Operation and maintenance: women, what role?

Operation and maintenance (O&M) of facilities is crucial to the successful management and sustainability of water supply and sanitation systems. Effective O&M results in improved health, socioeconomic and financial benefits. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to note that previously, O&M of water supply systems in rural communities in many developing countries including Ghana has been neglected. According to the WHO estimates, between 30 per cent - 50 per cent of existing water supply systems are not operational some three to five years after installation (McCommon et. al., 1990). This defeats the objective of water projects to improve the health conditions and well-being of beneficiary communities. The issue of operation and maintenance involves various actors including women. As the main beneficiaries of improved water supply, women offer the best incentive for the success of community management of facilities, hence the need to involve them in sector activities in this direction. It has been established through experience that women make excellent site managers and are very good and conscientious in technical maintenance especially in handpump projects as female mechanics (IRC, 1995). This paper seeks to discuss the current roles women are playing in the area of operation and management of rural water supply facilities, itemizes some of the factors that account for their limited involvement in key management activities, and finally, offers suggestions for increased involvement.