Community Participation in the Rural Water Supply Sector of Enugu State, Nigeria

Obeta Michael Chukwuma

American Journal of Water Resources

Community Participation in the Rural Water Supply Sector of Enugu State, Nigeria

Obeta Michael Chukwuma

Department of Geography, Hydrology and Water Resources Unit, University of Nigeria, Nsukka


The community participation policy has long been associated with rural development. Rural development planners opine that for rural development projects to succeed the host community must take active part in the development and management of such projects. Enugu state government has implemented the community participation policy in her rural water supply sector since the late 1990s. This paper examines the level of community participation in the development and management of rural water supply schemes in the state. It describes the water schemes, the practices of and factors constraining effective community participation in the area. In addition, the paper suggests strategies that can enhance the implementation of the policy in order to improve service delivery in the area. The research is largely qualitative, using data obtained through focus group discussion (FGD), interviews, observations and from records in the states agencies responsible for public water supplies. The research team interacted with 300 individuals, drawn from 15 communities hosting the 15 water schemes used in the study. The data generated were analyzed through the use of descriptive and inferences statistical tools. The results of the study revealed that practices of community participation in the study area vary widely. Genuine participation in critical stages of water projects such as selection of technology is either limited or lacking. Participation of Village Water Committees (VWCs) in the management of rural water supply schemes is mostly ceremonial and contributes little to the sustainable functioning of the schemes. Strategies that may aid the implementation of the policy are suggested.

Cite this article:

  • Obeta Michael Chukwuma. Community Participation in the Rural Water Supply Sector of Enugu State, Nigeria. American Journal of Water Resources. Vol. 4, No. 3, 2016, pp 58-67.
  • Chukwuma, Obeta Michael. "Community Participation in the Rural Water Supply Sector of Enugu State, Nigeria." American Journal of Water Resources 4.3 (2016): 58-67.
  • Chukwuma, O. M. (2016). Community Participation in the Rural Water Supply Sector of Enugu State, Nigeria. American Journal of Water Resources, 4(3), 58-67.
  • Chukwuma, Obeta Michael. "Community Participation in the Rural Water Supply Sector of Enugu State, Nigeria." American Journal of Water Resources 4, no. 3 (2016): 58-67.

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At a glance: Figures

1. Introduction

The policy on community participation (CP) in the rural water supply sector falls within the reforms advocated by a variety of multi-and bilateral organizations and donors agencies during the International Decade for Drinking Water Supplies of the early 1990s [37]. This policy places an obligation on benefiting communities to actively participate in the development activities of rural water supply services by empowering them to mobilize their own creative potentials, manage resources, take decisions and control activities in the water supply sector [7, 38]. CP in the rural water supply involves government divesting itself of some direct service delivery responsibilities and allowing the beneficiaries to contribute to or be involved in the development and management of rural water supply infrastructure [5]. This is intended to instill a sense of ownership on the part of the community, ensure that services are based on local needs, priorities and affordability [33] as well as to allow external resources allocated to the sector to go further [40].

CP is widely considered as a very crucial strategy for efficient and sustainable operation of rural water supply systems (RWSS); and no rural water supply system can be truly successful without the support of the host community [18]. The efficacy of CP has been investigated in many parts of the developing world and the outcome of many of the studies attest to the effectiveness of the approach [22]. For instance Nakano and Otsuka [21], in a study of the ‘determinants of household contributions to irrigation water supply and management in Uganda’ established that grass root participation in service delivery play crucial roles in the sustenance of rural water supply for both domestic needs and for irrigation projects in that country. Through effective CP the rural farmers were able to reduce wastages in the supply systems, collect water tariff, clean the source environment and carry out minor repairs. Imoro and Fielmua [18] also established that CP plays critical and vital roles in sustainable water supply as well as in the overall execution of other self –help community projects. These scholars stated emphatically that CP enhances the provision of adequate, locally sustainable water supply and sanitation facilities which are essential for improved health and productivity as well as for community hygiene. Ezemonye, (2014) supported this view-arguing that sustainable supply of water requires contributions from all stakeholders and that supply of water improves the overall quality of life of people.

