollar. So far, the group has earned over $100 in cash from 25 benefiting families in just four months. With support from the program, government facilitators are helping communities establish rules and regulations for running their water systems, such as opening and closing times of tap stands and penalties for encroaching on water catchment areas. 

Overall, the DWASH project has succeeded in providing:

  • 20,014 additional people in Manatuto and Oecusse districts with improved water supply;
  • 58% of assisted communities with hand washing stations;
  • 55 WASH and natural resources management committees;
  • 42 hectares of land under improved management;
  • 59% of households without visible open defecation; and
  • 7,038 stakeholders trained.

DWASH still faces many challenges, among them: the need for more capacity building; community cohesiveness and conflict resolution; increased clarity of roles in operation and maintenance; improved financial and cost-recovery mechanisms; hygiene behaviour change; and finding affordable ways to scale-up service delivery in remote areas. Nevertheless, the substantial strides the project has made in these areas increase the likelihood that WASH interventions will provide long-lasting improvements in access and associated health benefits to a population that urgently needs that support. 

Ed Bourque

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Last updated: November 16, 2015

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