Village Aid Project - Engineers Without Borders

Commitment to Sustainability

EWB Sustainability


  • Participatory Development: you can't give a community a water system and expect it to last. Think about it. All of us most value things when we are making decisions about it and working hard to attain it. We work with a community to help them develop a water system. They make decisions, provide the labor and manage the system. We facilliate by providing technical and financial assistance.
  • Capacity Building: building the capacity within a community to understand, finance, implement, manage, maintain, and utilize a system
  • Appropriate Technology: finding technical solutions that fit a community's ability to implement, utilize, operate and maintain a system
  • Socio-Cultural Compatibility: considering how traditions, beliefs, experiences, and community structures impact a system
  • Holistic Development: considering the "whole" of a community and not just one component; water, sanitation, health, education, economy

Doing things right takes time. We make a five year commitment to each community.

Implementing sustainable projects is perhaps the most difficult task we face. Working within the framework of these guiding principles, we are continually developing our approach to achieving this goal. Here are some actions we have implemented falling under each principle:


  • Providing education for all community members about all phases of the project ... development, construction and long term management, operation and maintenance
  • Mentoring the development of an active water committee
  • Participatory planning and design - villagers are actively involved in all aspects of project development
  • Technical training on operation and maintenance
  • Emphasis on community ownership


  • Cultural and religious beliefs take precedence over technical expedience
  • People will do or use what they are used to
  • Traditional practices frequently have practical value
  • Changing tradition is a slow process, rapid change can cause problems
  • Communities must do the work of "committees" in their traditional fashion


  • Lahu hill tribe: Animist belief holds that mixing the waters from two unconnected streams might upset the spirits of the steams. We only used one of the sources.
  • Lahu and Aka hill tribes: We compromised on building two systems instead of one because communities don't completely trust their neighbors
  • Hmong hill tribe: No experience with toilets makes latrine implementation a very careful and slow process. The best solution may be to do nothing.


  • Phased implementation of sanitation projects gives villagers time to adjust
  • If it is not absolutely necessary don't use it
  • Gravity fed water systems are as simple as it gets
  • Simplicity over performance

All training and education is repeated each year. In addition, it is important to strategically target all age groups, men, and women with specific messages that pertain to their rolls in the community.


  1. Five year commitment to each community
  2. Community agreement to sustainability principles
  3. Community buy-in through required cost sharing
  4. Water committee formation and a pledge of community support
  5. Required commitment to paying monthly user fees
  6. Participatory planning and design
  7. Community leadership during construction
  8. Water committee training
  9. Water system management, operation, and maintenance plan
  10. Continuous education