Water finding its way

Ilija Brdar, a 65-year-old returnee to Lohovo, a village of about 25 returnee households in the Municipality of Bihac in western Bosnia watering his garden.
Ilija Brdar, a 65-year-old returnee to Lohovo, a village of about 25 returnee households in the Municipality of Bihać in western Bosnia watering his garden.

Despite the abundant water resources in Bosnia and Herzegovina, access to safe drinking water is well below EU standards: currently around 65% of the population is connected to public/municipal water utilities (compared to the EU average of 90%). Drinking water supply in terms of quantity and quality is only satisfactory in large urban areas. In rural areas, where most of the poor and vulnerable people live, the situation is much harder.

Such was the case with Ilija Brdar, a 65-year-old returnee to Lohovo, a village of about 25 returnee households in the Municipality of Bihać in western Bosnia. He returned with his family of five in 2001 to his home that had been destroyed in 1992-1995 war. He reconstructed the house using a donation, but with no source of income life remained extremely hard. He could not engage in serious farming, since he had no access to a water supply. ''The nearest source of water was a natural water well, 500 metres away. We were carrying water manually, which was barely enough for us, let alone our few animals and garden. Especially in summer, because the supply was always drying up,“ remembers Ilija. He had no choice except to hope that someday, somehow, water would find its way to them, as it always does in nature.

Highlights

  • 13,083 households (55,000 citizens) have improved water supply services, including better water quality and quantity
  • 200 returnee families have access to safe water
  • Water loss has decreased in the networks by 30-50% in partner municipalities
  • 2% increase in the number of people with access to safe water

He was right – water did find a way. As part of one of 18 infrastructure projects implemented in the framework of the “Securing Access to Water through Institutional Development and Infrastructure in Bosnia and Herzegovina” programme, water supply pipes were brought to Lohovo, and to Ilija’s house in 2011. As the workers were laying down the pipes through their yard, family members could hardly contain their happiness. “I still cannot believe it’s for real. I am afraid to celebrate until I see the water running from the pipe,” Ilija said.

The programme “Securing Access to Water through Institutional Development and Infrastructure in Bosnia and Herzegovina” is supported by the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund, financed by the Government of Spain. With a total value of USD 4,450,000 the programme was operational from November 2009 to May 2013. It was jointly implemented by UNDP and UNICEF in partnership with State and Entity level ministries, partner municipalities and their water supply companies and civil society organisations, and - most importantly - with the citizens. The programme covered 13 municipalities across BiH.

Bringing water supply pipes to the homes of those most in need was the most visible result of the programme, but by no means the only one. A number of other, maybe equally important goals were also achieved.

The goals of the programme were to secure the active participation of citizens in the overall water supply services management process in local communities, to increase the capacities of local water supply companies enabling them to provide better services for citizens, and to improve the knowledge and capacity of those responsible for taking decisions in this area.

In achieving these goals, an integral approach was applied by linking the water supply, social issues and improved citizen participation in local decision-making. To ensure the inclusion of all the stakeholders, Municipal Management Boards (MMBs) were formed as co-ordinating working bodies for the implementation of project activities and eleven Participatory Action Groups (PAGs), consisting of representatives of socially excluded groups, helped to identify the vulnerable groups in their localities and influenced the municipal decisions through the work of the MMBs. Thirteen Participatory Action Research Groups (PAR), involving children from local schools, developed strategies, stipulating their priorities and suggesting solutions for their realisation. All of these groups received training in human rights based approaches to social protection issues. The capacity of the water companies was improved through organised training and peer-to-peer exchange, laying the foundation for further performance improvements in the future. And finally, valuable information was provided to government officials at all levels about the needs and priorities of rights holders, enabling them to make evidence-based policy decisions and increasing their efficiency in resource planning for water supplies.

After identifying the priorities and most vulnerable groups, it was time for practical field action – infrastructure projects. These projects included a wide variety of activities such as the replacement of disused water supply pipes, the connection of returnee settlements to water supply systems, the protection of water springs, water loss and leakage detection, and the installation of filter plants and telemetric systems for remote control. The partner municipalities allocated almost half a million BAM (approximately USD 335,000) in co-financing for the selected infrastructure projects.

Ilija was identified by his fellow citizens as someone needing help. His household was connected to the water supply system, completely changing his life after ten years of hardship. Apart from addressing his family’s domestic needs, Ilija was able to start farming allowing him to earn an income and support his family. “I can finally water my crops and afford to keep more animals. I had to build a barn, which I did not need before because I only had few pigs and cows. Now my barn is full and my crop yields are like never before,” says Ilija.

Ilija Brdar is one of about 55,000 people (from 13,083 households) whose water supply problem was solved through this programme. Most beneficiaries belong to the most vulnerable groups of society. Thanks to this programme, the number of people with access to safe water has risen by 2% at the country level. The list of benefits is much longer. The quality and quantity of the water supply has been significantly raised and the risk of infectious disease has been lowered. Water loss has decreased (previously amounting to 80%), and savings in terms of electricity and maintenance costs has increased (total savings of BAM 910,000 per year). Four municipalities have allocated funds for the most vulnerable groups to cover part of their water supply bills, and other municipalities are also planning subventions. Local water utility companies have received valuable technical assistance and training and Water Supply Studies have been given to local municipalities and water utility companies to  help them in their strategic planning. Peer-to-peer information exchange among water utilities has continued. MMBs have now become Commissions for Promotion of Social Protection and are continuing with their work.

All of this is even more important in light of the droughts that occurred in the past few years and the fact that such weather conditions are likely to become more frequent as a result of climate change.