Today I attended a status meeting of the Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) programme which Arghyam are participating in for the town of Mulbagal in Kolar District of Karnataka. The programme has many participants, from the street level, where community participants are involved, to regional and state level. The programme has been running for about 20 months and it is considered a research and development project by Arghyam. According to Sunita Nadhamuni, the CEO of Arghyam, IUWM is practised in many towns in Europe, but most of the planning and implementation procedures are in-appropriate for Indian conditions, for many different reasons.
The most interesting thing I think the team and I learned today was the the hardest area for the programme to make good progress in was in communications. Communications between team and the community, between the team and the politicians and also, to some degree, within the team itself. We know how to measure water quality, we know how to build appropriate systems to solve problems, but to get buy-in from everyone who has a stake and agree on how things should be paid for etc. to ensure that a long term, sustainable solution is conceived is the major challenge. What one has learned from earlier efforts is that with communities where education levels are low, democratic participation and oversight weak and community engagement problematic, you easily end up with a solution which easily falls apart. Few pay services fees, nobody maintains wells, pipes or other technical systems, nobody cares about broken sewer pipes and soon you are back where you started.
In the end it is all about people and making people talk to each other. An interesting day.