InContext 77: Beyond market and state: Community-Based organizations ensure the best water distribution


Traditionally, management of access to water services and basic sanitation systems has fallen under the jurisdiction of state organizations or -according to the legislation of each country- has been assigned to private companies designated for this purpose. However, water management becomes complicated in communities with poor or nonexistent infrastructure, such as rural settlements or densely populated peri-urban areas with little government presence.

Community-based management has much to contribute to water services, and technological innovations may offer valuable means to this end. In the spirit of World Water Day, it is worth delving into these developments.

In 2010, the United Nations recognized access to drinking water and basic sanitation as a Human Right. That same year the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for access to drinking water was reached on a global scale– as determined by indicator measures of “access to improved water sources”. Overall, these developments represent a small step towards emerging challenges, such as: surface water pollution; ecosystem decline; the effects of climate change; and growing water demand for agricultural, hydroelectric power, and industrial uses. These challenges affect the availability of water for human consumption in both quantity and quality. Today one-third of the world population still lacks access to drinking water and/or basic sanitation. If we take water quality and sustained access to water sources into consideration, the statistics worsen considerably.

In Latin America, an estimated 30 million people lack access to drinking water. More than one-fifth of the regional population (110 million people) does not have access to adequate sanitation systems. Most of these people live in areas where public services have little to no penetration. For this reason, solutions to these challenges must include community-based organizations for drinking water and sanitation services (known in Spanish as Organizaciones Comunitarias de Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento, or OCSAS).

OCSAS are citizen associations formed to ensure access to drinking water and wastewater sanitation services in their communities. It is estimated that over 70 million people in rural and peri-urban communities have been solving their water problems through the efforts of more than 80,000 OCSAS.

Moreover, studies of the World Bank’s- Water and Sanitation Program affirm that community-based water management has the potential to reach at least 18 million additional people, if given the financial support and official recognition needed.

Despite the extensive services these organizations provide

(in most cases, free-of-charge), OCSAS remain little recognized and undervalued. National legal frameworks for water services are generally unfavorable, giving priority to state agencies even when they are bureaucratic and inefficient, which is particularly the case for “last mile” delivery to households.


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OCSAS are undoubtedly one of the best options for communities that are distant from urban centers. OCSAS can be much more efficient than state entities; however, they are far from perfect.

These not-for-profit organizations, formed solely by private citizens, suffer from scarce technical skills. Their degree of association with similar organizations (for the purposes of learning and knowledge exchange) is -at best- insufficient. Not recognized by the State in their role as intermediaries, OCSAS have few opportunities to access capacity-building processes aimed to ensure better administration, operation, and maintenance of water systems.

Since 2010, Fundación Avina, in collaboration with CARE International and other organizations, has developed, tested, and implemented the Programa Unificado de Fortalecimiento de Capacidades para OCSAS (Unified Capacity-Building Program for OCSAS). The Program currently offers eleven training modules. Its objective is to help achieve the functionality, efficiency, and sustainability of community-based systems for drinking water and sanitation in Latin America through the training of OCSA members.


One of the Program modules, called “Trabajando el futuro de mi OCSAS a partir de su diagnóstico” (Diagnostic-based Planning for my OCSAS), has been adopted by various community-based organizations throughout the region and by government institutions in several countries. Diagnostic analysis provides the opportunity to learn about these organizations through different aspects: technical, social, environmental, economic, financial, organizational, and administrative. From the information obtained, it is possible to develop improvement plans appropriate for local contexts and to develop monitoring and impact evaluation processes.Imagen5

Data for the diagnostic analysis was collected using a community development management tool created by Fundación Paraguaya. The indicators were authenticated at the regional level, taking into account– as a sine qua non condition– the need to adjust the data for different local contexts. Subsequent to this analysis, Benetech (a non- governmental organization that develops and uses technolo- gy to create positive social change) and the Confederación Latinoamericana de OCSAS (Latin American Confederation of OCSAS) worked in partnership to develop a digital tool called DOCSAS that would transform the data collection and analysis process.

DOCSAS is currently accessible on several platforms. Technology is contributing enormously to the ability to assess OCSAS management levels, providing real-time information and making knowledge exchange possible among similar organizations via a virtual platform. The diagnostic tool is free and can be downloaded from Google Play (DOCSAS ODK) on any Android device.DOCSAS

To access the DOCSAS tool from the web, use this link: (authorization required). Please contact Rolando Marín at to request support. Fundación Avina’s Access to Water team is also available for assistance at




The DOCSAS diagnostic tool was officially launched at the VI Encuentro de Gestión Comunitaria del Agua (VI Meeting on Community-based Water Management) in Olmué, Chile in September 2015. Since this event, training sessions and beta-testing of the DOCSAS tool have taken place in five countries. The platform already has solid information on least 300 OCSAS.

In March 2016, Fundación Avina and Bolivia’s Servicio Nacional para la Sostenibilidad de Servicios de Saneamiento Básico (National Service for Basic Sanitation Sustainability, SENASBA) signed an agreement to implement use of the DOCSAS tool as part of the country’s water sector. Previously, DOCSAS was used in several regions of Paraguay, with the endorsement of the national government.

The projection for 2017 is that at least 25 percent of OCSAS in 10 Latin American countries will have performed a diagnostic analysis of their organizations and services, the results of which will be recorded on the data platform. DOCSAS is expected to become a widely-used management tool to facilitate planning, monitoring, and impact evaluation processes.

Applications like DOCSAS not only inform the sector of which institutional capacities need — or do not need– to be strengthened and improved. They also indicate to governments which of their water distribution and sanitation policies could substantially support and strengthen the efforts of those organizations providing water services to rural and low-density urban communities. This allows governments to identify clearly which type of management instruments they should develop to help standardize the diverse world of OCSAS.

Social Innovation and Technological Innovation in combination contribute effectively to social transformation. When leveraged together, they improve community-based management and build sustainability for local water systems. Improved water services and increased public health, as well as a greater ability to exercise the human right to water, are made possible through sound diagnostics and local capacity-building for the operation, maintenance, and administration of community water systems.

Currently in Latin America, there is growing support and recognition of community-based water management organizations. The conditions, experience, and tools exist for local capacity-building to enable OCSAS to generate solutions that would complement state efforts to achieve universal coverage for clean drinking water and basic sanitation within the next fifteen years, as proposed by Sustainable Development

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