According to UN [38] report on the indicators of sustainable development, CP has other benefits, which includes the creation of opportunities that enable all members of a community to actively contribute to and influence the development process and to share equitably in the fruits of development [38]. The document noted that people’s participation in rural water supply projects is essential in order to guarantee the sustainability, efficiency and affordability of such projects. Kumar [19], added that CP promotes the spirit of community living, it is not just a matter of involvement in project activities but rather the process by which rural people are able to organize themselves, identify their own needs, share in design and implementation of community projects. CP in rural water supply is one of the key ingredients of an empowered community (Reid, 2000). Through CP, communities organize themselves to confront water supply inadequacies which are widespread, especially in developing countries [27].

For instance, UNCIEF (2015) indicate that nearly 3 billion people or 40% of the world population live in water stressed countries where it is difficult to get enough water to satisfy the basic human needs. The same report indicated that many communities have fallen short of the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) target of reducing by half the proportion of people not having access to safe water supply by 2015. The report showed that in six developing regions of the world, namely; sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, Latin America, South East Asia, Southern Asia, and Northern Asia, vast proportion of the rural population still lack adequate access to safe water supplies. This situation worsens the living standards of the people in the region and constrains socio-economic development of the rural economy.

Nigeria is blessed with abundant water resources estimated at 226 billion cubic meters of surface water and about 40 billion m3 of ground water [1]. However, Gbadegesin and Olorundemi, [16] noted that about 90 million people, living in urban and rural areas lack access to improved drinking water sources, and that Nigeria ranks behind many other developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, (Rwanda, Botswana, and Sierra Leone) in level of access to potable water. The UNICEF (2015) report indicates that currently only about 57% of the urban population and about 31% of the rural population has access to water of acceptable quality. In some urban and rural areas in the country the effective coverage may be as low as 40% and 20% of the population respectively [24].

Enugu state, our study area, is predominately rural. About 80% of the population lives in rural areas [24]. The rural populations face serious rural water deficiencies, despite the efforts of the state government and the multiplicity of agencies involved in water supplies in the area. For a sizable proportion of the population, the major sources of water are unprotected wells, streams, ponds, private boreholes and harvested rain water (Plate 1 and Plate 2). These sources are exposed to contamination by natural and anthropogenic factors – defecations, careless waste disposal practices, livestock and floods, etc. Users of these water sources are obviously exposed to health risks and as revealed by Nwankwoala [23]. These problems create the need for in depth studies to investigate the extent of community participation in rural water supply in the state in order to identify the challenges and isolate strategies which can strengthen and improve service delivery in rural water delivery of the study area.

Plate 1. Abonyi River, near Ikem. Many river bank Communities depend on this stream for their water needs
Plate 2. Ajalli River near Iwollo. Most communities in Ezeagu LGA Depend on this stream for all their water needs

The objectives of this work, therefore, are to assess the extent of CP and isolate the challenges facing CP in the rural water supply sector in Enugu state of Nigeria, with a view to suggesting the strategies which can enhance CP and improve service delivery responsibilities in the rural water supply sector of the state. The findings of this work will contribute to the knowledge base for future research and may assist development planners and other stakeholders in the rural water supply sector to inject efficiency and promote sustainable development in other sectors of the rural economy.

2. Area of Study

The study area, Enugu state, is located approximately between latitudes 05.55` and 07.08` and longitudes 06.35` and 07.55` (Figure 1). The state is bounded in the east by Ebonyi State; in the west by Anambra State; in the north by Benue and Kogi States; and in the south by Imo. The state has an area of 6,342km2, and a 2014 population of 4.17 million-about 80 % of which live in the rural areas [14]. The climate is tropical with high temperatures and high humidity as well as marked wet and dry seasons, though there are variations between north and south [29]. Precipitation varies widely in both time and space, ranging from less than 850mm per annum in the extreme north to 1050mm in the south [26].

