Water & Sanitation Knowledge Management in Rural Cameroon

Mobilising knowledge for sustainable development

Master's Thesis, 2010

65 Pages


Table of Contents


Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Introduction
1.0 Prologue
1.1 The Rationale
1.1.1 Knowledge management
1.1.2 Water & Sanitation
1.1.3 Objective of the study: linking KM to W/S
1.1.4 Water Knowledge Management: a concept
1.2 Rural Water supply
1.3 Background Information of Study Area
1.3.1 The State of Water in Cameroon

Chapter 2. Theoretical Framework
2.0 Introduction: global stance of water and sanitation
2.1 Current Trends in Water Resource Management
2.1.1 Integrated Water Resource Management
2.1.2 Privatization and Commodification
2.2 Community-led water management (CLWM)
2.3 Water Governance: Local institutions managing water
2.4 Multi-stakeholder Forum: participatory water resource & infrastructure management
2.5 Water, Science & Technology
2.6 Conclusions

Chapter 3. Case Study: Kwa-Kwa Bakundu, Cameroon
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Research Methodology & Data Collection
3.3 Rural Water Systems: the case of Kwa-kwa Bakundu
3.3.1 Drinking Water
3.3.2 Sanitation & Hygiene
3.4 WKM: the Way Out!
3.5 Conclusion

Chapter 4. Analysis
4.1 Introduction
4.2 W/S-KM Dynamics in rural Cameroon
4.3 Implications for Development
4.4 Critique: debating sustainability through KM
4.5 Establishing Resiliency and Robustness through an effective KM

Chapter 5. Conclusion and Recommendation
5.1 Summary
5.2 Conclusion
5.3 Recommendations
5.4 Policy Implications



Box 1: Global Water Events

Box 2: State of Affairs in Kwa-Kwa Bakundu

Box 3: Changing Lives: Rural Water Schemes in Sri Lanka

Figure 1: WKM Cycle

Map 1: Percentage of Population using improved Sanitation

Map2: Kwa-kwa Bakundu

Table 1: Problem Ranking


The purpose of this study is to move beyond conventional thinking on rural water (and sanitation) infrastructure and resource management. The study acknowledges the existence of other water management and sanitation tools but it engages its argument from a knowledge management perspective. In most rural areas, water and sanitation projects have been implemented and community members only enjoy these facilities for a short time. Why? The reason is simple. Most donors and governments are often concerned with the specificity of their projects/programmes, long-term sustainability is rarely guaranteed and those who are left to manage these water systems lack the necessary capacities (skills & knowledge). Consequently, after few years of implementation most water supply are been closed down while sanitation structures are fast deteriorating due to poor management and lack of post-project government/donor support. This study on water and sanitation knowledge management (WKM) highlights some of these pitfalls in rural Cameroon; it acknowledges the fact that knowledge is always incomplete and that rural water supply systems are in themselves a complex and dynamic system involving risks and uncertainties. The study takes a look at the recent literatures on water resource management and rural water supply systems and the range of technological and institutional approaches that have been applied in the past years in an attempt to increase access and/or reduce inequality. By examining key reasons why the resource has proven so difficult to manage, I came to the conclusion that, in many cases, the most promising solutions may lie outside highly conventional technological and institutional approaches. The WKM model focuses on enhancing the generation, flow, and use of knowledge and information to enable communities achieve better results or quality services. This study is based on the need to build the capacity of - and also utilize the various skills and knowledge available within - rural communities to support decision-making processes on how to better manage, operate and maintain water supply systems as well as promote better sanitation and hygiene.


illustration not visible in this excerpt


The research data used in this study is drawn from a research exercised I participated in while at the Pan African Institute for Development – West Africa in 2008. The research used mainly Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools and techniques. This form of inquiry into rural livelihood systems was very enriching and left me with skills and knowledge on how to work with rural communities. Our work was to act as facilitators while allowing the villagers to identify by themselves that which is lacking in their community and how they can better achieve their development goals.

From my experience working with the villagers of Kwa-Kwa Bakundu I found the issue of access to water very pivotal to human development and I had always wanted to give my personal account on what I think is missing or what can be done to mitigate the problem.

I am grateful to the entire staff of IDS for their perpetual support, love and patience. Most especially to Dr. Linda Waldman, Dr. Jeremy Allouche (my supervisor), Dr. Erik Milstone (at SPRU), Dr. John Thompson, Dr. Jim Sumberg, Dr. Robert Chambers, Dr. Melissa Leach and to the staffs at KNOTS and STEPS Centre whose names I couldn’t mention. I want to acknowledge that I have learnt more than I had ever imagined and that my stay at IDS was splendid. I wish I could return some time in the future.

