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FEATURE STORY July 13, 2020

Partnerships for Progress: Working with Communities in Sri Lanka to Provide Water and Sanitation


World Bank


  • Despite recent progress, too many people in Sri Lanka are at risk of being left behind due to a lack of access to water and sanitation.
  • That’s why the Water Supply and Sanitation Improvement Project (WaSSIP) aims to extend access and improve hygiene behavior for nearly 700,000 people.
  • Community Based Organizations have been key partners every step of the way.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has reinforced the need for safe drinking water, the benefits of sanitation and the importance of good hygiene behaviors at all times. Even in countries that have already made great strides in these areas, providing treated piped water and extending safely managed sanitation to every household is more vital now than ever.  

That’s why Sri Lanka’s Water Supply and Sanitation Improvement Project (WaSSIP) works to extend access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and improved hygiene behavior for nearly 700,000 people in urban, rural and estate areas in seven districts in Sri Lanka. It aims to reach those in danger of being left out of the progress made in recent years and potentially being left even further behind by the pandemic’s devastating impacts. 

WaSSIP is Sri Lanka’s third project financed by the World Bank since 1998 to provide drinking water and sanitation. It finances new water supply systems, rehabilitation of existing water supply systems, toilets for households and schools, and septage treatment plants. 

Community Based Organizations (CBOs) play a key role in delivering this project. In Sri Lanka, the World Bank has worked with CBOs for decades and this experience has shown that when given access to information, and appropriate technical and financial support, CBOs can effectively deliver basic services.

To ensure sustainability, local CBOs are trained to operate and maintain the water supply systems. Each household agrees to pay a tariff that ensures that operation, maintenance and replacement costs can be covered. This allows repairs to be made as soon as something goes wrong.   

A database is being developed that shows all the rural water supply systems in the country. This database allows the Department of National Community Water Supply to track the performance of CBOs and provide CBOs with the information and support that they need. A 24-hour call center has been established, where anyone can call or text for advice or to lodge a complaint for CBO-managed water supply systems.

As a trusted part of the social fabric, CBOs are well-equipped to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic even in remote areas. The residents of Rideepana – a small village located in a highland area – were under curfew with limited ability to travel. It was a tough situation - “financially and practically, with no water to consume on certain days,” as one resident put it. However, due to the collaborative work between CBOs, the authorities and a nearby water plant, these villagers can now access clean water with which to wash their hands. 

Elsewhere in Sri Lanka, a CBO that oversees a water plant funded through WaSSIP is providing water to households with motors in the areas of Polgahapitiya and Raththandeniya. This was initiated at the request of the District Secretariat for these areas to help minimize the gathering of crowds. Not only has it helped to flatten the potential curve, it has also instilled good sanitary practices amongst the community.


World Bank

Changing behaviors to encourage improved hygiene practices is a key element of this project. Around 900 hygiene awareness trainings been conducted so far. Over 100,000 people have attended - 64% of them female in rural areas and 80% of them female in estate areas. Messages have been specifically developed and targeted to encourage different types of behaviors. Resources have been provided in local languages to ensure their relevance and effectiveness. And hygiene programs have been rolled out in schools so young people can share what they learned with their friends and families.  

Eight schools have also been provided with improved sanitation facilities, including menstrual hygiene facilities – the first from a World Bank-funded project in Sri Lanka. Being able to manage their menstruation safely, hygienically, and with confidence and dignity is critical not just for girls’ health and education, but also for economic development and overall gender equality.

As of June 2020, WaSSIP has:

  • Completed 42 new rural water supply schemes benefiting 13,538 households (with another 51 under construction)

  • Completed seven plantation water supply schemes connecting 2493 households (with another seven under construction)

  • Completed 93 system rehabilitations 

  • Completed 13,362 individual toilets (with another 10,119 under construction)

From its inception in 2015 to its closing, WaSSIP will ultimately benefit nearly three-quarters of a million people across the seven districts, including Menaka from Nartakande in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Menaka is from a family of five, all of whom have suffered from lack of access to clean water. The basic washing and cleaning necessities of her family previously meant an arduous 500-meter walk to collect water. However, thanks a new water plant – funded by the World Bank and operated through a CBO - Menaka and her family now have access to clean water to drink, bathe and keep their household clean. 

The project demonstrates a successful model of service delivery that can be continued to deliver universal access to water supply and sanitation for Sri Lanka and showcases the importance of partnerships with community organizations.