Figure 1. Enugu State showing the seventeen Local Government Areas (Source: Enugu State Ministry of Finance (2015))

The state is drained by numerous rivers, principally the Ebonyi, Adada, Ajali, Ivo and their numerous tributaries. Many of the tributaries are seasonal. The vegetation varies mainly with the rainfall and with topography. Natural vegetation is denser at the south and at the valleys and sparse at the north and at the top of the highlands [25]. Generally, the rural communities have similar physical and socio-economic characteristics. Many of the rural communities have no easily accessible, nearby, clean or hygienic water sources. Sources of water vary widely from direct rainfall to water from runoffs, rivers, streams, boreholes, wells, and seepage [24]. Many rural residents suffer from avoidable water related diseases. Despite a process of industrialization, extending to the creation of the state the 1980s, agriculture remains the fundamental economic activity in all the local government areas (Madu, 2009). The leading economic crop is the oil palm which is grown in every part of the state. Cassava, yam, rice and maize are the most important food crops. The average life expectancy in the mid 1990s was 47 for men and 49 for females.

3. Methology

Figure 2. Enugu State Showing the Location of the Rural Water Schemes under Study (Source: GIS Unit, Department of Geography, Uni of Nigeria, Nsukka (2015))

The research was largely qualitative, using oral interviews, personal observations, three focus group discussions (FGDs) and sourcing data from records in state’s agencies for rural water supplies. First, an elaborate field survey of the study area was carried out; all the three rural water supply zones in the state at Enugu, Nsukka, and Udi were visited to extract useful information from official records, observe existing water supply sources, equipment as well as to interview the principal zonal officers of the State Water Corporation. The zonal water engineers provided relevant information on the contemporary situations of water supply services in their respective zones. In addition, a total of 15 rural water supply schemes in 15 rural communities were sampled. The choice of 15 schemes was informed by the desire to cover all the LGAs with rural water schemes in the state. The criteria for selecting the schemes included the distance from a previously chosen one, the wish of the owner(s) and availability for study. The 15 rural water supply schemes had a total of 85 water distribution points and are located at the communities shown in Figure 2. 300 individuals, drawn randomly on the basis of 20 per community, were interviewed from the sampled communities hosting the 15 rural water supply schemes.

Three focus group discussions (FGD) were conducted, one in each of the rural three water supply zones. In each of the FGD, 9 participants, comprising, the zonal water engineer, the borehole manager, the traditional ruler, four officials of the community water committees (VWCs) and two women leaders were involved. Participants discussed a wide range of issues; including, how to make water services delivery sustainable. Descriptive statistical techniques were employed in the analysis of data. It helped in the summarization of data into tabular forms, means, standard deviations and percentages.

4. Results and Discussion

The results of this study are discussed under the sub-headings shown below.

4.1. Rural Water Supply Schemes in the Study Area

Findings revealed the characteristic of the rural water supply schemes in the study area. The schemes were established to supply safe and wholesome water to the rural communities in adequate quantities and at affordable prices. This, according the Enugu State Chief Water Engineer, is to promote the peoples wellbeing, encourage personal and household hygiene and fulfill campaign promises. The 15 sampled, largely non- functional rural water supply schemes have community participation arrangements in them but are owned exclusively by the Enugu State Water Corporation (ESWC).The rural water supply schemes fall into three major categories, namely:

1) Small water schemes with only one borehole as its source of water supply and serving a relatively small population of less than 2800 people or 400 households.

2) Medium–sized water schemes having several water supply sources (two or more boreholes) and serving a relatively larger population of between 2800 and 7000 people (400-1000 households). The people served generally live in close proximity to each order, belong to one autonomous community and live under one traditional ruler.

3) Large water supply schemes with several sources of water supply, normally a river weir and/ or boreholes, serving a much larger population (over 7000), spread in many villages over a large geographical area. The water sources of the schemes, population served, functional status, and the year of establishment are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Summary Information on the 15 Sampled Rural Water Schemes

All the rural water schemes have village water committees (VWCs) charged with the responsibility of mobilizing local resources, labour, security etc and channel same to the schemes to aid their sustainability. Three of the water schemes (Ukehi, Ngwo,and Udi) are functioning almost perfectly (70-85% of installed capacities). The high performance of Ukehi Rural Water Scheme was attributed to the high motivation of the staff and regular mobilization of local resources (for operation and maintenance) by the community leaders. The traditional ruler of Ideoha in Ukehi observed that they do everything possible to ensure that their scheme runs continuously. They praise the scheme staff for their patriotism, remunerate them regularly from locally mobilized resources and aggrievedly source resources for the purchase of spare parts.