I am equally thankful to my parents (Elangwe Christopher & Elangwe Elizabeth) for financing my studies and also for their moral encouragements, without which this whole adventure would have been but an illusion. On March 31st my wife (Tata Anita Mushur) gave birth while I was still in the UK, and it was really a very challenging moment for both of us. I just want to thank her for going all through by herself and that I can’t wait to meet my baby girl (Elangwe Keona Villa Baliki). God bless you all!

I did learn a lot from the community of Kwa-Kwa Bakundu and I am deeply indebted particularly to those villagers (PRA Insiders) who assisted us with our work. And I hope that one day this piece of work can be read by the villagers, development practitioners working in that part of the country and even government institutions so that new ways of thinking can be fostered and policies formulated in the interest of the rural poor.

And above all thanks to Almighty GOD!


« we don’t know in the first place how many poor people out there do not have access to safe water and effective sanitation, how much has been invested already, how many systems are still functional, how many facilities are broken down and why?»

Nekesa Jacinta, Social Development Officer for WaterAid – Uganda

1.0 Prologue

Unsafe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene in rural communities throughout the developing world are some of the world’s most important, timely challenges (Oldfield 2009) of the 21st century. Studies carried out over the past years in rural communities shows that rural water supply systems in Cameroon are fast deteriorating. Today, most rural water supply systems are in dire need for capital repairs or reconstruction. Level of access to safe drinking water in rural Cameroon is unsurprisingly below average and efforts to improve on the water situation has been chiefly undermined over past years by the lack of political will (Lepkowski 1999) on the one hand and on the other the lack of adequate knowledge and capacity in sustaining and managing existing infrastructures. This is often the case in most rural communities where few years after implementation water supplies become non-operational (Harvey and Reed 2003: 117) either due to poor maintenance or poor institutional structures to manage the infrastructures and resources sustainably. In most rural areas, an even increasing share of the population is compelled to fetch water from unsafe sources such as rivers, hand-dug wells or purchase small quantities from local vendors. These sources are usually of poor quality and often do not meet the standard sanitary requirements. At the same time, these communities are facing serious health nuisance due to poor hygienic practices and inaccessibility to basic health services. As a result, a large number of outbreaks of water-related epidemics, such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, dysentery, and cholera, have been reported, to a broad extent in rural areas (OECD 2005; Nangmenyi 2007). In Cameroon, those that are most affected are the poor living in rural areas and peri-urban areas of major cities like Douala and Yaoundé.

This study focuses mainly on how rural communities can build resiliency and robustness in the management and sustainability of rural water supply systems from a knowledge management perspective (through acquisition and sharing of knowledge and information). Also, the study will test the usefulness of a perspective (the water knowledge management approach) that is underdeveloped in the water literature. I believe that empowering community members to take up active roles in managing their water supply systems (infrastructures, resources, ecosystem, etc) will create a sense of ownership, increase participation and improve water quality and distribution. Water Knowledge Management (WKM) as a concept will provide water stakeholders at the local, national, regional and international levels practical tools and insights on how to better appraise water management issues in order to achieve their intended goals of sustainable development, improved living conditions and poverty alleviation. This chapter looks at some of the characteristics behind rural water supply systems. It goes further to define the concept of knowledge management and the importance of water and sanitation to rural livelihood. Section 1.1.3 seeks to create a link between knowledge management and water and sanitation most especially for the rural communities. The chapter ends with a brief description of the study area and a summary of the current water and sanitation outlook of Cameroon.

1.1 The Rationale

The rationale behind this study is grounded in the fact that most water supply projects in rural areas have always been implemented successfully. But the post-project era or the machinery needed to guarantee the continuous flow of safe drinking water (that is, the sustainability of this resources and infrastructures) has been a major source of concern for most rural (local) authorities, governments and international donors. Water (and Sanitation) Knowledge Management (WKM) as a concept is presented to systematically think through the complexity challenges involved in managing rural water supply systems and how communities can develop possible alternative pathways towards achieving sustainability. There isn’t any standard concept on WKM; this study is built on a collection of best practices and literatures on water resource management, local (indigenous) knowledge, knowledge management, field research, participatory methodologies and community development and complexity theories.

