Definition: Self-supply refers to an approach of incremental improvements to water supplies that are mainly financed by the users themselves (Source: Wikipedia entry on Self-supply)

If you wonder what self-supply implies and what it doesn’t or the difference between self-supply and supported self-supply, have a look at this introduction to self-supply

How big is Self-supply?

Self-supply has been going on for millennia, as people always needed to have some sort of water supply, even before government, companies or NGOs existed. Today, Self-supply is particularly widespread in South Asia (in countries like India and Bangladesh, millions of people have provided themselves with handpumps) and in the region of the former Soviet Union/Eastern Europe, where the collapse of many governmental entities meant that people had to provide water by themselves. In countries like Romania, Moldova and Ukraine, between 35 and 57% of the population depend on Self-supply (see Even in countries like the United States, around 13% of the population relies on individual supplies in 2015 (equivalent to 42.5 million people,

In spite of the size of the effect, there are very few numbers on the size of the phenomena. Some information is provided in the articles mentioned below.

What does Self-supply imply?

Under a Self-supply approach, the users are in charge for choosing the technology they want, the service level they want, and the provider of these products and services they want. This implies that these products and services will not be planned for at central, regional or municipal level. Self-supply (and Supported Self-supply) also mean that subsidies are not the key of an intervention (but may be used for market facilitation, for information dissemination, for promotion, etc.).

What does it NOT imply?

Supported Self-supply does not imply that the government has no role to play or that the poor are left by themselves. Key roles of government under a Supported Self-supply approach are standardization and regulation, capacity building and promotion, but can also entail targeted subsidies or other forms of supporting the provision of services. However, to the contrary to other approaches, under a Self-supply approach government is not actively involved in the drilling of boreholes– this is left to local private sector actors (typically small and medium enterprises, or in contracting such services- this is left to the users themselves.

Supported Self-supply also does not refer to a specific technology – in theory, any technology or product can be promoted under a Self-supply approach. For practical reasons, the technologies which require lower up-front investments and which are easier to repair will be more successful on the market, but Self-supply is not limited to low-cost technologies. In fact, a dynamic development currently can be observed in urban areas of large African cities where private households invest substantial amounts of money in solar panels and electric pumps in order to access groundwater on site – this also is Self-supply (but not Supported Self-supply, as no external actor supports this development).

Self-supply vs. Supported Self-supply

Whereas Self-supply is a service provision approach purely driven by market actors (e.g. soft drinks, cellular phones, etc.), Supported Self-supply is an approach where external support is provided – by a philanthropic organization (donor) or a government organization (local or external). For example, a government agency can set up training centre and subsidize training courses in order to build up capacities in manual drilling. The trained people will then offer their services to clients in local markets and thus facilitate better access to water.

What are examples of Self-supply at scale?

Examples of Supported Self-supply initiatives at scale are:

Self-supply exists in almost all countries around the world and in specific times and areas can be the dominant form of service provision. Nevertheless, information on this approach typically is scattered and hard to find – mostly due to the passive role of government and the lack of reporting/monitoring mechanisms.


Why is Self-supply relevant?

Whereas there has been significant progress over the past few decades in providing billions of people with access to water, this progress has been particularly slow in the least developed countries. Within each country, progress has been slower in rural than in urban areas, and the more progress is made, the more difficult it becomes. According to the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030 all people need to have access to sustainably managed water services. Particularly for people living in remote and sparsely populated areas the SDGs cannot be achieved without Self-supply. At the same time, by supporting Self-supply, progress can be achieved in several other SDGs, not only SDG 6 (water), but also in reducing poverty, increasing food-security and productivity, among others.

 What’s RWSN role regarding Self-supply?

RWSN’s Self-supply theme looks into past and on-going processes of Self-supply and Supported Self-supply, with the goal of analysing and documenting them. It is essential that efforts by water users themselves to improve their water supplies are better understood and acknowledged, so that this approach can be strengthened and applied where most appropriate. Moreover, RWSN aims to establish Supported Self-supply as a recognised service delivery option for rural water supplies by government agencies, development and implementing partners and water users, and it wants to foster its application where appropriate.

In its strategy 2018-2023, RWSN defined the following two objectives for the Self-supply theme:

1) The potential and limitations of Supported Self-supply as a service delivery approach for rural water supply is understood and recognized by government agencies, development partners, water users and other key actors.

2) The approach of Supported Self-supply is applied where appropriate. 

The strategy also set Theme topics:

  • Monitoring, regulation and support of Self-supply;
  • Capacity building of providers and vocational training;
  • Harnessing the rain

 Where to go next:

Key Publications

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