The high performance of the Udi scheme was attributed to the use of better technology and the fact the village is the ancestral home of the state governor, while that of Ngwo was attributed to frequent financial and technical support from the numerous NGOs and firms based in the area. The remaining 12 schemes have either stopped functioning or are functioning minimally-_below 10% of installed capacities. The respondents’ indentified reasons for this low performance are discussed in section 4.4.

4.2. The Local People Who Participate in Managing Rural Water Schemes in the Study Area

According to the CP policy, the management of water schemes at the community level should be the responsibility of the users (i.e. communities) to handle [8, 11]. The local level or grassroots governance outfits, called Village Water Committees (VWCs) are expected to be fully involved in the planning, implementation, operation and maintenance of water supply facilities [13]. The key characters directing the affairs of the VWCs and the extent of the committees’ involvement in the rural water supply sector of the study area were investigated. Interviewees reported that the characters that largely determine the membership of these committees, their roles in managing or contributing to the management of the rural water supply infrastructures the study area are the; (1) traditional rulers, (2) zonal water engineer, (3) religious leaders, (4) local politicians and the (5) youths leaders.

Traditional rulers, in the study area, are regarded as the number one citizens of their communities, often they are the spokespersons of the community and the ones who understands the intricacies of the local politics. They control their cabinets and they and their cabinets play the under listed roles in the provision and/or management of rural water projects:

1) Mobilize political support for the water projects at the local level

2) Channel the contributions of the community (money, materials, service, labour etc) to the water project providers.

3) Secure the cooperation and support of the community members for the operation, protection and maintenance of the project.

4) Monitor and report on the performance of all the stakeholders to appropriate authorities.

The zonal water engineer is the government-appointed supervisor of rural water supply scheme in Enugu State. He is a professional, trained in techniques that permit him to advise upon, administer, supervise, or otherwise conduct professional and scientific works on the scheme where the use of professional engineering knowledge and skills are essential. He directs the operation and maintenance of the schemes-determining which parts are to be replaced etc.

Religious leaders, consisting of bishops, priest and pastors, but particularly priests, are very influential and highly regarded in the communities under study. Getting them to support or appreciate any development project such as a rural water supply project almost tantamount to getting their faithful do the same and vice versa.

Local politicians, as used in this study, consist of ward counselors, senior government officials and the elite groups who claim to have jurisdiction over matters which affect their communities’ wellbeing. Although, government sponsored projects (roads, water etc) in Nigeria are usually decided on at a higher level and the decision handed down to the community, the local politicians always claim that they “attracted such projects”. Almost without fail, they are believed, and as a consequence they arrogate to themselves the right to supervise, protect and direct how such projects are run. Evidences revealed that local politicians interfere with the composition of the membership of VWCs and the extent of their involvements in the management of water supply schemes in the communities. They interface with zonal water engineers, traditional and youth leaders in mobilizing and using local resources. Community members welcome their interference, giving them support and praises.

Finally, the youth leaders constitute the most active segment of the community who possess the desired energy, time and skills needed for the development and/or the management of water supply projects. They supply needed labour during construction/maintenance and protect installed facilities. Considerable efforts are made, in the study area, to get the support and participation of the youths leaders in rural development water projects.

4.3. Institutional Structures Involved in Managing Rural Water Supply Schemes in the Area

The three important institutional structures were found to be involved in rural water supplies in the area. These are the ESWC (state’s agency for water supply), the zonal staff of the agency and VWCs which are the main grass root-structures.

