Article published in The Kyiv Weekly, 24/05/2012
Back in 2008-09, the 1057-soul village of Yerkivtsi, at some 70 kilometers from Kyiv, faced a crucial paralysis because of the break-down of several parts of its water pipe network. A few years later, water flows again to homes and with it, community life has come back to the village
Walking at an enthusiastic pace, Kateryna Kondatenko and Olha Shchula head towards a house in the center of the village. Children play outside while the father waters his kitchen garden. Once inside, the man is keen on showing that water floods from every tap in the house. «Life has been quite complicated as we have been deprived of water supply for several months. But now, everything has come back to normal and we have running water. We get it from a very clean spring, so it´s even drinkable, like it used to be», Kateryna Kondatenko explainsBack in 2008-09, the 1057-soul village of Yerkivtsi, at some 70 kilometers from Kyiv, faced a crucial paralysis because of the break-down of several parts of its water pipe network. A few years later, water flows again to homes and with it, community life has come back to the village.
Such a comfort may appear as a dream luxury to many in Ukraine, as the country has been facing a serious degradation of its state-run services. Sergiy Volkov is Senior Programme Manager at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). As he explains, «due to economic shortages of the last years of USSR and first years of independent Ukraine, the infrastructure of the water distribution system was not duly maintained. That led to the current huge losses in the transmission system. The same goes for electricity, heating and hot water. Most of the settlements in Ukraine don´t have centrally-provided heating in winter. Back in the USSR, this would not have been thinkable».
The inhabitants of Yerkivtsi have been victims of this gradual downfall. In spring 2008, several parts of the village´s 30 year-old water pipe network break down and start leaking significantly, which leaves dozens of homes without water. Given the circumstances and the impotence of local authorities, residents have to seize their own fate. They organize as a community association «Vira-2008» made of 67 volunteers, divide responsibilities and competences among themselves and apply for funding to a UNDP/EU Community-Based Approach project (CBA).
CBA projects make the empowering of a local community a priority. «Community members have to identify their own needs and working methods, instead of waiting for solutions to come from the top», the UNDP Country Director in Ukraine, Ricarda Rieger, details. «Basically, they have to present their own project and come up with their own resources and we match it with 50%. Generally speaking, I can say that people are very happy because they see something happening and they see it is the result of their own actions».
«Vira-2008» wins the bid for two CBA micro-projects in summer 2008. Altogether, about UAH 301,000 are invested in the repair of the water supply system. The community organization contributes 5.7%, the local authorities 51.6% and the CBA 42.7%. Thanks to this money, they manage to replace old copper and concrete pipes by modern plastic ones. Only 3 kilometers out of a 33-kilometer long network can be fixed, but water supply is officially reestablished in December 2009.
«This is our work», declares proudly Olha Shchula as she exhibits pictures of the implementation of the project. «This was a very exciting time for us, as we learned to do something for ourselves. So now, we do not want to stop. Before 2008, we were doing some things with each other. But we became much more active and organized since, as we developed a team spirit and got closer to each other. Our association is now a platform where all issues are discussed». On the wall of the conference room of the city council, two lists on white boards display both the completed and planned projects. The range of ideas covers all aspects of local life, such as improving gas supply, replacing old windows with energy-efficient ones, installing central heating in the city library, dispatching trash bins across the village, renovating and expanding the WWII memorial, supporting local artists, etc.
Funding is scarce but community members have learned how to deal with fund-raising. «The CBA money has helped us a lot but now we constantly have to look for new sources of financial support. Local authorities, international investors or local entrepreneurs: we try to sell our projects to everyone!» Kateryna Kondatenko explains with a confident smile. First results attract supports, as they are encouraging for the community in terms of both efficiency and transparency. «Potential investors trust the local actors. On such a small scale, the risks of corruption or embezzlement are quasi-impossible: it would be like stealing from yourself», UNDP Communication Officer Yevgeniy Zelenko estimates.
In Yerkivtsi, the fixing of a few water pipes has initiated a much broader dynamics and reorganized the local community life. Every new project is discussed in village gatherings. Almost three years after the completion of the first CBA project, the enthusiasm has not faltered yet. Kateryna Kondatenko considers it the most important impact of all. «We spend a lot of time at the community center. We do not live only for ourselves but for each other, to improve each others´ lives. That is why our heart is warmer and that we trust in the future.»