We're back with another Open Access Ambassador Spotlight Blog!

Our OA Ambassadors raise awareness in their local communities about global OA movements as well as related opportunities through IWA Publishing. They are representatives of both the International Water Association and IWA Publishing and our joint goals to empower the next generation of water leaders and to shape the future of the water sector. These blog posts highlight their specialty and research focus, as well as emphasising the importance of Open Access publishing. 

Kator Jethro Ifyalem is a civil engineer and MSc student from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, committed to environmental sustainability. Connect with Kator on LinkedIn!

Lack of access to safe water and sanitation facilities is a critical issue in many low-income and middle-income countries. Approximately 2.2 billion people worldwide lack access to safely managed drinking water sources. This situation is exacerbated by factors such as population growth, urbanisation, climate change, and poor infrastructure.

However, top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions have rarely delivered lasting progress. Locally driven community-based initiatives tailored to the unique contexts and challenges faced in different regions are needed. By empowering communities to develop solutions, progress can be made more sustainably over the long term. 

The key is to utilise participatory approaches that actively engage local stakeholders. Local residents understand the intricacies of their water resources, cultural practices, values, and needs better than external experts do. Tapping indigenous and local knowledge is crucial for developing appropriate technologies and management practices.

Likewise, giving communities decision-making power and ownership of projects promotes buy-ins and accountability. Those impacted must have a seat at the table when analysing problems and shaping solutions. When users design and control systems, they use and maintain them more effectively than passive recipients of aid or charity.

Enhancing community capacities is vital, not just installing infrastructure and leaving. Skill training enables locals to operate, manage, finance, and govern water systems without ongoing dependency. Educational initiatives can promote conservation behaviours and hygienic use of water to improve infrastructure.

Outside support is most valuable for strengthening human capital and institutions rather than providing hardware alone. International donors should fund local organisations closest to ground-level realities and not dictate policies from afar.

Technology plays a crucial role in this process. Affordable technological innovations tailored to local contexts can augment existing water-management techniques. However, the emphasis should be on integrating simple maintenance-free solutions within indigenous knowledge frameworks rather than replacing traditional methods.

Some examples include:

• Decentralized clean water kiosks harnessing solar power to serve rural communities

• Basic water filters made from local materials to remove pathogens 

• Low-cost water quality test kits for community-based monitoring

• Agricultural sensors that control efficient irrigation of crops

• Mobile platforms to exchange local knowledge on best practices

These technologies can improve health and livelihoods without the need for complex and costly infrastructure that is vulnerable to breakdown. However, the ultimate goal should be to enhance self-reliance rather than long-term dependency.

In closing, top-down solutions tend to fail because they discount the agency of the local people. However, by leveraging local insights and facilitating community-based initiatives tailored to place-based realities, we can co-create sustainable water management programs and liberate marginalised groups from poverty. Solutions may already be existing within these communities; we only need to listen, empower, and walk in partnership.

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