The ESWC, as noted in section 1, among other things, compiles work plans and budgets, submits them for approval to the state ministry of public utilities, establishes and runs water projects, etc. The zonal offices of the agency assist in mobilizing and sensitizing the communities, assisting them to identify appropriate projects and to provide needed support. The VWCs assist in mobilizing local resources, labour, security etc. and channeling same towards the development and management of the communities’ water projects. The extents to which these structures function are discussed below.

4.4. Extent of Community Participation in the Rural Water Supply Sector of the Study Area

Records at the Engineering Department of the ESWC headquarters, Enugu listed sixteen crucial functions which the corporation handles in seven schemes established between 1994 and 1998 (Ukehi, Ovoko, Agbani, Oji River, Ngwo, Nnenwe and Udi). The functions include project conception, planning activities, site selection, project design, technology selection, project implementation, project evaluation, project monitoring, training activities, operation of machinery, major repairs, routine maintenance, commercial activities, formulation of policies, and setting of targets. For the schemes established between 2000 & 2004 (Ogurute, Ugbaike, Iwollo, Ekwebge, Achi and Awha Imezi) the zonal water engineers listed 14 of functions which the corporation performs target setting and policy formulation were excluded from the earlier list. For those established between 2007 and 2008 (Ikem and Umundu) the number of functions performed by the corporation was further reduced to 13 and 12 respectively. Budget preparation and commercial functions were not listed.

For the functions to be performed by the VWCs, the records listed 17 functions. The functions as shown in Table 2 include provision of labour, security, site selection, purchase of minor parts, diesel, election of VWC members, attending meetings, reporting leakages, under taking minor repairs, mobilizing local resources, system operation,etc Results of the analysis of the extent to which these functions are performed by the VWCs, using the respondents’ assessment scores is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Extent of Community Participation on Rural Water service Delivery in the Area

As shown in Table 2, six functions assigned to the VWCs are rarely performed (mean = 2.00) while five are occasionally performed (mean = 2.00). Only six of the functions returned relative high mean values, exceeding 3.00, indicating that they are performed ‘very often’ by the VWCs. The functions are; provision of labour (mean = 3.50), financial contributions (mean = 3.48), site clearing (mean = 3.44), protection of water infrastructure (mean = 3.22), attending meetings (mean = 3.18) and provision of security (mean = 3.02).

Responses from the field reveal that the numbers of functions performed by the VWCs in the communities where water schemes are functional vary greatly but generally ranges between three and six. The respondents complain that the staff of ESWC deprive members of the VWCs the opportunity to participate in different layers of water project. Even where VWCs are allowed to participate, it is only the most minor tasks (provision of security, labour, diesel ,etc) that they participate in. They are not allowed to initiate and /or take actions that are stimulated by their own thinking and deliberations that might mean or suggest that the people are directing and controlling their own affair. the sampled population that have ever participated in the above functions shown in Table 2, in the 15 communities under study, was found to be generally low- ranging from 0% to just 46.7%. This shows that the level of CP in rural water supply services of the area is very low.

4.5. Causes of Low CP in the Rural Water Supply Sector of the Study Area

Responses from the field suggest that a number of institutional, economic and other factors account for the observed low level of CP in the rural water supply sector of the study area. The factors are;

1) Insufficient knowledge, resources and engineering skills at the community level

The local community members who are supposed to participate in and monitor water supply projects lack the capacity to do so. First, they lack contract information as well as the required technical knowledge and skills to operate and maintain water supply facilities or participate in their monitoring and evaluation. Worse still, there no training undertaken to equip them for the roles they are expected to play.

2) Mismatches between the provisions of the policy and what the people are allowed to do. The ESWC (the principal agency for rural water supply in the area) appear to be unwilling to provide communities with sufficient information and options in order to enable them make informed decisions regarding technology choice, installation, operation and maintenance. Most members of the communities, including community leaders, are not informed off or are allowed to participate in decisions to acquire a type of scheme, its site selection, or type of technology etc.

3) Thirdly, the mechanism to ensure sustainability is weak. The lack of desired skills and engineering knowledge among most community members undermines their ability to contribute to repairs and preventive maintenance. Worse still, women members are confined to gender stereotype activities and are not consulted on matters concerning rural water supply, even though they bear great burden of the works involved.

