By F. Ronald Denham
Rotary has worked for decades to provide people with clean water by digging wells, laying pipes, providing filters, and installing sinks and toilets.
All Rotary water and sanitation projects are full of heart and good intentions, but too often, projects succeeded at first but eventually failed.
The cumulative cost of failed water systems in sub-Saharan Africa alone is estimated at $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion, according to data compiled by the consulting firm Improve International.
Providing WASH facilities is the easy part. If the facilities are not sustainable, that’s money and time wasted.
There are many reasons for failures, but too often Rotary clubs implemented projects with little regard to sustainability, or without involving the beneficiaries or investigating their actual needs. Communities often lacked local ownership, sufficient education or an adequate operations and maintenance system to manage the projects for the long term.
Investing in training, monitoring and advocacy is critical to generate lasting changes that can be sustained by the local people.
Rotarians are extremely dedicated, but they are volunteers with priorities such as work and family. It’s difficult for Rotary clubs, for instance, to manage a WASH project for a long term, especially if the project has complex technical components. Partnering with government and professional organizations with complementary resources, funding, and expertise is essential to our success.
The future of Rotary is to move away from the model of charitable giving to a process of social and economic development. Our partnership with USAID in WASH is moving us into that direction.
F. Ronald Denham is a founding member and chair emeritus of the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (WASRAG). In 2021, The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International recognized Denham for “11 years of exceptional leadership, devoted service, expertise and deep institutional knowledge” to the Rotary-USAID strategic partnership Steering Committee. He is Past District Governor of District 7070, Canada.
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