Development Crack - the age old dependency drug hooking millions

I would like to do a strong opinion piece.  It is my opinion and it is based on working in developing countries in the field of water and sanitation for the past 12 years.

Charity Water have a superb new fundraising campaign called Pipeline. link here. 
Pipeline is about improving the sustainability of water points by providing a maintenance service.  I guess they figured out that their community based training was not working and that all their water points are broken.  Not surprising, after all they are simply copying a failed model that has been failing for the past 40 years.

And mechanic hubs are all the vogue at the moment.  One of MSABI's front-line interventions at the moment is our Pump for Life initiative - a maintenance hub program - something we introduced over 2 years ago.  The key distinction is that our program is paid for and self-funded by the community owners of the water points.  Yes that is right, they paid for their own water point and they pay a monthly insurance premium ($5) in return for a maintenance and repair service.  This premium pays for the local maintenance service businesses - WOW a totally financially sustainable program.

Gifted Aid Does not work!  It is easy to do - but it is not sustainable and it creates dependency and no ownership....(it has a place in emergency humanitarian response work).

So now the bright sparks at Charity Water have invented Pipeline whereby you can sponsor to provide mechanic teams to go and fix water points when they break.  Your funds will pay for them to do their job.  Sounds great?  For a donor I can see the attraction - Wow I can support a local business and keep water flowing.  But are you really supporting a business or social welfare?  Is what you are supporting sustainable?  Well I guess the answer is yes - as long as you continue to gift funds to pay for the mechanics and spare parts.  But where does this ever end - in 5 years time or 100 years or never?  At what stage does a community start to fend for themselves and take charge and ownership over their own existence?  At what stage do they become hooked on this aid - and how does Charity Water plan to get them off this dependency?  Are your funds really supporting the business entity which is Charity Water?

I will let you in on a little secret.  Africa is not a basket case! Africa is on the up and up and really starting to boom.  In fact the African economies have been outperforming the West in terms of growth for much of the past decade and certainly in the last 5 years.  Comparatively people are still very poor - but this doesn't mean they need handouts at the expense of suppressing local businesses and initiative.

There is a big problem with access to clean water.  But there is an even bigger growing problem with the amount of abandoned water points and the amount of money wasted on drilling new boreholes next to existing broken hand pumps.  There are also vast areas with communities still reliant on unsafe drinking sources such as shallow open wells or rivers.  But this does not mean these communities are so poor or destitute they rely solely on us or foreign donors to give them a water point for free.  Many of these communities are prepared to pay for clean water if there is a reliable local business available to provide the service.  In fact, in all my 12 years of development working in poor rural areas in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, and Tanzania - I have yet to meet any strong resistance from communities in regards to paying for their water - unless that community has had a history of gifted aid - and then the attitudes shift to a sense of entitlement and some would rather sit under a tree and wait for the highest donor bidder.  Of course if Charity Water come along and provide free water they are not going to say no.  But this leads to a myriad of reasons why these water points end up failing - which you can read in previous blog posts I have written.  Further, it suppresses independent self-funded local business initiative in favor of a welfare system. In my view development is about capacity building - not only infrastructure but people and communities.

I don't care where you are in the world, if you gift something to a community and expect them to look after it then inevitably it will fail and fall into disrepair or abandonment.  If you complicate and remove peoples dignity and tell them they are the unfortunate and they are the down trodden and provide everything for them then you create a culture of dependency and/or sit back and wait mentality.  This is a powerful drug - the drug of dependency.

When you create jobs and local businesses around demand based services then people are empowered with the responsibility to look after themselves and inspired by self-worth and purpose.  If they want a water point then they know there is a place they can go and pay for the service.  They can form their own group and decide how they will manage the asset and whose land it will be on. They can generate revenue from selling the water.  They can decide how they will manage their asset.

Another secret - Gifted Aid is EASY.  It is easy to give things out for free if you have the money.  You can achieve impressive numbers if you give things out for free!  You can spend a lot of money without the need for community contributions and community involvement (with all the complications).  You don't have to spend lots of time in the field where it is hard living...(and not New York)...You don't have to spend time and energy to build local demand and create sustainable financially independent local businesses.  You dont have to have a lasting presence to foster demand and implement high energy marketing campaigns - supporting those brave first adopters and showcasing the benefits to community members such that in 12-24 months demand takes off and a sustained business market is thriving. Not many donors have this patience.  But in my experience quick answers often end in long-term and cyclic failure.

But why would Charity Water be motivated to spend money you ask?  Well simply put they have too much of it - and secondly their executive management team are motivated to fund-raise even more.  They are under pressure to spend.  Plus, the more they fund-raise and process then the higher their salaries go - you see their salaries are bench marked to Charity Waters turnover.  Ok Ok you can peg me for a cynical bastard. haha its true.  I am certainly jealous of their funds.  I just think what we could do with a small portion!

But my conclusion is that Charity Water you are doing nothing new.  They are simply repeating mistakes of the past.  Pipeline is not innovative - it is pure BS and spin and turning back the clock to development of the 70-80s.  And don't get me started on their "smart technology" that informs when a water point is not functioning.....this simply reiterates how little they know about the real problems on the ground and how to fix them.  Charity Water's pipeline project is nothing more than development crack.

written by MSABI founder Dale Young.