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Water infrastructure in fragile- and conflict-affected states

The key weaknesses identified in water infrastructure systems in urban and peri-urban areas in FCAS are:

  • Internal displacement increases demand for water in urban areas as well as increasing wastewater discharge. Sewage systems are poor.

  • Alternative service providers which are unregulated, more expensive and of lower quality.

  • Naturally where the state is not functioning, coordination of water services and funding is lacking. This includes unclarity of roles and decision-making powers.

  • The humanitarian system which supports FCAS can be uncoordinated and changeable.

  • There may be physical damage to infrastructure caused by violence.

  • Emigration of qualified water engineers.

  • In some urban areas in Syria conflict has affected electricity supply which in turn

    affects water supply.

  • Conflict damages financial sustainability of utilities.

  • Climate change is an underlying factor putting greater pressure on water systems.

  • More knowledge is required on water quality and processes.

Some literature suggests that urban needs are under-recognised as traditionally water projects have focussed on agricultural needs in rural areas and population growth in urban areas needs to be given more consideration (Steduto et al 2018).

Problems specific to FCAS highlighted here may not detail underlying water shortage problems which are common in arid countries.

Practical measures to address vulnerabilities in water infrastructure

Practical measures to address increased demand from refugee or internally displaced persons (IDPs) influx is context dependent. In Jordan, the national water company focussed on addressing leakage issues and commercial losses. Where Jordan and Lebanon have not been able to provide for refugees international agencies have had to provide bottled water or simple distribution systems which is not preferred from a resilience perspective. Accommodating refugees should, where possible, take an integrated area-based approach. Tensions are reduced when water-supply improvements can benefit both hosts and the displaced.

Addressing physical damage to infrastructure should use local capacity and aim to be resilient which is difficult when repairs are urgent. In post-conflict Senegal the national army was involved in rebuilding infrastructure which also helped to build trust.

Institutional reform is needed to improve regulation and coordination. Investment in infrastructure must come alongside improvement in service provision management. Transformation should be led nationally where possible with third parties taking on an intermediary role to promote data transparency. To replace lost human resources young people should be placed on fast track training.

Coordination of the sector should involve multi-stakeholder groups which can clarify roles and agree policy documents. Groups benefit from training to effectively coordinate water system activities. WASH management committees in the DRC developed business plans which included strategies for revenue to cover service costs. Community water committees assist communications for responsive service provision in refugee camps.

It can be favourable to work with where state capacity is weak. Regulation to ensure quality is required where there are private sector providers. Public-private partnerships have worked in contexts including Somalia.

Resilience and nature-based solutions

The key recommendations for resilience programming are efficient resource management, making interventions sustainable with prior research and analysis, working more closely with the private sector, and maintaining strong relationships with communities. Examples of resilience programming include reduction of dependency on a single source, contingency planning for emergencies including warehouses for emergency stocks, ensuring efficient power supply to effectively run water systems, installing meters, and improving cost- recovery.

Alternative water resource solutions from wider contexts may be useful in FCAS depending on the local situation. These include rainwater collection, stormwater collection, water reuse, demand management, and water loss reduction.

Examples of the use of nature-based solutions (NBS) identified in FCAS were for flood management in urban areas or drought reduction in rural areas. All of the projects identified included a training and capacity building component. The current evidence base is lacking as this area is still emerging. It seems a viable option when addressing flooding.

Nature-based and alternative water resource solutions should be considered in FCAS where they can be aligned with resilience recommendations. They must be efficient in solving the weaknesses specific to the context. They should be implemented following research and analysis, have private sector involvement, and strong relationship with communities.

WASH Agenda for Change emphasise the importance of context analysis for planning and implementation in fragile settings (Tillett et al 2020). WASH systems analysis tools with conflict and power analysis are recommended. Adaptive management is required for dynamic shifting contexts.

Evidence base

There was a very small amount of evidence on NBS in FCAS as this in an emerging area. A certain amount of the literature on FCAS relates to refugees and emergency WASH provision. A lot of the evidence base focuses on water supply in terms of getting water to people with less detail on water supply infrastructure such as water supply reservoirs or dams for drinking water.

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