1.1.1 Knowledge Management (KM)

Knowledge Management (KM) is ‘a set of principles tools and practices that enables people to create knowledge, and to share, translate and apply what they know to create value’ (Janowski and Ojo 2003). Managing water for sustainable use and economic development is both a technical and governance challenge in which knowledge production and sharing play a central role (Jacob et al, 2008). While the issue of water scarcity is to some the shortage of physical supply, the Human Development Report argues that ‘the roots of the crisis in water can be traced to poverty, inequality and unequal power relationships, as well as flawed water management policies that exacerbate scarcity’ (UNDP 2006). This argument however correct is limited in its appraisal especially when it comes to rural water supply systems (RWSS). RWSS in some cases are free from inequality, power relations and policies. In such cases, all the people need is access to this basic service – water. In rural settings where state’s intervention is minimal or sometimes absent, water scarcity automatically becomes a responsibility of the communities concerned. I am of the opinion that current water crises in rural community are hugely as a result of lack of adequate knowledge and skills by community members to sustainably manage their water resources. Providing rural communities with piped connections, standing taps and highly technical solutions is in itself insufficient and unsustainable (See Sutton 2002). The most important factor for sustainability lies in the aftermath of every project: that is, how to guarantee continuity. Issues around how communities can successfully sustain water infrastructures and resources or practice good hygienic habits will greatly depend on the know-how (capacity: skills and knowledges) of community members. What knowledge and skills is available to them and how can they possibly tap from this wealth of knowledge to create value in their lives and in that of the community as a whole. Accordingly Lagat and Rono (2010) providing the knowledge and skills needed by rural water users is:

“...to create a pool of experts in the villages to take the lead in [ rural water supply management], local sanitation and primary health care [thereby creating value in their communities]” (pp. 1).

KM as employed in this study refers largely to the management-related components of the knowledge system, and on infrastructures to the technical knowledge used for operating water and sanitation infrastructures and for protecting water sources. While concluding statements (or recommendations) on policy implications are intended to guide policy-makers on how to design and/or formulate policies that take a knowledge-based approach in the planning/management of water and sanitation projects.

1.1.2 Water and Sanitation (WS)

Access to safe water, sanitation services and good hygiene practices is essential for human as well as socio-economic development. Today barriers (these barriers include insufficient political prioritisation, weak sector capacity to develop and implement effective plans and strategies, and uncoordinated and inadequate investments) to achieving these development goals are known but actions taken to address these issues have been highly insufficient and unpalatable. In order to achieve universal coverage and sustainable access to sanitation and drinking water we must move beyond conventional water management approaches to a user-centred approach (See Principle No. 2 of The 1992 Dublin Statement on Water & Sustainable Development). This later approach sees the users as agents of change in who the responsibility to live a healthy life is dependent on the choices they make in collaboration with other stakeholders who share a similar interest. Real causes of - as well as real solutions to - water scarcity are embedded within communities. One must unravel the potentials found in communities (as well as improve on their understandings on water and sanitation issues) if we are to achieve the goal of ‘Water and Sanitation for All’ by 2015.

Map 1:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: UN Millennium Project Task Force on Water and Sanitation, Final Report. Health, Dignity, and Development: What Will It Take? (2005).

1.1.3 Objective of the study: Linking KM to WS

The key objective of this study is to draw a link between KM, capacity development (CD) and Water and Sanitation (WS). Based on the findings of this research, the poor performances recorded in most national water projects (especially in developing countries) can be largely attributed to the lack of a knowledge-base or capacity by both the users and the institutions involved in the management of water supply systems. This is evident in the policies carved out by the institutions, the mode of implementation of these policies and programmes, amount of information available to the public and the overall outcomes. Based on these shortcomings there is an absolute need to make water-related information and data readily available and to use this information (or knowledge base systems) across the various groups or stakeholders to support decision-making processes. Making water available in a particular community or the art of using water sustainably is not an end in itself but a means to achieve some of the world’s most pressing development goals as outlined by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (UNDP 2003). For example, it is apparent that the unsustainable use of water increases health risks (infant mortality, morbidity, etc), reduces the rate of literacy (especially for girls), leads to the absence of electricity and the lost of livelihoods – summating to increasing rates of poverty. These challenges are numerous. By creating awareness or by making communities knowledgeable on the dangers and benefits involved, there are greater possibilities that people will become empowered and proactive in managing their water sources in a sustainable manner. According to Jacobs et al (2009):

