Restructuring public water services in slums

Port-au-Prince, Haiti




The Port-au-Prince project was unique compared to the other focus projects, in that the provider / operator was the public utility (CAMEP) and no international private sector stakeholder was a formal partner in the project. The partnership was between the CAMEP, the GRET (a French NGO), the local water committees in 37 shantytowns, and the communities themselves. Technical assistance had been received by CAMEP from different multinational water companies in the past. Interested stakeholders also included small-scale water providers and the donor community (primarily the French Development Agency, AFD and the European Union).


Project description


The project provided water through standpipes connected by a gravity flow system to water towers. Community water committees provided overall management and hired a standpipe manager to operate the system and collect payment. The standpipes were constructed by CAMEP with community support and operated for a few hours a day at pre-set times. Water committees paid for the bulk water and retained some money for maintenance and the funding of other local development projects.




At the time of the project, Haiti had long struggled both economically and politically. However, the economy had apparently become more stable and national elections were held in November 2000.


Project beneficiaries


Port-au-Prince's population had increased tenfold in thirty years to two million inhabitants. Unemployment was high and prospects for work in the shantytowns incredibly low. At the beginning of the project, violence was commonplace in the shantytowns. Cost recovery was quite high, partly due to community involvement, partly to the nature of the bulk sale and the pay-as-you-go system (standpipes are much cheaper than informal water vendors and safer than heavily polluted local watercourses). Around 600,000 people in 37 communities benefited from the project.


Objectives and structures of partnership


The broad theme was to provide regularised, affordable and sustainable water services to poor households. The accompanied development of social infrastructures was seen as a significant channel for meeting broader development objectives (including community empowerment). CAMEP & GRETs relationship evolved from experiment to a Memorandum of Understanding. Following this MoU, CAMEP issued subcontracts for GRET to take on specific activities in specific communities. Contracts between individual water committees and CAMEP specified the committees roles over financial and administrative elements of the standposts.


Roles and responsibilities


CAMEP haf direct responsibility in the city for infrastructure investment, expansion and operations and maintenance of the system. It provided the water to bulk meters and undertook billing, contracting, & social engineering work. GRET co-ordinated the social engineering and conducted training for CAMEP staff. Water Committees hired the operator, and decided upon infrastructure - local residents also contributed construction labour.


Community liaison


CAMEPs participation was primarily through the Low Income Users Unit. This unit had seen its profile (and professionalism) increase markedly over the previous few years. It liased with 37 Water Committees, created to manage the water service, which involved the leaders of all primary organisations in the community (i.e., political parties, churches, youth groups, networks of notables, etc.). These managed the finances of the water sales and smoothed occasional conflicts. With a margin obtained from selling water, they financed small collective infrastructure projects (playgrounds, meeting rooms, footbridges, wastewater channels, bathing facilities, etc.), enhancing and reinforcing their legitimacy. Typically they also received training in financial and accounting techniques.


Communications and feedback


Consensus building appeared to occur informally through discussions at several levels between the organisations. The strong leadership of both CAMEP and GRET were very supportive of the project. Decision-making occured via negotiation of the subcontracts. Joint workshops also served to build consensus. The professionalisation of the CAMEP Low Income Users Unit changed the original dynamics, which relied on informal contact between GRET & CAMEPs leaders. Relationships were thus institutionalised significantly.


Evolution and institutionalisation



The role of CAMEP changed significantly as the professionalism, skills and priority of the Low Income Users Unit increased - CAMEP became the primary lead actor. GRET, as original instigators, effectively worked their way out of day-to-day activities, becoming mainly an advocate and watchdog. Water committees became significantly more powerful (& politicised) - their expectations altered accordingly.




By the end of the project, 37 communities (representing some 600,000 people) were effectively managing significantly less expensive, regularised water services. Safeguards ensured that communities were able to participate and voice their needs. Project financing relied on almost full cost-recovery and on grant funding from the EU and AFD (Agence Franaise de Developpement). Twenty percent of tariffs financed future investments. Other results included reduced vandalism & fewer illegal connections, decreased violence, greater empowerment, and more solid community representation.




Clear incentives for CAMEP and Water Committees; solid commitment; clear roles and responsibilities; clear champions; healthy competition; integration with other community programmes via the committees; the overcoming of enormous social challenges within communities; the bringing together of all major community power groups; enhanced debate regarding community development.


Wider lessons


Wider lessons related to the:


  • Contrasting determinations of success & different visions of when a project is completed
  • Changing NGO role, from implementer to watchdog cum advocate
  • Importance of strength and commitment of individuals & champions
  • Benefit of very clear roles and contributions of each partner.