Local Context

Considering local context when implementing our solutions

The recommendations presented in this article are complementary to engineering and economic solutions. “One size fits all” or pure engineering solutions fail to consider cultural, social and historical factors. Mission 2017 understands that any solutions or recommendations must be specific to each region with some attempt at understanding social and cultural factors. Despite good intentions non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations attempt to impose their world view on a part of the world that they do not have a deep cultural understanding of.  In the context of providing nations with clean water, considering local context means looking at different scales to solve local problems. It means working towards trans-boundary agreements between many countries to solve local problems as well as involving communities in the process of planning, building and implementing infrastructures which give them access to clean water. The latter option will be developed here.

A summary of the advantages and limitations of a transboundary agreement

When possible, Mission 2017 strongly endorses the view that governments must cooperate and find mutually beneficial transboundary agreements. Governments should create regional development agencies in charge of administering water bodies shared amongst multiple nations. Projects likely to have an effect on the available water resources of the riparian countries should be approved by this agency prior to being implemented. This is a way of recognizing the international aspect of a shared water domain. Governments should collaborate with this type of agency in order to avoid conflicts due to an unjust usage of a shared water resource. Indeed, only projects approved by the majority of the governments will be adopted. One limitation is that it can be a long process to reach agreement between governments; however, on the long term, negotiations are better than geopolitical instability inside a region. Ideally, the cost of the projects should be primarily supported by the regional agency. Adopting this funding strategy empowers the intergovernmental agency with decision making and funding abilities. In addition, other international development agencies such as the World Bank can assist projects according to their lending portfolios and priorities.

Mission 2017 recognizes that in some cases, reaching a mutual agreement between multiple countries can be difficult. Indeed, some conflicts such as the Nile river conflict are still unresolved. Riparian countries in the Nile region failed to reach a consensus over how the Nile resources should be allocated. For example, Egypt verbally threatened and attempted to prevent the construction of dams and other infrastructure projects because they could reduce the amount of water it believes it should receive from the Nile [1][2].

How to better implement solutions at a lower scale

As already stated, a standardized approach to development projects does not necessarily fit the local culture. Sometimes, the assumptions made by foreign helpers are wrong. For projects such as the Millennium Village project at Ruhiira, Uganda (Water Millennium Village project) the initial solutions proposed by Jeffrey Sachs and Columbia researchers –planting more corn in order to increase the revenues of farmers–did not meet the market demands. In this community, Corn is not the main cultivated cereal and farmers tended to cultivate Bananas called matoke [3]. The matoke market was well settled and demands were high in the country, in addition, most of the bananas were grown in this region of Uganda (Southern hills) and people found a way to transport bananas to market despite the lack of roads (banana boys for example).

local-1Figure 3: A photograph by Sam Manicom showing a banana boy carrying Matoke in Uganda

Although a lot of corn was cultivated after the implementation of Sachs’ plan, farmers had trouble selling and storing their corn excess to local communities. Therefore, the initial plan designed to help farmers “get out of poverty” did not succeed. When solutions to a problem (in this example, poverty) don’t match the cultural beliefs, unexpected hardships can occur and prevent a development project from succeeding. Therefore, having a plan considering social factors is important for implementing solutions in rural and urban communities.

In the case of increasing access to clean water, it is very important to consider the lifestyle of pastoralist communities. Herdsmen don’t rely on a single well nor do they live in a single place throughout the year. Therefore, increasing water access by creating more located sustainable infrastructures does not fit the pastoral way of life. Previous attempts to fix water shortages in Ethiopia and Kenya were unsustainable on the long term [4]. The development of literature on pastoral communities aimed at policymakers give some clues to find specific approaches. Rather than designing solutions for the pastoralists, policymakers should create solutions with the pastoralists. Pastoralists should be consulted in order to define what the best solution is for them [5]. Another approach also is to wait for communities to ask for the help of their governments. This offers the advantage of the government not making decisions on behalf of the pastoral communities. Practically, it implies the creation of a pastoralist association in charge of expressing the pastoralists concerns to governments [5].

Therefore, in special cases such as pastoral communities in arid and semi-arid lands, Mission 2017 recommends governments to not intervene unless they are asked to do so by an established association representing this specific community. However, governments can help create a structure in charge of expressing and listening the concerns of special communities who don’t live in the same place throughout the year. When asked for help, governments should work with these communities by listening to them and finding the appropriate solutions together. Doing so will value the local knowledge of these communities as well as not disrupting their way of life. Cases where communities are located in cities and towns are covered in the paragraph below.