“Over the past few years, there has been a widespread interest in the field of knowledge management (KM) (Hendriks, 2001; Huber, 2001; Liebowitz, 2001; Tiwana and Ramesh, 2001). KM techniques have rendered it possible to stimulate human expertise in narrowly defined domains during the problem-solving by integrating descriptive knowledge (e.g., data, information), procedural knowledge (e.g., algorithms) and reasoning knowledge (e.g., rules).” (pp.2)

Whilst the issue of water scarcity in developed countries can be related to the lack of well-carved out governance structures and not the lack of a knowledge base, in developing countries it is a combination of both. And the starting point is to create that knowledge base and systematically develop a governance structure that can make informed decisions based on the information or knowledge available to them.

1.1.4 Water Knowledge Management: a concept

According to the definition by Janowski and Ojo (2009) in section 1.1.1, KM is understood to be ‘a set of principles, tools and practices that enables people to create knowledge, and to share, translate and apply what they know to create value’. Water Knowledge Management (WKM) can hereby be defined as a set of principles, tools and practices that enables water stakeholders to create and promote knowledge and understanding on water resource (and infrastructure) management through the collection and dissemination of information on water. WKM is therefore the astute application of skills and knowledge available to water stakeholders in combination with the information or data accessible to support decision/policy-making processes in an effort to gain total control over resources and infrastructures thereby guaranteeing long-term sustainability. The phrase ‘astute application’ here refers to the judicious use of knowledge to benefit those in need. WKM advocates for well-defined institutional responsibility as well as better coordination of external support from donors. It aims to create an environment where water issues are the primary concern for all involved, from local to national to international. Leaning on the STEP Centre (at the Institute of Development Studies) approach, WKM also utilizes a combination of approaches, concepts and tools appropriate for different issues and settings and in relations to different systems (Leach, Scoones & Stirling 2007). The model presents pathways by which poor/marginalised communities can organise themselves independently (See Harvey and Reed 2003) with the sole purpose of achieving a common goal through (1) creating a sense of ownership; (2) total community engagement (participation); (3) capacity building of community members; (4) knowledge management and (5) a balanced constant dependence on best practices. The underlying question of this study is ‘how much potential does these methods and approaches have for making sustainability more practical and local ownership more legitimate?’

The WKM approach aims at emphasizing community's commitment to achieving sustainable development through 6 major stages illustrated in Figure 1.

1. Problem identification (through consensus);
2. Reviewing different options necessary to achieve sustainable development (through consensus and in relation to past experiences);
3. Suggesting actions and/or potential strategies (based on best practices, sensitization campaigns);
4. Developing means (through informed decision-making, resource mobilisation, training and capacity building, local knowledge & best practices) to support potential strategies;
5. Implementation of strategies. (Participatory: requiring total community engagement, extended training on project management and technical skills); and
6. Evaluation (requiring indicators to measure effectiveness and potential of it being replicated in other communities facing similar water problems).

Figure 1: WKM CYCLE

illustration not visible in this excerpt

See also Appendix II, III & IV.

The problem faced today by most rural water supply systems is the failure of the institutions managing water to design strategies and policies that can foster knowledge sharing on water, sanitation and hygience (WaSH). WKM advocates for governments, NGOs, CSOs and the international aid community to build strongly on the tools of knowledge management, that is, collecting and gathering information on WaSH and in turn use this information to emerge with solutions that are durable and sustainable. Lagat and Rono present a similar situation in Kenya that ‘Sanitation coverage is very low in Pokot due to lack of knowledge about the impacts of open defecation and poor hygiene’ (2010: 3). Similarly the International Association for Hydro-geologist (IAH) in its report on Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa commented that ‘little is known about the level of ground water contamination in Africa Water and this lack of knowledge about contaminants (like arsenic and fluoride) pose serious health threats to local communities’ (IAH 2006). Stakeholders must be well educated not only on how to manage their water sources and infrastructures but also on the benefits gained by drinking clean water and inculcating good sanitation habits. WKM as an alternative pathways approach demands building capacity, making use of local knowledge (Garnayak 2008), ensuring community active participation, taking into consideration best practices and lessons learnt, multi-stakeholder platform for consensus building, transfer of appropriate technology and in all acknowledging Water Supply Systems as complex dynamic systems. WKM uniqueness is grounded in the fact that it allows for continuity and efficiency. On the other hand WKM can successfully be achieved in a stable environment, one free from disputes and conflicts.


