Malawi: Water User Associations (WUAs) Bear Fruits

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George Mhango
September 12, 2014

The Government of Malawi says the recently introduced Water User Associations (WUAs) in rural areas and market centres is bearing fruits.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB) Malawi office, previously, rural piped water supply schemes were managed by voluntary organizations, called Scheme Management Committees to strengthen the sustainability of piped rural water supply schemes.
However, many of these schemes were not functioning properly, and as a result over 45% of the taps were not operational.

One of the water Kiosks in Ndirande Malawi where communal ownership is a problem
One of the water Kiosks in Ndirande Malawi where communal ownership is a problem

The WUAs are legal entities, which operate as “small water boards” at community level. They are, responsible for overseeing operation and maintenance of the rural piped schemes. As legal entities, WUAs aim to provide improved levels of service to their members through a Board of Trustees (BOT).

“In order to ensure efficiency in service delivery, WUAs will employee utility operators to manage the schemes, including collecting funds from consumer charges,” says the office as said in their newly introduced e-newsletter.

The office says funds collected are used for the operation, maintenance and expansion of the water supply schemes, thereby improving levels of service and sustaining the water supply infrastructure in line with measures to promote Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in rural areas.

“In order to facilitate the establishment of the WUAs, Malawi’s government developed guidelines to assist Implementing Entities and other service providers in establishing the Associations. WUA Training Manuals were also produced to assist different users to develop the competencies required to manage the water and sanitation systems efficiently and effectively. This is aimed at cost recovery and is done on a ‘willingness and ability to pay’ basis,” it says.

Water reforms have produced significant impacts on development, including improvements to drinking water access
Water reforms have produced significant impacts on development, including improvements to drinking water access

Tariff Guidelines have also been developed to assist WUAs and other stakeholders to set and implement realistic tariffs for rural water supply schemes. For the authorities in Malawi, this will improve their financial resource bases and ensure the sustainability of the systems.

Since the WUA management model is transitioning from a voluntary organization to a commercial entity, there are several challenges that need to be tackled with time. However, with the first WUAs established and registered to date, the experience has been encouraging. An initial assessment has shown that some of the WUAs have achieved financial break-even between expenses and income from fees.

Some have also started expanding their systems and installing more household connections.

According to the AfDB in Malawi, the success of this management model would alleviate the burden of supporting the piped schemes from the government and render the schemes more sustainable and productive. Nevertheless during the initial stages, as the WUAs are being established and the concept rolled out, the Associations need to be provided with limited operating expenses.

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