UNICEF has recently published an interesting policy brief on self-supply drinking water sources. Self-supply is a service delivery model usually relying on groundwater or rainwater. Since it is available on the premises, self-supply has the potential to provide a safely managed water service (Genter et al., 2021)
However, some of these systems are unimproved sources in the form of unprotected wells. In this case, the transitioning from unprotected wells to safely managed self-supply systems followed by safe transportation, appropriate and effective household water treatment technologies and safe handling and storage is a feasible and realistic alternative to reach the target of the SDG 6.1.
And you, what do you think: should we promote or deter self-supply systems? Should piped-water solutions always be pursued?
To read more about this topic:
- Faecal contamination of groundwater self-supply in low- and middle income countries: Systematic review and meta-analysis
- Urban Self‐Supply from Groundwater—An Analysis of Management Aspects and Policy Needs
One of the challenges with a policy brief is including all the issues in a short document. The simple choice between self supply or not makes it appear like an either/ or question, when in fact there are so many factors to consider. The case study is not about self supply but unprotected shallow wells in areas of high density population. Rainwater is also self supply and would be a feasible option in the wetter seasons, when the water quality in the wells drops. The seasonal fluctuation in quality also points to the problem of pollution from surface water (rather than groundwater). Some simple protection measures could reduce this risk.
Another example of the simple either/ or problem is the fact that users are often using the poorer quality water for non-drinking purposes. This shows a level of awareness that can be built upon.
The answer to the question should be promoted or not is very easy. the answer is, "it depends"
any other thoughts?
Assuming that most people live in areas where some source of water is nearby, whether from the rain, through a borehole, or a simple PVC pipe from an uphill source, I believe that if households are empowered to treat their own water at the point of use the whole discussion on water supply becomes less relevant. With the limited resources available in the WASH sector, household water treatment can leapfrog piped water and much bigger health impact could be made. In Indonesia piped water often looks like this. Would you drink the water from these pipes?
Thank you @Brian Reed and @Lieselotte Heederik for your comments and insights.
The challenge is immense and I agree that the issue was simplified in a short document. Rainwater But if we look beyond that policy brief, it is clear that public water supply itself can't fill all the gaps in order to reach SDG 6.1.
@Lieselotte Heederik Household water treatment is a major component part of the water supply chain, but quantity and quality must receive proper attention along the multiple points, from the water source to the user's glass. Doing this, we are increasing the likelihood that the user is drinking safe water and the system is operating in an optimal way (saving and long-lasting)
Last year, Practical Action Publishing published a book entitled Self-supply filling the gaps in public water provision.
In one of the chapters it covers the complex interactions of all stakeholders in self-supply issue. Is self-supply a type of service delivery model recognized by government? Is the resources being allocated considering all the possible solutions? Or are we should looking at the "gold standard"? I think these are the questions that we should be doing.
A recognition of these systems (self-supply followed by effective household water treatment, and safe storage solutions) by the national governments should be the first step.
In Brazil, for instance, there is a self-supply programme called "Brazilian One Million Rainwater Harvesting" subsidized by the national government with the collaboration of non-profit organizations. This could be one good example of self-supply programme recognized and supported by government.
I agree with @Brian Reed that this isn't an either/or situation. Of course, some level of water provision (whether self supply or otherwise, especially if combined with HWTS) is better than not. However, I would hesitate to put the 'improved source' seal of approval on second-tier sources. The implications of saying "congratulations, you now have an improved water source" means that these people may be overlooked for future opportunities for water service upgrades, since they no long 'qualify' as an unimproved source, which needs improving.
So, while self-supply may be better than not, let's wait until people are served by the sustainable water solution that they believe in and are happy about, before it gets labelled as 'improved'.