The volunteer organization becomes a professional NGO.

The 70’s – a fresh commitment
Protos was founded in 1976 by a number of young graduates from the universities of Ghent and Leuven, together with a Maecenas-industrial from the Ghent area. In October 1977, the organisation was officially recognized as an NGO, and as such received government aid for the first projects. In the beginning, Protos was only active in Haiti. From 1982 on, Protos also became active in DR Congo, and soon after in Burundi. Until 1986, the secretarial work and the technical support were carried out exclusively by volunteering co-workers and directors.

Haïti was the first country where Protos had a project © Peter Béatse

The beginning of the 80’s – a first project in Haiti
In 1982 Protos took on a first important potable water project, concerning the water supply of the provincial capital Hinche in Haiti. In 1985, as soon as the new water pipes were finished, they were taken over by the civil service (SNEP). None of the incomes generated from the subscriptions (about 3,000 €/month) were invested in maintenance, and only a few years later the first problems started to rise. Protos learnt its lesson.

Mid 80’s – you don’t drink water by yourself
From 1985 on the users themselves were involved more closely with the construction and management of the water systems. More attention was paid to awareness raising, and to the organisation of water committees, that themselves were responsible for the management of the water pipes. This was considered a necessity to keep the water supplies functioning, and a contribution to the strengthening of basic organisations as a building stone for local development and emancipation. At the same time, similar participatory potable water projects were started up in Haiti’s Central Plateau, and in North-Eastern Congo.

The beginning of the 90’s – a global approach
In the beginning of the 90’s there was a growing awareness that this basic work was insufficient to guarantee sustainable water supplies, let alone to get started an autonomous development process.
Emphasis was put on three new key elements:

  • Building and strengthening of local expertise to better enable local NGO’s and local authorities to plan and implement their own participatory drinking-water programmes.
  • Working on regional planning and management structures to respond better to the immense needs. Also, the regional management structures could somewhat help out the young and vulnerable drinking-water committees.
  • Influencing policy and networking to brush up the potable water and sanitation policies of the national governments, and of the international finance organisations. Thereby Protos promoted/(s) participation, a greater local and international solidarity, and sustainability.

Together with the change in approach, there was an expansion of the field of action: first to Rwanda and Burundi (1993), later to Benin (1994), Mali (1995), Ecuador (1997) and Uganda (2000). At the beginning of 2006, finally, Protos got started in Madagascar.

From 2000 onwards –succeeding in water?
In recent years, Protos has expanded substantially. Its actions are more and more considered to be levers for sustainable social, economic, and structural changes. Thereby three elements are of vital importance: the global context of the water issue, the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management, and good local government.

The water issue in the South is placed within its global context. It is impossible to realise the right to water for everyone without revising the economic and power relationships between the North and the South. Besides, an inequitable distribution of water is increasingly becoming a source of local, regional and international conflicts.

Together with the other local actors, in the specific zones of intervention or water basins Protos now applies the Integrated Water Resources Management strategy, a coordinated management of water, land and natural resources. This strategy aims at improving economic and social well being in an equitable way, without threatening the environment and future generations. It also allows local actors to work on their development more systematically and in unity.

Good local governance is essential to a sustainable water management, and to the construction of a strong democracy. Nowadays more and more countries are realising the process of decentralisation. Thereby the powers with regard to water supplies and water management are transferred from the central to the local level. Protos goes along with this. Together with all parties, it searches for a good role distribution, for strengthening capacities, and for relationship building between local authorities, organised users of water, governmental services, and the local private sector.

Through action-research Protos identifies with its partners the most appropriate management structures, taking into account the local context. The ultimate goal is to achieve proper local governance, starting from the water issue and achieving good governance at all administrative levels.