arrow_backEmergency WASH

E.7 Ownership and Management of Facilities

Affected communities have a right to participate in decisions that affect them. Additionally, engaging people meaningfully in the design and management of WASH facilities and services can lead to more effective programmes, ensure that facilities are accessible, meet different needs and help to create a sense of ownership and responsibility. Design tweaks and ‘beautification’ (making visual improvements to an environment, T.4) such as providing mirrors, hooks or decoration can also help to make facilities pleasant and more appealing to use and increase people’s pride in them. Effective solid waste disposal P.5 also contributes to a more visually appealing environment. Ensuring that facilities feel safe and private for all is also vital to creating a sense of ownership and responsibility.

The affected communities and local authorities will not automatically assume the responsibility for maintaining the WASH systems; they often assume it is the responsibility of the provider. Even in an emergency, it is therefore essential that providers address how the WASH facilities will be managed after their departure or in the longer-term. This planning is a team activity involving both WASH engineers and hygiene promoters. However, it will often fall to the hygiene promotion team to hold discussions with communities about the maintenance and care of facilities and how and by whom it will be done. Care may include cleaning toilets and communal bathing areas and replenishing soap and water at handwashing facilities. Over time, various levels of repair will be required to both toilets and water points. 

Some damage can be prevented by ensuring that facilities are used correctly and young children do not play on them. In some situations, it may be appropriate and feasible to pay for caretakers (e.g. at public toilets that are shared by many people, during epidemic outbreaks to reduce contamination risks or where water rationing is required), but encouraging community members to also take responsibility for the care and monitoring of facilities remains important. 

It is a widely held belief that communities can autonomously manage their water supplies, but this is not always borne out in practice. Outside support from local authorities and others is often required for effective and sustainable management – especially in the emergency context or in the case of more complex systems. 

The disaster-affected community may be made up of men and women from different backgrounds and with different levels of education and access to resources. There may be social divisions related to gender, disability, socio-economic background and religion. These differences can undermine or prevent a sense of shared ownership. In emergency situations, social organisation may be further disrupted when people have been displaced from their homes. Creating a sense of ownership and responsibility may then be challenging and household sanitation facilities become the only viable longer-term solution. Leadership may be strong in some communities and weak in others. People may be so traumatised that they do not want to participate or engage with aid organisations at all. This diversity and lack of homogeneity can make community management more challenging. Moreover, each emergency is different. As a result, no standard model can be applied to operation and maintenance (O&M). Community management may not always be the solution.

Capacity strengthening and support for O&M will almost certainly be required and, ideally, should be sustained after the end of the project. Short community training courses on maintenance are insufficient. It is unrealistic to simply hand over facilities to a community when they are not fully prepared to meet the challenges of O&M on their own. 

Process & Good Practice

  • Promote links between the project and relevant government sectors and involve any established organisations that might contribute to sustainability, such as water authorities, health departments, welfare departments, local non-governmental organisations, faith-based groups or the private sector. If the situation permits, initiate (or support and facilitate) meetings between local and national government representatives to discuss policy and strategy. Make provision for this in budgets.

  • Understand community toilet design preferences and speak to as many people as possible, even in an acute emergency. Seek feedback on designs and make sure that modifications are introduced and designs changed as needed (F.7 and F.15). Accessibility and Safety Audits T.1 are useful tools to support this.

  • Identify existing O&M structures and mechanisms (rather than automatically setting up new WASH committees) and work with them where possible and appropriate. A planning group may be more suitable than a committee in a short-term situation and can encourage a sense of ownership that government programmes can later build upon.

  • Enable men, women, girls and boys to identify how facilities will be maintained if problems arise. Pictures can be used to facilitate discussion about the range of O&M options.

  • Consider making formal agreements and contracts with the community in contexts where community structures (such as committees) are appropriate. Make the contracts once discussions have been finalised and roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Ensure that existing or new community structures (such as committees and management groups) are inclusive of all community groups - men and women, persons with disabilities, older persons and youth.