4) Corruption at different phases or level of the schemes operation. After inadequate capacity at the community level, corruption was second most frequently reported factor limiting CP in rural water supply in the study area The contractors do not want community members to investigate the quality of work done in the area as evidenced by the responses obtained. The community leaders cannot force the contractors to accept their inputs. Even when they report to the headquarters; such reports are usually ignored or are not acted upon.

5) Insufficient financial resources at the community level to pay participating members of the VWCs. Apart from lack of financial and technical resources to undertake the O&M of the schemes; the communities also lack the financial resources to pay volunteers.

6) Interference by influential persons. The CP policy envisages that rural water supply schemes will become community- based [12]. This means that communities will become full owners of the schemes; that the communities will be responsible for selecting the water supply technology, for the operation and maintenance of the technology they have chosen [4]. Findings, however, indicate that some traditional rulers, local politicians, and town union officials try to highjack the schemes... This causes internal conflicts, disagreements and quarreling between and among members of the communities.

7) Socio-cultural factors.

There are certain socio-cultural issues that undermine the implementation of CP policy in the study area. First, community assets and projects are traditionally owned communally but managed by the Village Council of Elders and/ or the traditional rulers and their cabinets in the study area. Women and children are not consulted. But in the CP policy, women and children are critical stakeholders who are expected to participate actively. Because of this, the elders feel challenged and quarrel with other individuals, principally women and youth leaders. Secondly, the details and modalities of CP in the water sector are not discussed at the onset or early enough to clarify issues and/or to forestall misunderstanding between and among community members. The above shortcomings were reported to impact negatively on the functionality and sustainability of the schemes.

5. Recommendations

Effective community participation in the development and management of a rural water schemes is a sure sign that the scheme has a bright chance of functioning optimally on a sustainable basis (Charlet and Nevot, 2011). The under listed recommendations may help communities to participate effectively in the management of water projects and take care of other associated problems.

A. Enugu State Government must ensure that the CP reform policy is implemented properly by the ESWC. The government must ensure that the organization and its staff have a clear and shared view of the policy and how it should be implemented. Experience, over the past decades, has shown that too much regulation in the water sector leads to inefficiency; it creates its own distortions and stifles initiatives for improvement [35].

B. Strong and sustained financial and technical support to VWCs is necessary if the CP policy is to bear fruit in the study area. This is even more necessary when we realize that most of the communities under study lack the financial and technical capacity to manage the schemes on a long term and sustainable basis.

C. Involve the private sector to carry out (part of the) management, bring in finance, or buy the assets (water infrastructure, land) and operate them as a private venture. This approach has a number of potential benefits, viz;

1) Higher income generation to existing private, rural water providers [2]

2) Increased opportunities for growth and development of rural water supply schemes by the private water providers [7].

3) Increase in efficiency of service delivery due to increased competition between and among the water providers [15].

4) Increased opportunities for the state government to generate more revenue (through taxation) and create more employment opportunities [11].

D. ESWC should encourage the use of simple, inexpensive water supply projects which would require limited funds both for construction, operation and maintenance. The agency needs to avoid the development of complicated and expensive water scheme designs which tax the economic and technical resources of the communities beyond their normal abilities.

Finally, the details and modalities of CP in the water sector need to be discussed at a town hall meeting to create awareness and to forestall misunderstanding; the role of cultural institutions in the area needed to be taken into consideration in designing the CP policy in the rural water supply sector.

6. Conclusion

The provision of safe and adequate drinking water to rural communities is a basic necessity. It is obvious from the results of this study that the implementation of the CP policy in the rural water supply sector of our study area is facing a number of challenges. Effective CP cannot occur without serious attention and commitment from governments and her agencies. Therefore Enugu state governments should address the major issues constraining the proper implementation of the CP policy in the area in order to improve performance in the rural water supply sector. Specifically, the government must create the desired awareness on how the CP policy should be addressed and achieved. The CP depends on local collective action and hence the participatory nature of the model is a basic requirement if success is to be achieved. The more rural people are involved to addressing their own development, the more the confidence and the more the success level associated with such programmes.


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