Social and cultural context of rural water and sanitation projects: case studies from Ghana
Furber, Alison Mary
The research underpinning this work took place in the context of two rural water and sanitation projects carried out in the Eastern Region of Ghana. The focus of study was on the way engineers can make water and sanitation projects more sustainable. In particular, emphasis was placed on the broad range of non-technical factors engineers need to incorporate into the design of water and sanitation systems and the processes they need to follow in order to achieve this, looking specifically at the implications of community participation for design process, project management and health and safety management. The current high failure rate of rural water and sanitation projects provided the impetus for carrying out this work. There is an urgent need to improve engineering ability to provide vital life-saving infrastructure in developing countries as this infrastructure is a pre-requisite for poverty reduction. A critical realist perspective framed the research to allow socially constructed realities to be combined with scientific and technical facts, and to allow inquiry in a ‘real world’ scenario where variables cannot be controlled individually. The research questions were explored through the author’s involvement in two community development projects involving water and sanitation system implementation. The key methods employed were interview, both informal and group, observation and reflection. The contribution to knowledge made by this investigation is an increased understanding of the relevance of social and cultural context for engineers engaged in rural water and sanitation infrastructure provision through exploration of these issues in a particular context. Also examined are health and safety aspects of rural water and sanitation projects where the community participate in construction. Whilst health and safety had been explored in a developing country context there is a lack of previous work looking at these issues in a community self-construction context. It was found that a broad range of factors need to be considered in the engineering design of water and sanitation systems if projects are to have a chance of being sustainable in the long term. In order to understand and design appropriately for the context of rural projects with direct community involvement it is necessary to adapt the engineering process to incorporate community participation fully into the design and construction of water and sanitation facilities. Where communities are involved in construction particular issues arise with regards to health and safety management; many of the issues originate in the socio-cultural context and motivations for community members to engage in hazardous construction activities need to be understood and considered to properly manage the construction process. To truly incorporate the ideas of local communities into engineering design, engineers need a greater awareness of the assumptions they hold arising from their scientific outlook. Further research is required in different contexts in order to more clearly define the boundaries of the findings of this study and begin to overcome the limitations of the case study method. However, this research contributes to understanding how engineers can improve their designs of water and sanitation infrastructure and the processes they use to create more sustainable projects by looking at these issues in one particular context. This contribution adds to understanding of how a lack of access to water and sanitation infrastructure in rural regions of developing countries can be overcome, which is ultimately necessary to meet the Millennium Development Goals and as a pre-requisite to reducing poverty in the developing world.