WorldWater: putting the community in charge

John Herrman

Using a down-to-earth mixture of technology and community participation, the WorldWater programme in the Philippines is developing locally owned and managed water systems that use renewable solar energy and smart card technology. The initiative effectively puts the community in charge of local water resources, and has inspired designs for a nationwide irrigation programme.

In the Philippines, over 11 million households – 40% of the population – lack access to electricity and to reliable, safe sources of drinking water. At the same time, the country has ideal sunlight conditions and relatively high groundwater levels. This situation inspired WorldWater, a global solar energy and water solutions provider, to develop a commercially financed model for bringing drinking water and irrigation resources to rural Filipino communities.

Using a down-to-earth mixture of proprietary technology and local community participation, the WorldWater programme is developing locally owned and managed water systems that use renewable solar energy and smart card applications. WorldWater’s innovative solar technology can drive pumps up to 600 hp for large-scale irrigation projects, while its AquaMeter/AquaCard system ensures full cost recovery for community-based drinking water systems.

How the system works

In the first few months of a new project, WorldWater installs solar-powered water systems that deliver reliable drinking water supplies and irrigation water. Each installed system delivers water from a local source such as a river, spring or newly drilled well, through a network of distribution pipelines, to several centrally located, easily accessible tap stands called AquaMeters. In irrigation systems, the water is delivered on-farm to shared farm plots of up to 10 hectares. The water is delivered to the community or farm using solar-powered water pumping technology that is easy to operate and maintain. To ensure system maintenance, WorldWater works with the local authorities to create a special-purpose local water association that will manage the system. The members of the association include household heads in the case of drinking water supply systems, and irrigator association leaders in the case of irrigation systems.

Consumers obtain water from an AquaMeter using a pre-paid ‘AquaCard’ containing water credits. Each time the card is inserted in the slot, the AquaMeter delivers a given volume of water, until all the credits are depleted. Users can then recharge their AquaCard by buying more credits at the local water association. A computer chip built into the AquaMeter records payment and user data, which are periodically collected by system managers and downloaded onto the system’s central computer (usually located either in the community hall or farmers’ cooperative centre). This computer terminal tracks user information and serves as the AquaCard recharging terminal.

Community in charge

The rechargeable AquaCards and card readers put the management of the system into the hands of the community. The full cost recovery model increases the involvement of and the economic benefits to the community, and ensures that resources are available for operations and maintenance. In the past, most rural water supply projects – whether using traditional technology or renewable energy – relied on development loans or grants, with the result that many systems broke down after a few years simply due to the lack of funds to pay for sustained operations and maintenance.

The WorldWater programme's track record in the Philippines thus far is encouraging. In the first two project sites in Cebu, villagers can now obtain drinking water from tap stands close to their homes, and are no longer dependent on dealers who bring in bottled water by truck. As a result, local prices have dropped from 7–10 pesos to 2 pesos per 20-litre container. Moreover, unlike other rural water systems, for every container sold, the community is setting aside 10 centavos for system operations, maintenance and other administrative costs. In only a short time the revenues and even surplus capital have more than doubled, helping to ensure the sustainability of the system.

Partly as a result of the success of these projects, the National Irrigation Administration of the Department of Agriculture is now completing designs for a nationwide irrigation programme that will use WorldWater’s proprietary solar pumping and pre-paid smart card water delivery systems.


For more information, visit WorldWater

John Herrman is president of WorldWater Philippines, Inc.

13 June 2003

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