Rural water system sustainability : a case study of community-managed water systems in Saramaka communities

Gwynneth Smith



Worldwide, rural populations are far less likely to have access to clean drinking water than are urban ones. In many developing countries, the current approach to rural water supply uses a model of demand-driven, community-managed water systems. In Suriname, South America rural populations have limited access to improved water supplies; community-managed water supply systems have been installed in several rural communities by nongovernmental organizations as part of the solution. To date, there has been no review of the performance of these water supply systems. This report presents the results of an investigation of three rural water supply systems constructed in Saramaka villages in the interior of Suriname. The investigation used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, coupled with ethnographic information, to construct a comprehensive overview of these water systems. This overview includes the water use of the communities, the current status of the water supply systems, histories and sustainability of the water supply projects, technical reviews, and community perceptions.

From this overview, factors important to the sustainability of these water systems were identified. Community water supply systems are engineered solutions that operate through social cooperation. The results from this investigation show that technical adequacy is the first and most critical factor for long-term sustainability of a water system. It also shows that technical adequacy is dependent on the appropriateness of the engineering design for the social, cultural, and natural setting in which it takes place. The complex relationships between technical adequacy, community support, and the involvement of women play important roles in the success of water supply projects. Addressing these factors during the project process and taking advantage of alternative water resources may increase the supply of improved drinking water to rural communities.