Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Lessons learnt from government implementation of One Million Water Tanks

Leo Tambussi

Leo shares his learning from the session 'Bridging the Gender Gap in Water Resource Management'.



'Bridging the Gender Gap in Water Resource Management' was a side event hosted at Rio+20 on 18th June 2102. As gender equality and women’s empowerment goals are part of the cornerstones of the four Dublin Principles (1992), the UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992), the 2000 Millennium Development Summit and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

Principle 3 states: “Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water” 

This event was aimed at influencing negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as to contribute to the agenda on Sustainable Development in general.


One of the country case-studies presented at the sessions was Brazil. It demonstrated how an apparently successful project could end up being wasted in practice. The project, called One Million Water Tanks was developed by local communities with the support of NGOs. It was designed to provide water to 5 million people, as well as to build 1 million water tanks by making use of a methodology-based framework on the empowerment of female family-heads. This project was eventually incorporated by the Brazilian government and renamed as Water for All.


However, such promising ideas resulted in a lot of pressure being exerted by the government in achieving results. This in turn, led onto the beginning of the end of a promising idea. The problem was that the proposed government timings, considered to be reasonable in meeting its targets, are not the same as the timeframes required by local communities to adapt to processes and achieve the results intended by government.


The government-led programme aimed at the construction of 750,000 water tanks by the year 2013, based on the same female-led family methodology as the initial NGO supported programme. The problems that derived from this swift management of the project (from NGO-supported to government-led) not only increased pressure to achieve results, but also questioned the ability to replicate the project elsewhere. Whereas on the one hand, governmental anxiety with the production of results was increased by the fact that there was no sufficient information available to assess and measure the impact and results of the project; on the other hand replicability was undermined by the fact that female bread winners who received training did not manage to gain the capacity to involve other women, which meant the project thus lost continuity. Also, the long-lasting relationships and alliances between NGOs and local communities were strengthened over time and governments tend to not understand the need for time to build relationships.


To conclude, replicating projects through government may face unexpected challenges due to the pressures governments face to achieve results. However, it is remains important to find ways to include civil society  experience in public works. In spite of this being a challenge, this knowledge transfer would be very fruitful.

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