“Your challenges are our challenges”, reflections from Oklahoma, USA

Today I write from Oklahoma, USA, having just come to the end of the two and a half day University of Oklahoma 4th biennial WaTER Conference.  I had the honour of being one of the keynote speakers at this event, which was attended by over 170 people from 27 countries. It has been an extremely worthwhile experience on many fronts.

There is a growing interest in water supply and sanitation in “developing nations” in the USA.  The Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act 2005 seems be one of the catalysts for this change.  Over the past week I have engaged with numerous undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Oklahoma, Emory University, Mercer University and other US institutions. They are learning about the realities of millions without adequate water supply or sanitation as well as undertaking research. These students want to make a difference.

I was particularly touched by the opening speech of Dr Jim Chamberlain who reflected on the realities today in the USA, where there are people without adequate water supply.”your challenges are our challenges” he observed. He went on to mention common water quality and resource issues between here and other parts of the world.   And he was talking about Oklahoma today – a city that is expanding beyond the reach of its piped water supply network. I have learned about people in this State and more widely in the USA who are not connected to a piped water supply or sewerage system. They mostly rely on their own private boreholes, some hand dug wells, and septic tanks. What was particularly surprising though is that as in Lagos, Lusaka or Kampala, up-to-date statistics on the numbers of wells and population depending on them are lacking.  And private well regulation, including water quality testing falls between the cracks and is beyond the current remit of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

My keynote was entitled Sustainable Groundwater Development in Africa: More than Engineering. I tried to present an overview of some of the groundwater development opportunities and challenges of the African continent. The presentation was well received, in particular reflections on the diversity of the African continent, both above and below ground, as well as the size of Africa. Few people are aware that Africa is larger than the USA and China and a considerable part of Europe put together.

Dr David Sabatini of the Water and Technologies for Emerging Regions (WaTER) Centre asked all presenters to be mindful of a very broad audience, from anthropologists to engineers, from first year undergraduates to seasoned experts.  I tried my best, also aware that there would be people in the audience who had never been to Africa in their lives, alongside scholars and professionals from the continent.  And so we journeyed together from the phenomenal expansion of manual drilling in Nigeria and elsewhere, to the challenges of trying to escape poverty with irrigated agriculture to geology (including the continent’s mineral resources and resource curse), then onto hydrogeology, urban groundwater and finally a vision for future policy and implementation.

As a keynote speaker it was rather humbling to present the fact that the first continental estimates of the quantity of groundwater resources in African were only published three years ago; and to explain that very few African countries have good quality hydrogeological maps and studies. Having worked in rural water supply for seventeen years now, I scratch my head to find defendable reasons for the lack of organised and reliable drilling logs and groundwater data despite decades of development projects from the water decade through the MDGs.

However, I was relieved to present the work supported by UNICEF, WSP, UKAid and USAID over the past ten years to provide guidance for drilling in the form of documents and films; to share that UNICEF, together with WaterAid and Skat has an ongoing collaboration to try and raise the professionalism of both manual and mechanised drilling. And of course to recommend the ongoing UK-funded research to enable sustainable use of groundwater for the benefit of the poor – UPGro.

Undergraduate students ask very pertinent questions. The frankness of potential newcomers to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Water Resources sector is very refreshing and I hope that they will join in solving some of the problems that those of us who have been around a bit longer are struggling with. But to do that, they need to be able to work in this field. Care’s Peter Lochery and winner of the 2015 University of Oklahoma Water Prize, talked of the importance of being a connector, rather than a leader. And so I close this blog with some questions.

How can better connections be made? What can we all do to enable new talent, whether from the USA, Nigeria, or anywhere else, to flow into the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Water Resources sector? Who can offer internships? What about apprenticeships or first jobs?  Where are the jobs? If we are to reach the Sustainable Development Goal targets for water supply we need an awful lot more skilled people – whether entrepreneurs, field staff, project managers or academics.  And we have to find ways of bringing them in to join us!  Do you have any tangible ideas? Or any offers for that matter?

Author: Kerstin Danert

Skat, Switzerland and Director of the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) Secretariat

One thought on ““Your challenges are our challenges”, reflections from Oklahoma, USA”

  1. Dear manufacturer,

    I am a representative of a French humanitarian association called Salsabil, and our main purpose is to build water wells mainly in African countries.

    Currently, we’re interested in purchasing hand water pumps with the following model reference:

    “India Mark II”. Here is the exact product description that we need: India Mark II (pump body weight: approximately 42 kg) (complete set), Deep well Hand Pump, Hot Dip Galvanized, complete set with head assembly, water tank, normal three leg stand assembly. With cast iron, brass sleeved cylinder, assembly complete with check valve and plunger rod. With 10 nos. of mild steel electroplated connecting rod (12 mm*3 meters each, (+10/-0mm). With 10 nos. 32 mm GI riser pipes, to be used as rising main for India (length 3 mtr+0/-25)

    Could you please provide us a final price quotation for 150 complete hand pumps sets (1 container), of the same pump model as quoted above, with all taxes (such as the GST 5 %) and freight fees to the Port of Cotonou (Benin/ West Africa) included.

    Dear Forum Members ,

    Above is one of the inquiry we recently received for India Mark-II hand Pumps from the French humanitarian association called Salsabil. If you go through the specification they sent, you will notice that they are requesting for IM-II Hand Pump with Pump Body Weight approximately 42 .000 Kgs, which we assume, that is quoted by some suppliers from India. It is not clear whether the weight of 42 .000 kgs mentioned is inclusive of the weight of Cast Iron Cylinder .

    As per the standard weight of IM-II Pump Body should be as given below . 5% tolerance is allowed on the same:

    India Mark-II Head Assembly with Handle – 25.000 Kgs

    India Mark-II Water Tank – 7.900 Kgs

    India Mark-II Three Leg Pedestal – 18.000 Kgs

    Cast Iron Cylinder Assembly – 8.000 kgs

    So the total Weight of the Pump Body excluding Cast Iron Cylinder should be 50.900 Kgs and including Cast Iron Cylinder , its should be 58.900 kgs as per the Standard. After giving the 5% tolerance allowed the weight should be at least 48.355 kgs & 55.955 kgs . So the IM-II Hand Pump offered to the French humanitarian association is 6.355 kgs / 13.955 kgs less compared to the weight as per standard.

    Apart from that they are charged 5% GST on the Hand Pumps , which should not be charged at all, as the Exporter gets refund of the same from the Government of India after the shipment.

    Mostly all of the NGO’s working in water and sanitation looks only for the prices quoted by different suppliers and finally buy from the supplier who quoted the lowest price. But they are not aware of the fact that the Hand Pumps offered to them is substandard and is not as per the standard. This may be one of the main reason for the large quantities of broken hand pumps in African Countries .

    So it’s high time that RWSN Forum should take initiative to educate the Organizations/ Government Bodies involved in the Water & Sanitation projects about these kind of malpractices by the hand pump suppliers to reduce the number of broken hand pumps in various African countries.

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