Rural infrastructure needs – water and sanitation

Rural infrastructure needs – water and sanitation

How can the rural deficit in water and sanitation be addressed to meet the MDGs?


  • The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report (2010) reported that the world was on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target for water but that the global sanitation target would be missed by a billion people - most of them in rural Africa and Asia
  • The disparity in coverage between urban and rural areas shows a serious inequity caused by a lack of effective rural pro-poor strategies
  • Many of the MDGs cannot be achieved unless rural poor people have access to and are involved in the planning and delivery of effective, efficient, and affordable water and sanitation servicesIn order to reduce poverty, coverage needs to be extended to the poorest in rural areas and shanty towns on city fringes

    Source: WHO/UNICEF JMP Report (2010) Water Supply and Sanitation: Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-water

    • Seven out of 10 people without improved sanitation live in rural areas
    • 84% Seven out of 10 people without an improved drinking-water source live in rural areas

    Provide rural pro-poor services and increase community involvement

    Small-scale irrigation

    Large scale irrigation schemes have not always been successful in SSA [6]. Small-scale irrigation schemes (SSIs) mean farmers and landowners being responsible for and managing their own irrigation on relatively small plots. SSIs can be beneficial because:

    • The reliance on outside support (where access may be difficult) is limited
    • Local labour and skills can be used to implement them, using equipment and management practices developed with the community
    • Small plots of land can be developed for irrigation as appropriate, even if the area as a whole is not suitable for large-scale irrigation


    • Use of groundwater for storage and irrigation. Impacts on groundwater resources and regulation are important factors here, but potential is good in some areas, see [7]
    • Bucket or drum drip irrigation systems
    • Pumps, e.g. treadle pumps, hand pumps, pressure pumps

    Other issues to consider

    • Energy use and carbon emissions: agricultural emissions come from a large number of small emitters, three-quarters being in developing or transition economies [8] – how to quantify and address?
    • hanging patterns of settlement – urbanisation
    • Role of legislation and policy
    • Financing for small-scale irrigation –See [9]
    • Education and skills building for small-scale growers


    1. World Agriculture, towards 2015/2030: Summary Report, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO, 2002)
    2. IFPRI Discussion paper 00873, Economy-wide Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, Calzadilla, et al (2009)
    3. Efficient Irrigation; Inefficient Communication; Flawed Recommendations, Perry, C.; Wiley Interscience (2007)
    4. Rethinking Water Scarcity: The Role of Storage, EOS Vol 90, No. 28 (2009)
    5. Demand for products of irrigated agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, FAO (2006)
    6. Increasing Food Production in Sub-Saharan Africa through Farmer-managed Small-scale Irrigation Development, Vaishnav, T, Ambio Vol. 23, No 8 (1994)
    7. Water Policy Brief, Issue. 32: Banking on Groundwater in Times of Change, IWMI (2010)
    8. Stern Review, the Economics of Climate Change, Part IV, HM Treasury (2006)
    9. Financing Small-Scale Irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa Vol 1, World Bank (2006)

    Further reading

    Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture – International Water Management Institute (2007)

    Handbook for the Assessment of Catchment Water Demand and Use – HR Walling ford (2003)