Have you ever worked on a successful water project in rural South Asia? What made it successful?

Last year I worked on a rural development project in Pakistan for 30 handpumps and here is my story. 

The Problem
There is a small village (about 500 families) in district Haripur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Afghan refugees had settled for about 20 years, once they left, the land soil had been utterly destroyed for conventional farming and the wells had also dried. As a result, parents weren’t sending their kids to the local school and sent them off to the closest river about to collect water for farming, washing etc.

The Solution
The village formed a committee (community organisation) and submitted to the local council for handpumps to be installed all over the village.

The Project
The project was picked up by UNDP under RAHA (Refugee Affected Hosting Areas) and UBL bank stepped in to pilot a unique project monitoring and funds distribution mechanism. At the time, I was the Project Manager at UBL for this.

Project Handicaps
Handicaps for projects in rural areas include (but not limited to):

  • Regular & frequent monitoring of projects by an expert is very hard in remote areas
  • Visibility of funds distribution as there is no electronic trace for tracking to whom the funds were given. For instance donor organisation can track funds till the bank account of community organisation but not when, where and who of it. For small projects under PKR 1 million or USD 10,000 it is an acceptable threshold however, not for large infrastructure projects requiring multiple suppliers and many workers.
  • Funds distribution itself as the closest bank branch was 30 miles away
  • Language, cultural boundaries

Overcoming each handicap

  • Thankfully, Pakistan has extremely good cellular coverage and everyone uses them due to high penetration and low charges which we decided to use to our advantage. We gave camera phones to the local community members which RAHA had identified and enabled GPRS on it. We had the supplier send a picture before and after completing a task with a predefined message. Every time, the supplier sent a message to us, we sent a message to 3 community members and received their confirmation as well. The community was used to keep tabs on the progress.
  • We released funds after each milestone was completed. This had been predetermined and agreed before hand. This was done via mobile payment platform called UBL OMNI. The contractor/supplier was thrilled to receive payment the same day, which he could collect at the local shop instead of the branch 30 miles away. The contractor paid some of his workers via the same service too.
  • Since the payments were done electronically and the progress was monitored through a messaging system, we had the paper trail and pictorial evidence.
  • We introduced a few people from UBL to the contractor and community members who were in regular touch with them and ironed out any problems or concerns that they had.

Project Conclusion
We reduced the project completion time by 50% and reduced a lot of leg work by keeping everyone informed through out the process. The biggest takeaway was the smile on everyone’s faces once the project was complete. They didn’t expect it to go so smoothly. The women were involved (yes) and last but not the least, the payments were done with ease.

Pictures of a handpump at each of the prominent stages are as below:

Clearing the area

Drilling

Making the Platform

Handpump complete with drainage

Have you ever worked on a successful water project in rural South Asia? What made it successful?

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