Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Visit to rural village - successful community led reform

On the 23rd April our delegation got the exciting opportunity to go and visit a rural village in Tamil Nadu that has undergone a successful public reform process.

Tamil Nadu is a state in India, that has had huge problems with water scarcity in the recent past. The traditional solution of ‘just drilling more bore holes’ became no longer sustainable so the state board of water engineers underwent what is termed a ‘change management process’ to facilitate new thinking in how to deliver water. This has resulted in engineers working with hundreds of villages in a much broader capacity, to help reform water supplies that are truly community led. India is a complex country the interplays between wealth, class, caste and religion are hard to tease apart so this has been a huge challenge, but after two years many villages have improved their access to water and significantly reduced costs.

Ramaiyanali village is just one example. The concept of a village is different in India, and can include up to 100,000 people. While Ramaiyanali was a mere 25,000 it still managed to have a village feel to it. This particular village is in one of the driest areas of Tamil Nadu and has struggled with water supply since the mid 1970s. Fed up with their plight being ignored by the state, the then president held a marriage of donkeys to draw media attention to their situation – and it worked! This innovative style of campaigning led to the water engineers coming to the village to help find solutions, and the President has played a key role in making them happen. The effort put in by the engineers (pictured below), cannot go unnoticed. They held over 30 initial meetings with the village to gain their trust that they was not just another set of government official but truly wanted to deliver community led results. And the results are indeed incredible, costs have dropped by two thirds, new sources of water have been tapped in to, low cost solutions are working and there is now a very strong ethos of conserving water.

After seven hours stuck in a minibus in the 37 degree heat, we arrived. The first thing that struck me was the pride you could feel in the village as soon as we arrived. People wanted to show off their water, show how their system worked, and it really was an amazing site to see. We started off in a public meeting that had all members of the community there with a significant active presence of women and dalits (or untouchable communities).

We then got taken on a tour to see the systems of household connections and public fountains. Everyone pays for their water, and they get their water at a certain time of day which is recorded on the pipes (see picture) and also on boards in every street – so that the process is transparent and people are accountable to eachother. The logistics of this was worked out with the community so different areas receive water at a time that is convenient to them. People are happy with the system, it is their system and for that reason there is ownership and is working well. It was truly an inspiration to see what can be achieved when a project makes community participation central to its work.


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