Integrity risks in professional borehole drilling: preventing corruption paves the way to sustainable infrastructure

This is a guest RWSN blog by Justine Haag and Marian Ryan of the Water Integrity Network. 

Integrity risks can be high in professional borehole drilling projects, particularly the risk of corruption, but too often such risks are brushed over or not even acknowledged. Some of these risks have been discussed in previous blog posts. This blog discusses in more detail some of the reasons underlying the importance of addressing corruption in professional borehole drilling.

Corruption contributes to poor delivery of groundwater development projects and is a factor of the failure of  15–30% of newly built wells within one year of construction (UNICEF/Skat 2016).

The good news is that by acknowledging and addressing integrity risks from the earliest project stages, WASH managers in both government and NGOs can take steps to prevent these risks and ensure sustainable infrastructure.

Let’s be real: corruption adds up

Across the world, a great deal of money goes into the drilling of boreholes, At the local level, while it might appear at first glance that the money lost to corruption on small borehole drilling projects in rural or remote locations is limited, even insignificant, the impacts are certainly not. Corruption results not only in wasted money, but, all too often, in sub-standard delivery of projects. This, in turn, results in downstream social, economic and environmental impacts.

From a purely financial perspective, corruption in groundwater development projects may result in inflated costs which undermine the financial sustainability of the project. Equally, corruption in decision-making processes may result in technical choices that ignore community needs, disregarding the local socio-cultural or economic context.

It may also mean that already-limited funds are not used where they are most needed. In many cases corruption means those with power and influence can pay to get improved services, while the most vulnerable are left behind.

When local users don’t see the promised results or services from their duty bearers, mistrust may grow. This can complicate other interventions in the water and sanitation sectors. Poor service delivery may also mean that communities resort to informal systems which may offer lesser guarantees in terms of quality and safety.

Corruption in borehole drilling projects also undermines health and security. Private operators who benefit from favoritism may not be subject to regulations and oversight, resulting in poor-functioning and ultimately decaying, unsustainable infrastructure and water systems.

Ultimately, corruption can threaten food, water, and energy security, greatly impacting the poorest residents.

All project phases are vulnerable to corruption

Corruption can take place at a number of points in the project lifecycle.

The tendering process is well known for posing a high risk of corruption: project owners may demand or receive bribes for awarding bids. They may exclude bids for spurious reasons in order to favour particular bidders. Bidders may organize as cartels, manipulate prices, or block smaller bidders through intimidation. A previous blog post examined how these practices serve to deter experienced professional consultants and drilling contractors from the bidding process, threatening the quality and sustainability of project infrastructure.

But corruption risks exist throughout the project life-cycle:

  • Regulatory environment: Corruption can weaken the rules of the tendering process, and weaken sanctions for misconduct. Corruption in licensing can also improperly restrict who can drill and where. Corruption can also result in biases in who water is allocated to.
  • Planning: Corruption at the planning level may result in services being provided to certain groups and not to others.
  • Financial management: Corruption here can take the shape of falsified accounts in local budgets, or funds which are embezzled or allocated to “ghost” drilling sites or the villages of family or friends.
  • Project design: Corruption in project design can take the form of design specifications being rigged to favor certain companies, such as those with higher-capacity rigs.
  • Construction: Corruption in the construction phase can result in poor-quality work and/or the use of poor quality materials, the bribing of officials to ignore it, and fraudulent invoicing and documentation.
  • Post-construction: the post-construction operation and maintenance phase is critical in the delivery of sustainable and effective services. Corruption in the operation and maintenance of groundwater systems can, for example, include nepotism in the appointment of staff, and the appointment of poorly qualified consultants and contractors. Lack of community input into the well’s operation can allow such corruption to flourish.

Promoting integrity benefits the community – and all stakeholders

It is possible to prevent these dangers from taking hold by building barriers to corruption throughout the project life cycle and by promoting integrity and planning ahead to close gaps where corruption can arise.

