We provide high quality, sustainable solutions that solve the water and sanitation problems of vulnerable communities in a comprehensive way. Donors might feel they are making a greater difference by giving to organizations that claim a lower per-person rate, but all water projects are not equal in their outcomes. A project that results in more time savings and larger volumes of water use has a greater impact on a family’s health and economic well-being. The benefits of a comprehensive solution far outweigh the extra cost, especially over time.
At Water1st, we do not sacrifice best practices for faster and cheaper practices that are incomplete and/or unsustainable. A rate of $85 per person is worth every penny to provide a complete solution to the number one cause of illness and death for people living in vulnerable communities, especially when it frees up the time of women and girls to attend school and earn an income.
Although we don’t have access to the budgets of other organizations and therefore can’t set up direct comparisons, the following issues impact Water1st project costs:
Ending the daily walk for water for women and girls is a priority that requires access to water in every household, community gathering place, and school. This is why we are committed to providing every family with a kitchen tap, a toilet, and a shower, right at their home. The more common approach includes a shared water point or hand pump located in the center of a community, an approach that fails to end the time-consuming task of water collection for women and girls. Therefore, we invest in miles of pipe to carry water directly from a well or spring to homes; as much as 70% of a project cost pays for high quality pipe. Piping water adds significant cost, but our partner organizations are masters at conceiving and implementing large water supply systems that serve as many people as technically possible, often extending to several communities.
We engage the entire community in the planning, construction, and long-term maintenance of every project; our beneficiaries are active decision-makers. Our in-country partners cooperate with local government and coordinate with other aid agencies to ensure that our projects reach those who need them the most. Coordination of all stakeholders is part of the investment we make to guarantee project success and one we believe is worthwhile, even though it increases our cost per person.
Changing behavior is not easy. Therefore, we support the implementation of comprehensive hygiene education programs by our in-country partners. Using toilets, washing hands, and using safe water for all purposes (such as bathing and laundry) are the best ways to prevent the spread of disease. However, experience has shown that knowledge is not enough, and people tend to know more than they practice–consider how difficult it is for us in the U.S. to exercise and eat healthy foods even though we know it’s important for our long-term health. Hygiene education programs typically take longer to implement than the construction of water points and toilets. Our experience has shown that teams of local hygiene promoters are most successful at turning knowledge into behavior change when they employ a variety of strategies with multiple in-person interactions, over a long period of time.
Our projects leverage local resources whenever possible. Our local partner organizations are recognized and respected in the regions where they work. Because of their great relationships, they are able to access the best available local resources: people, funding, and materials. In many of our projects, the community members are able to provide local construction materials such as sand, gravel, and wood. Our partners also work closely with local government, allowing for access to government resources, such as professional staff, equipment, and funding. Collaboration benefits everyone as all stakeholders are vested in the success of a project: local government staff feel valued, community members have a multitude of ways to contribute, and Water1st funding and resources are stretched even further.
Capital cost recovery is increasingly important to our projects. Even though our beneficiaries are poor, they help pay 40 percent to 100 percent of the capital costs of their projects through monthly installments. This financial investment on the part of our project participants tells us that they place a high value on improving their water supply, giving us greater assurance that the project will be well-maintained. It also allows the participants to choose between a variety of options, giving them an added sense of ownership. The loan program also helps Water1st and our local partners reach more people in need of safe water and toilets; repaid loan funds are used to begin additional projects.