Pulitzer Center grantee Sam Loewenberg writes that “getting water to poor communities [in Africa] may sound straightforward: dig a well, put in a pump and hand out water filters. But as many NGOs and aid agencies have found, it is a lot more complicated than that.”
Reporting from Uganda for The Economist, Sam notes that the list of failures is long: “A review of ten years of EU-supported water and sanitation projects in sub-Saharan Africa, together worth more than $500m, found that more than half failed to perform, due to issues such as lack of financial sustainability, poor oversight, and not regularly testing water to make sure it was safe to drink.”
But a Christian missionary organization from South Carolina seems to have come up with a market-based model that actually works. After installing the pipes and pumps, Water Missions International hands the operation over to locals. The key is charging a small fee—about two cents for 20 liters of clean water—thus giving the local operator a stake in keeping up with the maintenance.