The most common water points that you can find here in Thyolo include AfriDev and Malda handpumps, taps connected to Gravity Fed Schemes (GFS), and shallow wells. It is the responsibility of the District Water Office to manage these water points and water point committees, oversee repairs and installations, and act as a consultant for donors and organizations siting new water points and rehabilitating old ones. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, it can be pretty difficult for the water office to actually carry out some of these tasks.
In development water infrastructure has often been looked at from an engineering perspective, design and build, instead of as a sustainable service. In 2006, an $11.9 million dollar CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) funded project called COMWASH was completed in Thyolo. The goal of the project was to implement sustainable water, sanitation and health programs within the District. This included the construction of the four major gravity fed schemes that currently exist in Thyolo. COMWASH concluded in their final report that one of their key challenges in the project was the complexity of the GFS’s which subsequently was a challenge when organizing Water Point Committees in communities to manage the schemes once COMWASH left. The project also failed to engage the District Assembly in any substantial capacity building and had difficulty raising funds to cover the operation and maintenance costs of the GFS’s. The result of this project is that some of the GFS committees have fallen apart and the 107 tap scheme named Didi has not been functional for over a year. In fact, since January the functionality of all 4 GFS’s has never been higher than 50%.
Poorly managed and communicated projects seem to be the norm here in Thyolo. Donors are supposed to consult the water office before drilling any new water points, however a conversation with my co-worker the other day revealed that some donors fail to even notify the water office that they are constructing a new borehole, much less consult them on where new water points should go. The water office only discovers these boreholes have been drilled when they are later contacted about setting up a Water Point Committee or when the water point breaks. The Ministry has even drilled new water points without notifying the water office. They simply took instructions from an MP on where the MP wanted new infrastructure to go.
This is another serious problem within Districts in Malawi. MP’s can dictate where boreholes will go; they often promise new water points to communities as a way to get votes. The same communities are serviced over and over again while other communities are consistently passed over. Some communities will refuse to pay for a new water point because they believe that water is coming from their MP for free. It is policy in Malawi that donors who are funding new water points also fund Community Based Management (CBM) as well. This involves training for community members on the operation and maintenance of the water point and sets each community up with a treasurer responsible for collecting a monthly sum from each household to be used for maintenance and repairs of the water point. In some cases CBM training is not done at all or is done very poorly. I recently visited a borehole that had been broken for a about a year, it was only installed a year ago and worked for only one week.
To make a long story short, the district water office has a hard time keeping track of what is going on in Thyolo. Pair this lack of communication with an under resourced and underfunded water office and it’s easier to understand why unequal distribution and non-functionality is so prevalent in Malawi. This is why I am spending my semester here in Thyolo; the hope that I can help enable the district to coordinate, get their data in order, and use it make evidence based decisions when it comes to water infrastructure in Thyolo.
The water monitoring system that I am helping implement at the District is one that is both simple and effective. The concept of water monitoring is not new to development, however past systems have often involved GPS’s and complex software that is not within the computer skills of most water officers. The system EWB uses is a simple excel database that stores the number of functional and non-functional water points by village, group village, and traditional authority (these are just further divisions of the district). This information is then automatically entered into a simple pivot table that can show the water coverage rate and functionality rate by TA, GVH, and village. The really exciting part is that the program also generates a map of the district indicating areas with good and poor water coverage.
The information for this database is collected by Health Surveillance Assistants (HSA). Health is significantly more funded then water and has dozens of HSA’s who are already regularly visiting villages and collecting information on water and sanitation. Since Health is also interested in this information, the health office is usually willing to collect additional data on water points. Having this information allows the district to be able to make informed and strategic decisions when siting and rehabilitating boreholes and when working with MP’s and donors. It’s pretty exciting!
Anyways, that’s what I’m doing here in Thyolo; working to increase the coordination between the different areas of the district by getting everyone to work together on this new Water Point Monitoring System. Let’s hope it works! I’d love to know your thoughts, questions and advice. Also thanks for the questions on my last post; I have just made a note of them and should get back to you soon!