International Donor Agencies – Africa

Following entry is a record in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” – a list of failed and troubled projects from around the world.


International Donor Agencies – Africa
Project type : Boreholes and wells (developing community water sources)
Date : Jul 2016 Cost : $360M

Synopsis :
One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) is to increase access to clean water and sanitation facilities for communities that currently lack such facilities. In many rural areas of sub Saharan Africa, it is not uncommon to walk a few miles to the nearest borehole to get clean water for daily consumption. International donor agencies are responding in good measure and although many positive strides have been made, reports indicate that as much as $360 million USD have been a spent on building boreholes and wells that quickly became inoperative (and in some cases irreparable).

Water Pump photo

Water pump
(source wiki commons)

Reasons cited for about 50, 000 non-functioning water are amongst others; poor construction, lack of expertise and experience, poor supervision, failure caused by well users, and poor technology choice. “People tend to make assumptions about why water sources fail and blame a lack of spare parts, financing, maintenance problems or climate change, for example. But often, the cause is not clear” (Casey and Carter, WaterAid Global). Those reasons for failure make sense but may not tell the full story.

The UN’s 2030 SDG goals call for local community level participation in water and sanitation management projects. Funding initiatives from donors are commendable, however they sometimes fall short where it matters most. Establishing borehole and well infrastructure requires more than just implementation, it requires post project support. In many cases the implementation of water infrastructure projects is a battle half won because the donors/sponsors fail to consider elements that guarantee that projects deliver long-term value. The scope of such projects needs to consider not only the installation, but also the capacity building activities that ensure the infrastructure receives the appropriate servicing and levels of support needed to ensure its long-term viability.  Lack of capacity building underlies many failed donor funded projects. To overcome the problem, sponsors need to direct their efforts and advocate for mandatory project skills related capacity building at local authority level to increase chances that projects deliver on the value they were intended for in the first place. National agencies in respective countries who receive funding and tasked to implement national initiatives, should insist that skills development to ensure sustainability are an integral part of the funding proposition.

Project management training from reputable organizations can increase the financial investment value to establish clean water infrastructure, and more importantly add to the sustainability that will guarantee that borehole and well users can benefit over the longer term from clean water.

Contributing factors as reported in the press:
Operational dysfunction, lack of support to ensure long-term sustainability (Focal imbalance failures), insufficient capacity building at local level, failure to ensure availability of sufficient resources, lack of project management training and support.

Reference links :

  1. Money ‘wasted’ on water projects in Africa
  2. Understanding why waterpoints fail

Contributing Editor – Hylton Ferreira – Senior Faculty International Project Leadership Academy