My first work trip was this past April to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I had two main things I did while I was there. One: had the media launch event of the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) program that is working in 7 rural woredas (districts) in Ethiopia. This is the main work of our office and is funded by The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation. It is an initiative to reach 2 million people in Africa with access to clean water by 2015. Two: attended the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre’s (IRC) Monitoring Sustainable WASH Service Delivery Symposium.
As Nico Terra, Director of IRC, said in his welcome note, “there is evident momentum for monitoring in the WASH sector, and a general willingness to improve it. But how and where do we start?” and we must make sure that data isn’t collected just to be collected. There must be an intention for collecting the data and a vision for improvement due to findings.
There are more people in this world that have cellphones than have access to improved sanitation. This seems like a monumental opportunity because of the sheer number of potential data collectors. Many WASH organizations are rushing to monopolize on this apparent capacity. So many people have mobile phones. What if they used their mobile phones to report on the functionality of a water or sanitation system? Akvo FLOW uses this methodology. charity: water just received a sizeable grant from Google to enhance their remote monitoring. Remote monitoring means that they will be able to see, in real-time, often from halfway around the world, how much water is flowing from their handpumps. The organization Grunfos also has done interesting work in this arena.
So, the problem is getting solved, right? We know where to start. We have fantastic technologies and enough users to monitor that have cellphones. We should be able to know exactly what happens once we have installed a handpump in a rural village in Ethiopia. A community member can text a monitoring system when the handpump is not working.
Then comes the next issue. What will we do when we see failures? There is so much need in this area with over 750 million people without access to clean water and 2.5 billion people without access to an improved toilet. There is so much work to do! Partly because of this, donors are somewhat resistant to go back to the same area. Once you put in a handpump, the community is set, right?
There has been great work done by WASHCost project of IRC in this regard. The WASHCost Calculator was released in Beta testing just this week. Watch Nick Dickinson from IRC and two Water for People staff talk about the calculator and other financial tools for sustainable service delivery. The calculator, once you input data about local context, technology and quality information, will give a report of the true cost it will take to install and maintain that give water system. There is also a WASH Cost Sanitation calculator. This tool maps out the costs over time that a water system needs for maintenance in order to provide continuing services. I’m very excited about the potential of this tool and it has been neat to test it in Beta.
This was another big takeaway from the Symposium. It is not just about providing access to clean water. This is not to say that it isn’t amazing when a village receives water for the first time, because it is amazing and it is a large part of why I work in this field. I just think we have a tendency to be blinded by the glamor of providing first-time access. It is about sustainable service delivery that will be provided for years. It is not about a pump breaking down a year after installation because the NGO that installed it didn’t make sure the water committee in charge of its maintenance had access to a spare parts supply or the funds to pay for said parts.