Promoting integrity from the start adds value by fostering transparency, accountability, and participation among the project’s stakeholders. Just as corruption has a wide impact, promoting integrity and anti-corruption can support each stakeholder’s efforts across the value chain. When we anticipate and avoid corruption risks, we reduce the likelihood of failure of wells and water points, decaying infrastructure, and disrupted water services.

Where can I start?

Project owners and WASH managers in government institutions or NGOs can take advantage of existing tools to promote integrity and prevent corruption to help ensure successful, professional borehole drilling projects which result in sustainable infrastructure and benefit local communities.

RWSN’s Code of Practice for Cost Effective Boreholes emphasizes the role of greater professionalism in ensuring that projects achieve optimum value for money invested over the long term. The UNICEF Guidance Note on Professional Water Well Drilling is a valuable resource for following professional standards in borehole drilling, including costing, procurement and contracting, siting of wells, and supervision of water well drilling.

Key first steps:

  • Establish procedures for key risk areas like procurement and accounting, and make sure procedures are followed by providing training and support to all stakeholders (such as authorities, bidders, regulators, project monitors, utility accounting staff).
  • Clarify budgets and responsibilities, and ensure this information is easily available to the public.
  • Set up monitoring processes, for tendering, construction, and O&M. Social monitoring, including local users or stakeholders, can be particularly helpful and ensure more independence in the process.
  • Ensure institutional responsibility for long-term operations or properly functioning infrastructure over the entire lifecycle.
  • Consult water users and water-user associations in decision-making.

 

More tools:

Integrity pact : The Integrity Pacts help to ensure that contracting parties in a water project abstain from offering, accepting, or demanding bribes; monitor adherence to the contract and compliance with procurement legislation; and enable the placement of sanctions on any parties breaching the pact.

Integrity, Quality, and Compliance for Project Managers : This set of simple project management tools and templates helps improve project management and address common integrity issues from planning through operations, specifically in water-related programmes.

About the authors

Justine Haag coordinates WIN’s West Africa Programme and is in charge of the Capacity Development portfolio, ensuring the mainstreaming of water integrity tools and methodologies in the water sector at global, national, and local levels. She has over 10 years of international experience with water practitioners, working mainly on WASH and IWRM initiatives carried out with multilateral and bilateral aid organizations. She is keen to support participatory processes with a broad range of actors, following her conviction that institutional stakeholders and end users have common values and can reach consensus.

Marian Ryan is a freelance writer and editor specialized in health, international development, and water integrity. She collaborates regularly with the Water Integrity Network to write about and promote integrity Tools.

Photo credit: Joost Butenop, WIN photo competition 2009. Uncontrolled diversion of water from surrounding villages, Western Pakistan.Joost_Butenop

The rise of the off-grid city?

Adrian Healy reports on the findings of research undertaken in Lagos on the proliferation of domestic boreholes. This article was originally published in GeoDrilling International, and can be read here.

The conventional model of urban development focuses on centralised water service provision, where the state ensures a supply of water through storage and treatment plants and a grid of interconnected pipelines. Yet in many of our fastest growing cities, particularly in Africa and parts of Asia, this model is being turned on its head. Here, households, and business users, are increasingly turning to an ‘off-grid’ model, where they take responsibility for their own water supply. Nowhere is this more true than in the thriving megalopolis of Lagos in Nigeria, which serves as an example to practitioners around the world.

The public supply of water is estimated to reach no more than one in ten households living in Lagos State and, with a rapidly rising population, that proportion is changing every day. Despite their best efforts, the city authorities struggle to keep up with the pace of change, hampered further by an ageing infrastructure. In the absence of a reliable and convenient supply of water, it is perhaps little wonder that those who are able to secure their own water supplies do so. The result is a proliferation of domestic boreholes, as households seek to tap the accessible groundwater reserves beneath their feet. Whilst the actual number of domestic boreholes is unknown the possible numbers are staggering. Lagos State Water Corporation suggests that there may be anything up to 200,000 such boreholes in the State. Separately, a 2017 survey of 539 households living in Lagos State found that 51% reported owning their own borehole, with a further 36% reported that they shared a private borehole with other families[1].

