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Participation as citizenship or payment? A case study of rural drinking water governance in Mali

Stephen Jones
Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, UK;

ABSTRACT: Community participation in water governance in developing countries is considered important for increasing sustainable access to drinking water and improving broader local governance. The promotion of participation has therefore become a key aim of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This paper explores community participation in water governance in the rural municipality of Yélékébougou, Mali, and how it is influenced by 'capacity-development' initiatives of the international NGO WaterAid. WaterAid supports communities by helping to set up new institutions intended to manage water supplies and to promote 'participation as citizenship', the idea that community members are empowered to take part in decisions made on water access. However, the paper finds that the institutions created to promote 'participation as citizenship' focus more on promoting paying for water i.e. 'participation as payment', because lack of payment for maintenance of handpumps appears to be the critical obstacle to sustainable water access. However, 'participation as payment' as a means of pursuing cost recovery from communities is not working, and also detracts from the possibility of promoting 'participation as citizenship' and the associated potential longer-term benefits to water access and democratisation. The immediate outcome is that access to drinking water is neither sustainable nor equitable.