The Dokolo District Hand Pump Mechanics Association (HPMA) has always aspired to provide its services to the Dokolo district water office; the latter having oversight responsibilities for majority of the district’s water sources. During the coronavirus lockdown, a contract to repair a total of 62 water sources in the district was offered to the Dokolo District HPMAs. Success in securing this contract is attributed to the HPMAs' new-found readiness to provide a service similar to what larger operators have long been offering.
The article was published in The Independent Online
Water district offices in most districts, similar to Dokolo, have often relied on medium to large private sector providers for hand pump repair and rehabilitation works. Despite providing comparatively lower service costs, the poor organisation and management of smaller Hand Pump Mechanic Associations (HPMAs) did not make the latter an interesting option. Often, HPMAs were not equipped with adequate business skills. There were no policies to guide mechanics’ services and performance. HPMA’s often operated like ‘briefcase organisations,’ with no physical office, making them invisible.
The Improving Water Supply Sustainability in Northern Uganda (IWAS) project in northern Uganda has been working to professionalise HPMAs by strengthening their leadership structures; for example, by encouraging members to vote new leaders into office. The project team has provided training in governance, business development, and has supported HPMA leaders in developing their business plans.
Outside of the associations, the project team also supported the establishment of sub-county water supply and sanitation boards (SWSSBs). A total of 22 SWSSBs are now in operation in the four districts of Kole, Alebtong, Dokolo and Lira Districts. SWSSBs oversee the functionality of water sources within their sub-counties, and serve as an intermediary between HPMAs and water user committees (WUCs), who are responsible for collecting operation and maintenance funds. Within this arrangement, WUCs remit funds to the SWSSB that then assigns hand pump mechanics – through their associations – to carry out preventative maintenance of water sources. In consultation with HPMAs, SWSSBs are also involved in standardising fees for borehole repairs and maintenance, and including these services in preventative maintenance contracts. By the end of 2019, HPMAs and SWSSBs were fully functional. Read more about the O&M system and fund management here.
A water source under repair
Now well-organised and part of a multi-stakeholder partnership to ensure access to water services, and combined with the HPMAs’ lower labour fees – they have become more attractive to districts water offices. Recently, the Dokolo District HPMA was hired by the district office to repair 62 water sources to give 15,500 people access to water.
‘This is a new beginning for us. We have wanted to work with the district for a long time. Now that they have seen the quality of our work, I am confident that more opportunities will open up for us to work with them in the near future,’ Benson Ogwal, Chair of Dokolo Hand Pump Mechanics Association.
The Association has now embarked on an assessment to identify non-functioning water sources in the district as a strategy to emphasise the urgency of delivering to the (drinking) water needs of communities, mobilise funds from different platforms, and market their services.
The IWAS project is funded by the Austrian Development Agency. The project aims to improve functionality of 850 waters sources, thereby giving 212,500 people uninterrupted access to sustainable and safe water supply in the Lango sub-region of Lira, Dokole, and Kole Alebtong.