Assessing the user participation in the operation and maintenance for the sustainability of community water and sanitation programme in the Birim South District, Eastern Region of Ghana

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A lot of experiences support the assertion that user participation in the operation and maintenance (O&M) is crucial for the sustainability of water supply and sanitation services. The views of the user are therefore necessary in the performance measurement of such services. User involvement in operation and maintenance (O&M) could be theoretical even in a system that claims to have been practising it. There can be new construction to solve the problem of water supply and sanitation but the real solution is the capability to operate and maintain the water supply and sanitation system. The former government-managed water system in the Birim South District has been replaced by a community-owned and managed system in some communities since 1998.The new system is to be strengthened and replicated in more communities. The system, which envisages an improvement in O&M and ensures sustainability through user participation has so far not been assessed. Without such an assessment a lot of useful information could be missing to help in taking remedial measures and the replication of the programme. The study, which elicited the views and opinions of mainly female users, revealed that while the programme was welcomed a lot of teething problems in O&M threaten its sustainability. The problems with water services ranged from the difficulty in operating the facility, frequent breakdowns, long waiting hours, poor water quality and long distance to facility. On the present showing, for example, a minimum of 50% of the water facilities are not functioning. The problems with sanitation were leakage along vent pipes, nuisance from vectors like flies and cockroaches .and rising water table. Users were not adequately involved in O&M especially at the inception of the programme. There had also been little education or sensitisation on community-ownership and management. Users therefore do not see any clear roles and responsibilities to play in O&M. Furthermore there had not been any training for users to play any specific roles in O&M. From the benefit of the study strategies have been recommended to make the user more proactive to meet the new challenges in O&M to make the water and sanitation services delivery sustainable. These include the early and full participation of the user in all the processes from planning to post implementation stages, capacity development of users and based on gender considerations, education or sensitisation, strengthening of local institutions and putting in place participatory monitoring and evaluation systems. The results of the study will be useful and disseminated to all stakeholders dealing with community-owned and managed programmes; especially District Assemblies which are advised to emphasise on user participation in their District Water and Sanitation Plans. Areas for detailed and further research include financial, technical and social management for O&M.
A thesis submitted to the Department of Community Health, School of Medical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of in Health Services Planning and Management, 2004