Home · Blog · DR Congo : A look at why water projects fail (when organizations don’t plan sustainably)

In a recent letter from our Kenya partners, Milgis Trust, Helen Douglas-Dufresne told us about encountering failed water projects throughout her many years working with the Samburu people in in Northern Kenya:

“I visited [one community]for the first time 22 years ago and they had big water problems then, but over the years we heard this group and that group had put different water systems in so we thought that they were sorted, but when we [passed nearby]in February, I asked them how things were going, and we were told that the whole system had been destroyed!”

This is why we went there to investigate.  [The community had received a poorly designed water system in 2006, which is a shame since it is relatively new, but already broken].  The water was brought in metal pipes from quite a few kilometers in the mountains from a tiny spring, which was dammed and destroyed, and then when it flooded the whole water system was destroyed…also, the people who put this system in did not think of the wildlife, and the elephants pulled what was not damaged by the floods out, as they were not considered in the equation, and could not find water…none of the pipes were buried…[the concrete tank leaks, we suspect because whoever built it probably stole some of the supplies…basically]a very expensive, short-lived project!!  What we see is there is no follow up and nobody to contact, as the money was spent and that’s it!!”

Sadly, this phenomenon is not limited to Kenya, but prevalent throughout the developing world.  The UN Joint Monitoring Program estimates the failure rate for most water points in Africa at anywhere from 30-60%.

When Voss Foundation’s Executive Director visited Liberia with our implementing partner FACE Africa, she bore witness to this problem firsthand.  Throughout the trip, we saw just how important it is to maintain that connection, as we encountered abandoned broken handpumps all over the place.  When we asked the community members what had happened, the story was always the same: the NGO didn’t train the community in maintenance, never came back after implementation, and had not left any way to get in touch.  The government officials we met with were sorry to confirm this.

Our partner in DRC still sends us photo updates, a year after project completion!

Voss Foundation’s emphasis on community involvement and sustainability helps to ensure that we don’t join those other organizations in contributing to the failure rate.  It was no coincidence that Voss Foundation’s first project in Liberia, at the Hope Mission School in Paynesville, was a great success — like many of our previous projects before, as these photos and follow-up reports attest.  Since we’ve encountered communities, who were not involved in the planning and implementation, be skeptical of a well-meaning but poorly-planned water project, or even reject it outright, we require all of our implementation partners to work closely with the community — and we follow up with them for years after project completion!  You can read our project reports to stay informed on our progress.

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