  • Select relevant training sessions and adapt them, rather than provide uniform training. Ensure that people (men, women and children) understand the issues and practical implications of maintenance and facilitate them to make their own plans. Bring the wider community into the process through structured community meetings. 

  • Start training as early as possible in the programme: do not leave it until the end. Allocate resources at the outset and provide the opportunity for refresher training before the end of the programme.

  • Identify ways to increase ownership. Recent research has shown that if communities add their names or the name of the community to facilities, their sense of ownership is increased. Formal opening ceremonies may also help as can the avoidance of agency or donor branding. Community defined contributions of money or labour – whilst not always appropriate in an emergency context – may also be useful strategies. 

  • Assess whether there is a need to pay incentives to caretakers or to outsource maintenance and cleaning to specialised companies. This may be necessary, especially where sanitation facilities are shared by large numbers of people and need regular cleaning to keep them usable. Allocating facilities to a smaller number of families may help to avoid this, but it will need to be discussed and agreed upon with the communities. 

  • Assess the willingness and capacity of stakeholders to support toilets in public places (markets, community centres, canteens, way stations etc.). Such settings usually require a paid attendant but, in some situations, a well-motivated community group may be prepared to take them on. Traders may be prepared to contribute a small amount to fund a caretaker for latrines in markets. Committees or associations can be useful structures for discussing such issues.

  • Set tariffs or cost recovery mechanisms, if required, through discussion with key representatives from the community (e.g. community leaders, women and vulnerable groups). Cost recovery must be discussed at the earliest opportunity and be based on people’s ability and willingness to pay and in collaboration with those who can support either income generating initiatives (such as village savings and loan associations) or cash and voucher assistance P.8

  • Ensure that Monitoring M.2 and Feedback Mechanisms T.13 are in place at the earliest opportunity and that they reach out to all sections of the community, including those with disabilities. Feedback will help to identify problems such as acceptability, privacy, safety and the functioning of committee/user groups.

  • Engage the water department or equivalent in monitoring; their involvement is particularly important. Community members and groups should also be encouraged to monitor issues as a means of raising awareness about sustainability. Problems and breakdowns could be simulated to assess whether people know what to do M.2



To ensure that users are involved in the design and siting of WASH facilities and take responsibility for their use and maintenance.


  • Although urgent construction of emergency WASH facilities may be required (P.2, P.3 and P.4), speed and coverage are not acceptable excuses for omitting user engagement: it is always possible to speak to at least some community members and it is important to remain open to modifying designs as time goes on. 

  • Discuss and identify strategies for the management of facilities with the users as early as possible.

  • Incorporate design modifications that make facilities easy and pleasant to use, where possible.

  • Lack of community ownership should not be used as an excuse by authorities or agencies for the poor functioning of facilities. Use and maintenance can be promoted through sustained community engagement and support. 

  • Community management may not always be an effective solution. Providers should be realistic about what level of maintenance (especially for more complex systems) is feasible, particularly following only short training sessions.


Information sheet on WASH committees

Oxfam (2009): Public Health Briefing Paper: Working with Community Committees

Overview of operation and maintenance in emergencies with further reading and web links

SSWM (undated): Ensuring Appropriate Operation and Maintenance Services

Training manual on community management

Castro, V., Msuya, N. et al. (2009): Sustainable Community Management of Urban Water and Sanitation Schemes. A Training Manual, WSP World Bank

Research into community ownership

Ambuehl, B., Tomberge, V. et al. (2021): The Role of Psychological Ownership in Safe Water Management: A Mixed- Methods Study in Nepal, Water 2021, 13(5), 589

Contzen, N., Marks, S. (2018): Increasing the Regular Use of Safe Water Kiosk Through Collective Psychological Ownership: A Mediation Analysis, Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol. 57. Pages 45–52

ELRHA (undated): Psychological Ownership and Handwashing-Device Functionality During the Covid-19 Crisis

Involvement of communities in design of facilities

Oxfam (2018): Sani Tweaks. Best Practices in Sanitation