Building a Community of Participation


July 23, 2002

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    Mercy Corps works with water management groups in Pakistan to encourage community participation in rehabilitation projects. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

"Self-sustaining" and "community empowerment" are two terms found in almost every humanitarian assistance plan. Overused and sometimes overlooked, they represent the cornerstone of long-term success.

Mercy Corps takes these concepts seriously and has developed a methodology for ensuring the involvement and long-term community ownership of assistance programs. The development of Water Management Groups is one example of Mercy Corps approach to this critical issue.

As part of the Drought Assistance for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan program, Mercy Corps has established Water Management Groups to ensure community participation in the planning, management and ongoing maintenance of the program activities.

The Water Management Groups, or committees, consist of a selected group of community members. In most cases there are about seven members in a committee: a chairman, general secretary, treasurer and technical member, plus three additional members who represent their specific "clusters", similar to neighborhoods.

Committee members are selected by the community at the launch of a project. Mercy Corps ensures that all constituencies of the community have representation in the Water Management Groups. Typically, the chairman is the community elder and is able to influence major decisions and bring about compromise when necessary.

These committees serve as an interface between the beneficiary refugee community and the agencies providing assistance. They also are responsible for initiating activities such as providing basic health services and education, and developing community water management skills. In the water and sanitation projects implemented in Balochistan, Pakistan, the committees were responsible for setting up a tariff collection system for each cluster in which the cost of fuel and the salaries for the operators of the pumps and equipment was proportionality divided amongst the clusters based on the number of hours the tube well pumps were run over the course of a month.

"The Water Management Committee system works very well in our community. It makes the community feel a pride of ownership, as well as a sense of responsibility to maintaining a fair system that benefits everyone," noted Abdul Salam, chairman of the Surkhab Water Management Group.