Traveling Models

Researcher: Thekla Kelbert


The aim of this case study is, initially, to focus on the processes and discourses framing the political decisions which led to the far-reaching water sector reforms in Namibia that began in the 1990s. The intention is then to produce an account of the way in which the concepts and models decided upon were and are being translated and transformed between international, national, regional and local scales, and how they impact upon the way water is being managed by rural communities in Kunene.

In order to collect the relevant data, field work has thus far been characterized by a pursuit of those concepts and political approaches most globally influential in the sphere of rural water supply, and the effects they have had on debates, decisions and practices in Namibia, both nationally and in the Kunene Region. Field work was thus split into different phases in very different surroundings and involved travelling with the ‘traveling ideas‘ – depending on the availability of information and the ‘observability’ of events. My field settings range from the Windhoek office of the European Union Delegation’s Attaché for Rural Development to the Republic of Namibia to the water point in a rural community of nine households in Erova (Opuwo Constituency).


After an initial analysis of internet sources – scientific and development literature on some of the major underlying trends in global development policy in the water sector – an exploratory visit to Windhoek was undertaken in October 2010 in order to assess the availability of archive material in newspaper archives and in the MAWF (Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry) information centre. I also investigated the possibility of gaining relevant information from some of the more important donor organisations in Namibia’s water sector, and carried out initial interviews with key informants in the Ministry itself, and in the offices of NGOs and bilateral and multilateral donors.

The major phase of field work in Namibia then followed, between June and October 2011, consisting of two months of interviews and archival research in Windhoek and two months of participatory observation, guided interviews and group discussions at water points in Kunene Region. Since my focus was on the flow of concepts, topics and discourses around community-based management (CBM) in the rural water supply sector, rather than on the practices or views of any clear-cut groups of actors in a well-defined locality, I had not made a specific pre-selection of sites, nor of the kind of water infrastructure I would focus on. It was clear, though, that certain groups would remain in my focus: national and regional MAWF staff; the European Union – currently the major donor to the sector of rural water supply – together with the Spanish Embassy, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), which had funded some policy-related programmes taking place in the Namibian water sector in the late 1990s. I also planned to work with the Namibian Red Cross Society (NRCS) which, according to my knowledge, is the only NGO presently implementing water and sanitation development projects that cover almost the entire Kunene Region. An initiative of the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA), providing solar-powered water pumps in Kunene’s Epupa and Opuwo Constituencies, ended in 2011, but also played a role in my observations and interviews.

At the end of my four months in Namibia, I had visited the country’s capital, Windhoek, the two regional centres, Khorixas and Opuwo, with their regional branches of the Directorate of Rural Water Supply (DRWS), and 26 villages, representing the diversity of water point infrastructure typical for most parts of Kunene Region as a whole: hand-dug wells with handpumps, boreholes with handpumps, handpumps built on protected springs, piped systems connecting protected springs to groups of households, boreholes with windpumps, and boreholes with diesel pumps.

In addition to the guided interviews I carried out with DRWS extension staff, some of the DRWS Extension Officers also took me along when establishing Water Point Associations (WPAs) and Water Point Committees (WPCs), and when paying ‘follow-up visits’ in order to assess the performance of previously established WPAs. I also witnessed a water point handed over to partial management and operation by the community. On such occasions the DRWS usually concludes a formal contract with the WPA, assigning the management responsibility of all infrastructures above the ground to the WPA. The DRWS remains responsible for repairing major damage which, for instance, might require replacement of engine or pump head, as well as for the underground infrastructures.

In Epupa and Opuwo Constituencies I spent three weeks with the NSRC, interviewing project staff and visiting 21 water points which had been involved in the CBM rollout guided by the official national CBM strategy, funded by the European Union and implemented by the Red Cross between 2007 and 2010. I collected information from focus groups comprising of local water users and WPCs discussing their views of the Government’s CBM rollout and the NGO’s interventions. For the Red Cross this was the first water-related project in Kunene which had to have a CBM component in order to get the MAWF’s consent. Pending further analysis I would state from the information gathered among the established WPAs that the CBM-related component did not quite lead to the outcomes that the Ministry would have called for. The major criteria, defined by the WPA model constitution, which the DRWS usually takes into account when assessing the functionality of a WPA, include regular WPC and WPA meetings, regular collection of user fees, financial and management-related reporting, and the adherence to management plans and budgets adopted upon establishment of the WPA. Many of these criteria were not met in most of the places we visited. At the same time, however, only two of the 21 places visited reported any shortcomings in terms of accessibility of sufficient water quantities. In a nutshell, water in these places seems to be managed in a generally sustainable and satisfactory way for local users, even though WPAs do not comply with the official management rules. That is not to say that other criteria, such as satisfactory water quality, or ‘fairness’ (in terms of the water fees postulated by DRWS staff and by the user groups) are being met.

In 2012, at the time of writing, I have complemented my data set with observations, collected documents, and conducted informal interviews at the 6th World Water Forum and at the Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau (FAME) – which took place in parallel in Marseille between 11 and 17 March. I took part mainly in observing panel discussions on political water-related topics and thematic and regional talks, and participated in working group sessions focusing on rural water supply and the public management of water as a common good. Based on a preliminary reflection on the material I collected, I would single out two strands of the discussions which have had – and most probably will have in the future – an impact on Namibian policy-making and ways of managing water and other natural resources:

One is the on-going debate around the human right to water and sanitation. Almost two years after this right was officially declared by the UN in July 2010 its supporters still claim that not enough, or not enough of the right things are being done in order to enforce it world-wide. In contrast to economic and social rights, such as the right to food, which are formally recognised in international law, this is not yet the case for the right to water and sanitation.

The second is the longstanding discussion between supporters of the idea of water as a public, common good that should be managed publicly in order to ensure equitable access and sustainability, and proponents of the idea of water as an economic good and commodity, the management of which should be based on the aims of cost recovery and profitability.

Key results to date

The establishment of the Namibian community-based water management model is shaped by global discourses that 1) conceive of water as a scarce resource per se; 2) perceive the necessity of a ‘hydraulic revolution’; and 3) advocate ideas of demand-orientation, decentralization, and participation as guarantors of sustainability and equality in the realm of water management.
These ideas are actively propagated by NGOs and state actors within the framework of community meetings, management blueprints, and training guidelines.
The decentralization program’s success is measured by the same actors implementing and monitoring the community-based water management model, and they evaluate their achievements according to the extent to which the water-point user associations implement their own developed rules and water point constitutions.
However, this situation reveals the picture of a complex and costly administration and implementation process of a model that seems to have neglected to establish whether it’s guidelines suit the living conditions of the rural water users. Questions such as: “is there any distributional justice in regard to the access to water?”, or “Is water affordable for all?”, for instance, are not matters of discussion anymore. To some extent, this has to do with the fact that the actors involve have significant vested interest in the decentralization program continuing as it is; yet it would be worthwhile (re-)evaluating this and other aspects of these measures.

Forthcoming work

The research on travelling models will be continued by Theresa Linke, who is travelling to Namibia in the second part of 2015. Since 2014, the national evaluation of the water legislation has gained increasing attention. The aim is still to replace the outdated ‘Water Act 54’ which was adopted in 1956. One major research focus will be the question of how water politics in general, and the community-based water management model in particular, are assessed and evaluated within this context. This ties the research to the existing results of the Travelling Model Study, which focused mainly on the question of how CBWM was translated and implemented in the regional Namibian context. Further, the present study will investigate how the evaluation results are fed back into the legislative context and shape national politics. Here the findings on CBWM can also influence international working organizations such as NGOs, who also promote this model in other countries.


Download Free Joomla Templates by