A multi-actor and bottom-up perspective on attaining rural water security: qualitative evidence from India

In Environment, Development and Sustainability
Peer-reviewed Article
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Coordinated actions by actors at different levels with effective community engagement are necessary for sustainable rural water supply and management. However, there are limited studies that analyze and reflect on the lack of coordination among different actors and report the practical ground-level challenges confronted at a local level, in order to increase the robustness and sustainability of rural water supply. Hence, this research brings together actors at three different levels—community, local government, and local administration to capture their holistic understanding of actions and strategies, and the possible hurdles which may hinder their implementation. A narrative approach is adapted to derive the outcome based on the real-life experiences of the respondents. Prioritized actions are mainly found to follow the supply-side approach with a complete lack of demand-responsive strategies or actions as well as focus on providing services at a point of time and not over a period. Despite institutional reforms and changes in laws and strategies, prioritized actions are found to be more regulated by corruption, political intentions and social power relations in the study area. A lack of sense of ownership among the local community restricts their participation in the operation and maintenance of water sources. The struggle to provide the maintenance and major repairs required to keep water supply operational sustainably is well evident in the study area. While financial constraints are perceived to be a significant barrier in the implementation of the actions, technical and natural hurdles are also identified that demonstrates the need for integrated, contextual and well-coordinated strategies and actions to ensure rural water security. The study lays the ground for a paradigm shift in rural water supply and management in India—from a focus on increasing coverage to a focus on quality infrastructure, regular operation and maintenance and proactive monitoring approaches which will prevent from poorly targeted future investments and lessen the subsequent burden on communities.