CHAPTER 5: Technology: Understood and owned by the community
Until the mid-1970's, when Helvetas started to work in the drinking water sector in Nepal, no technical guidelines had been developed for gravity-flow systems in rural communities. Neither were there technically trained people at hand who could construct a drinking water system according to a design. During the first ten years of Helvetas' support for CWSSP, standardised design criteria were developed and technical manpower trained. New technologies were tried out, introduced and refined.
In contrast, SRWSP could build on the proven technical knowledge of CWSSP, although the different nature of SRWSP made it necessary to make some adjustments. The community was going to own and manage a simple, well-tested system. For all technical activities men, and more importantly women were to be involved. Technical skills and knowledge would be transferred during those activities and in special training courses.
• Ownership alone is not sufficient; it must be combined with the right technology and good workmanship.
Choosing the most appropriate technology is the basis for bringing safe drinking water to a community. Special attention should be given to the catchment area and the design and construction of the source intake, which is the most critical part for the overall quality of the system. Devices to clean and maintain the system need to be simple, safe and available locally. A sense of ownership can be developed by involving men and women in all steps and by transferring knowledge and skills in a simple and understandable manner. Direct involvement during construction work helps de-mystify the technology, reducing the community's fear of it. This encourages the sense of ownership and makes maintenance easier. The combination of high quality technical workmanship and the community's sense of ownership of the system ensures a high level of sustainability.
• Gender sensitivity in technical activities is crucial.
Technology is not merely a man's issue. If given a chance, women show a keen interest in the functioning of a drinking water system and are eager to learn more about it. To take advantage of this interest, community facilitators and technical personnel need to be aware of the importance of involving women. Having more female technical staff, from plumbers to engineers, working with the community, encourages women to actively participate. SRWSP has had very positive experiences with female technical workers, but community facilitators, who are more often female than male, need to have substantial technical knowledge to help solve problems on the spot.
• A well designed and built drinking water system alone does not lead to improved health.
A badly designed, built and maintained system, though reducing time for water collection, will remain a health threat due to contamination at various points. A properly maintained drinking water system is one part of a broader programme aimed at improving the health of a community. Integrated educational and technical activities can have a positive impact on the overall quality of the water supply. Therefore, specific activities supporting the technology are important. Those can be skill training and health and sanitation education, but they also must include special efforts to raise awareness about catchment and source protection as well as cleanliness of the whole system.
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