How the World Bank and local communities can contribute

The recent consideration of projects involving communities is indicated by the increase of the World Bank budget available from $325 million in 1996 to $ 7 billion in 2003) [6]. Currently, the World Bank has “400 community driven development projects in 94 countries valued at almost $ 30 billion” [7]. Therefore, it will be easier for countries to build infrastructures giving clean water access while involving the communities because the World Bank is able to fund them.

While the World Bank funding is helpful for developing countries, money can also come from citizens themselves. A lot of infrastructures development programs such as the Afghanistan National Solidarity program or the Kecamatan Development Project in Indonesia managed to have the community supporting 13 to 17 percent of the costs. Some flexibility was adopted in terms of donations and cash as well as goods which could be converted to money were accepted [6]. In some cases, community contribution also took the form of manual labor. Involving communities through funding, advising and manual labor seems a good approach. The direct participation of the beneficiaries increase the value attached to the infrastructures and give a better perception of the governments. It is one effective way to show that a government is listening to the people it represent. However, some flaws such as inter group conflict, leading of debate by state actors and underrepresentation of population should be avoided. Indeed, in the lessons drawn from a project aiming at improving water access in the town of Mutengene in Cameroon, one of the obstacles identified as a cause of delays of the project was that wealthier and educated political elites may lead the debate [8]. As a result, some volunteers who felt that their ideas were not accepted stopped attending meetings. Beyond this, people not originally from the city or the local ethnical group were identified as strangers and could not participate to the debate. Locals did not want to cede the control of water resources that belonged to them for generations [8]. One way to tackle the lack of motivation of volunteers is to reward them for their participation to meetings by offering them food and transportation stipends even though it can incur extra costs. Another way to incentivize for participation is to organize an event bringing the community together for the successful completion of a project bringing access to clean and fresh water. During such ceremony, members who actively took place in the advising process and showed a positive contribution can be applauded for their work.

Even though this approach is not perfect, it manages to address local problems in a more specific way. In addition, communities can take a more active role to make a difference; it may even be a source of pride for residents to be involved in projects that brings water access to their community. Furthermore, by training volunteers selected among the community to perform post implementation maintenance, the implementation of a solution can be more sustainable. Indeed, after the departure of the technical staff in charge of building new infrastructures and sensitizing population, trained volunteers can take the responsibility of maintaining the infrastructures. The effects of such an approach may be limited in small rural communities where the population is not educated enough to independently maintain infrastructures (see the education article for more information).

Mission 2017′s Recommendations

Mission 2017 recommends the following, in addition to technical solutions:

1. In cases where local problems can be solved through international collaboration, a joint commission representing each country should be created and be the main body in charge of approving projects on a shared water domain.

2. In cases where the implementation is made at the scale of a city or a village, communities should be involved during the following steps: Expressing concerns, advising experts, funding, building, and post implementation maintenance. Contributors among residents should be rewarded for their participation through economic incentives and honors.

Regarding pastoral communities, the previous steps should follow only when government help is asked. This does not prevent governments trying to better understand the needs of these special communities.

3. Project leaders should be assisted by volunteers to fit their solution to the local context. The framework is a  collaboration among stakeholders and governments. Regarding the sustainability of the solutions, wherever possible, local volunteers who are members of the post implementation committee should be trained.



1. Kagwanja, P. (2007). Calming the waters: the East African community and conflict over the Nile resources. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 1(3), 321-337.

2. Carlson, Andrew (2013). Who Owns the Nile? Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia’s History-Changing Dam. Origins, 6(6).

3. Munk, Nina. The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. New York: Doubleday, 2013. Print.

4. Waters-Bayer, A., & Bayer, W. (1994). Planning with pastoralists: PRA and more. A review of methods focused on Africa. Eschborn: GTZ, OE, 422, 153.

5. Nassef, Magda & Belayhun, Mulugeta (2012). Water Developments in Ethiopia’s Pastoral Areas. Save the Children USA and Overseas Development Institute

6.   Mansuri, G., & Rao, V. (2004). Community-based and-driven development: A critical review. The World Bank Research Observer, 19(1), 1-39.

7.   Wong, Susan. 2012. What have been the impacts of World Bank Community-Driven Development Programs? CDD impact evaluation review and operational and research implications. Washington, DC: World Bank. Retrieved from http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2012/03/16374801/impacts-world-bank-community-driven-development-programs-cdd-impact-evaluation-review-operational-research-implications

8. Njoh, A. J. (2002). Barriers to community participation in development planning: lessons from the Mutengene (Cameroon) self‐help water project. Community Development Journal, 37(3), 233-248.