4 messages on governance and water in Mali and Niger – From development practice to policy-making


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      ECDPM work is about connecting policy to practice, looking at how policies are actually implemented. This is what our ongoing work on regional strategies for the Sahel is about too.

      When we visited Mali and Niger last month we also wanted to reverse the approach and to look at governance - on which most of the Sahel strategies focus - and development practice to feedback to policy makers in European capitals and in EU Delegations who are busy designing strategic approaches. Our trip was an opportunity to connect with practitioners from Eau-Vive, an international NGO with a long track record of working on local governance and water issues in countries of the region since the 1980s, and with which we already had hours of exchange on their work.

      While we are generally open to debate on governance and water issues with experts from a variety of backgrounds, we decided to start working on one specific case and experiment the practice-to-policy loop with Eau-Vive. We were intrigued by what they had previously told us of their experiences and we wanted to learn and check directly from their daily work. Although we did not plan to run a fully-fledged evaluation that nobody would read, we thought that lively video interviews could be of relevance to European development and foreign policy makers. As our intention is to promote debates on practice-to-policy in development, we see this blog just as a first attempt to engage in new ways with other organisations interested in linking practice to policy making. Our efforts are in line with the spirit of the African Union’s Strategy for the Sahel which identifies the “administrative decentralisation and the sharing of successful experiences” as a priority area for governance. They also match the emphasis put on storytelling in the framework of the 2015 European year of development.

      Water and decentralisation: two faces of the same coin in Mali and Niger

      Available data shows that access to water in the region remains a concern for a large share of the population, despite some improvements. For example in Mali the proportion of the population using improved drinking water rose from 29% to 56% over the period 1998-2008, but inequalities between urban and rural populations remain, according to 2010 UNICEF data. In Niger, access to drinking water officially increased from 35% to 48% of the population, but access to sanitation facilities remains low, especially in rural areas, according to the same source. This type of statistical data (there is a lot) always needs to be double-checked on the ground by qualitative assessments. As the Sahel region is subject to rainfall fluctuations and exposed to severe droughts, preventing water resources degradation is extremely important for agriculture (see African Ministerial Council on Water and UNEP Africa Water Atlas, challenge seven).

      Discussing water issues inevitably leads to discussions about local governance. The Sahel context is often about declared decentralisation processes with little power and resources for local authorities. For instance in Mali, local authorities were put in place in the framework of institutional and legislative reforms in the 90s. Communes were pushed to develop ways to manage infrastructure and equipment related to health, education and hydraulics (concentration areas of the PDSEC - Plans de développement social, économique et culturel). But in the mid-2000s the transfer of competences was judged ‘virtual’ since the transfer of financial means and human resources had not happened.

      Local elects we met in Niamey also told us that decentralisation reforms had not resulted in budget transfers to their communes or “conseils regionaux”. The late 90s saw the emergence of administrative reforms and the question of decentralisation also in Niger (for studies on decentralisation and local governance see the publications of LASDEL - Laboratoire d'Etudes et de Recherche sur les Dynamiques Sociales et le Développement Local).

      From Practice to Policy: 4 Messages

      Here are short videos focusing on four messages of governance support through water management. In our meetings, the elected representatives and technical advisors shared with us examples of ‘good' and ‘bad' local development practices. We captured some of those on camera: what follows here are some key messages from these interviews.

      Message 1: Do not reinvent the wheel: invent ways to empower those who are already using it and have already transformed it

      These messages are a reminder of the need to get back to the basics and to local best practices as a source of inspiration in a context where questions are raised on the role of aid in the Mali crisis but also when a number of donors are pledging funds to the region and the pressure to disburse is high.

      Message 2: Empowering and giving responsibility to local communities. In a project in Mali, each village contributes financially to a mutual fund (cooperative) that provides the money to repair water pumps, in case they break down. This means that repairing water infrastructure (by repairmen trained, equipped and organised in mutual cooperatives by Eau Vive) is the responsibility of the local community - it is no longer provided by the state or by the NGOs. It is also an example of a sustainable development intervention.

      Message 3: Locally owned projects can survive the end of the 'development intervention' itself and can promote local governance systems. After the end of a project, five municipalities in the canton of Kornaka, in the region of Maradi in Niger, finance a technical advisor who supports and trains local representatives on water management and follows-up on water infrastructure. It is a small experience of scaling up, since the initiative was extended from one municipality to five more. In fact, these five municipalities, with the assistance of Eau Vive, have organised themselves in the first joined-up municipal structure of Niger as a result of two successive projects initially funded by the EU. Municipalities then developed water and sanitation services and infrastructures and a health cooperative. The economy of scale means maintenance is self-sustained by the municipalities by sharing costs and thanks to mutualised calls for tenders for water and sanitation infrastructures.

      Message 4: Importance of local accountability mechanisms. As the experience of a village in the fifth region of Mali shows, diversion of revenue is a risk when cooperatives (association des usagers de l’eau potable) in place do not apply strong accountability mechanisms.

      The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECDPM

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