Rural Water Supply entails the provision of good quality potable water to rural communities for domestic uses (including drinking, cooking and bathing/hygiene) to the rural masses and this supply must be available all year round (AfDB 2004). Rural sanitation on the other hand involves activities separate from water supply and centres more on creation of awareness and behavioural changes (AfDB 2004), on good hygienic practices.

Over the past three decades a progressive effort has been made to make rural water supplies operational over longer periods of time (Harvey and Narkevic 2009).

The two current lynchpins for rural water supply sustainability are considered to be:

(i) the Demand Responsive Approach (DRA) - where rural populations engage in a process of informed choice regarding their water service; and
(ii) community management – where communities are largely responsible for the long-term operation, maintenance, and management of their communal water supply.

Throughout the globe there are projects going on in a bid to redress the water crises plaguing our society. Under this framework many international organizations have launched a series of initiatives and programmes to help combat poor sanitation and inequitable access to water in the rural areas. The African Development Bank ‘in response to the Africa Water Vision and the UN Millennium Development Goals, conceived the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative (RWSSI) in 2002 with the view to accelerating access to water supply and sanitation services in rural Africa to attain a 66% access to water supply and sanitation by the year 2010 and 80% by 2015’ (AfDB 2004: 6). Cameroon is a beneficiary to this initiative.


Cameroon lies between latitudes 2◦ and 13◦ north of the equator, extending from the Gulf of Guinea to Lake Chad over a distance of about 1,200 km and between longitude 8◦ and 16◦ east of the Greenwich Meridian and extends over a distance of 800 km at the widest portion. It has a total surface area of about 475,650 km2 with a mainland surface area of 466,050 km2 and a maritime surface area of 9,600 km2 (NIS 2001). Cameroon is bounded by Lake Chad in the north, the Republic of Chad in the northeast, and the Central African Republic in the east. In the south are the Republic of Congo, Republic of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea; and in the west by the Federal Republic of Nigeria and about 400 km of coastline with the Atlantic Ocean. The estimated population is 18 million (WHO/UNICEF 2008).

1.3.1 The State of Water in Cameroon

According to the 2003 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Report only 44% of the country’s 15.8 million inhabitants have access to potable water, comprising of 70% of households in the urban areas and 25% in rural areas (Nangmenyi 2007). The nation’s water distribution and treatment infrastructures are aging and fast deteriorating. Poor management, the absent of standard water treatment technologies, deteriorating infrastructures, the lack of capacity (knowledge-base) by institutions managing water, weak policies as well as conflicts between user groups have lowered the quality of and access to water over the past years. The situation is at worst in rural communities and poses many social (health hazards) and economic (lost of livelihood) threats. Today, the estimated costs of replacing the aging water distribution pipelines in both urban and rural areas are as even as the cost of maintenance of existing pipelines. In the next five years it is feared that - if the situation is not properly tackled - poor access to quality drinking water will result to more severe and undesirable socio-economic outcomes. Current infrastructural developments of the nation’s water sector have been sluggish and efforts to optimize benefits of the entire system have been breached by power relations, lack of government oversight, a highly centralised water sector and to a greater extent the lack of capacity (or knowledge base) by the institutions set out to manage these infrastructures and resources. Water management is usually left to top-down institutions, the legitimacy and effectiveness of which have increasingly been questioned (Agrawal et al 2000). Cameroon National Water Company (SNEC) presently known as CAMWATER is responsible for the processing and distribution of potable water in Cameroon. Studies shows that SNEC has been unable to cope with the current demands of water and its water quality is well below standard (See Nangmenyi 2007). Rural coverage by SNEC is estimated at below 10%, therefore most rural areas are supplied through community’s efforts or NGOs’ support. With respect to the rural water supply and sanitation sector, the Government’s 2008-2015 action plan targets access rates of 80% and 60% for drinking water and sanitation respectively in 2015 (AfDB 2010).


Excerpt out of 65 pages


Water & Sanitation Knowledge Management in Rural Cameroon
Mobilising knowledge for sustainable development
University of Sussex  (Institute of Development Studies)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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water and sanitation in Cameroon, rural water supply systems, knowledge management, kwa-kwa bakundu, mbonge sub-division, kombone mission, CAMWATER, Institute of Development Studies, African Development Bank
Quote paper
M.A. Linus Elangwe (Author), 2010, Water & Sanitation Knowledge Management in Rural Cameroon, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/191942


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