The rise in the numbers of domestic boreholes is typically explained as a failure of the government to supply water to households. The public network often does not reach new housing developments and, where it does reach, failures of supply are commonplace. What is less often remarked on is the role played by a thriving drilling industry, fuelled by innovation and new entrants. Certainly, the development of new technologies, often imported from the oil industry or from abroad, has played a major role in driving the establishment of the borehole-drilling industry in Lagos. As costs of entry have fallen, increasing numbers of new companies have started up, offering cheap construction methods which are affordable by more and more households. Together, these factors are driving the evolution of a city that relies on off-grid water infrastructures.

This rise of the off-grid city has, in many ways, enabled the continuous expansion of Lagos as a major economic centre. For those who can afford their own borehole it has also delivered peace of mind as well as health and economic benefits, at least in the short-term. Questions though are now being asked as to the longer-term implications of this, particularly by the more professional members of the drilling and groundwater community. They point to the rise of poorly constructed boreholes as prices and drilling standards fall. They worry that this may lead to widespread contamination of the groundwater, whilst also reporting falling water tables in many areas, leading to fears of over-abstraction and the potential for saline intrusion.

Understanding whether these worries are well-founded is hampered by the lack of any system for monitoring either the quality or the amount of water being abstracted from the aquifers. State Government proposals to require owners of domestic boreholes to register these have foundered on the fear that this will be a front for the taxing of private water supplies. At the same time, our research indicates that the broader population is relaxed about the upward trend in boreholes, regarding the supply of groundwater as infinite (Figure 1). However, attitudes towards the quality of that water are more mixed, with around half concerned for the future. Evidence as to whether these beliefs are well-placed is currently lacking and requires longer-term data collection, particularly in terms of the amount of ground water available. Our research into levels of e-coli found in 40 groundwater sources demonstrates that residents’ caution about quality is well-founded (Figure 2). However, again, longer term monitoring is required if we are to better understand the risks of contamination over time.

Figure 1: Residents’ perceptions of groundwater exploitation in Lagos

lagos1

Figure 2

 

Conclusions

In Lagos, as in many other cities, the rise of the off-grid city is due to a mix of social, economic, political and hydrogeological factors. Attempts to overcome the water gap though public provision alone are struggling with the sheer scale of investment required and speed of change in population. The rise of private provision of water supplies has fuelled the growth of the city and, in turn, has been fuelled by a rising tide of prosperity. Yet there are real concerns that the sheer proliferation of boreholes and unregulated abstraction may be storing up problems for the future. So what are the answers? Certification and licensing approaches will certainly help, but only if there is both the will and means to enforce them. Improving knowledge and awareness through education and training, both of the wider public and amongst new contractors, will also help. In the short term it may be that we need to find new mechanisms to monitor the health of our aquifers if we are not to encounter longer-term crises. Drilling contractors can be at the forefront of this exercise, helping to ensure the resilience and durability of the off-grid city.

Acknowledgements

Dr. Adrian Healy, is a Research Fellow at Cardiff University. His research focuses on themes of urban resilience to shocks and hazards. He gratefully acknowledges the support of all his colleagues involved in the RIGSS project, particularly Prof. Moshood Tijani (University of Ibadan), Prof. Ibrahim Goni (University of Maiduguri) and the British Geological Survey. Financial support was provided by NERC-GCRF ‘Building Resilience’ grant (NE/P01545X/1). Further information on the issues of domestic borehole development in Nigeria can be found here.

Figure 2 is reproduced with thanks to Dr. Kirsty Upton and the British Geological Survey, who prepared the original version.

 

[1] https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1090650/Perspectives_of_households_in_Lagos.pdf

 

An opportunity to reflect on manual drilling – UNESCO Seminar in Madrid, 2019

It was 21 years ago that I was first confronted with manual drilling.  I had just started my PhD research at Cranfield University.  The idea was to develop a human operated rig that could break through harder (laterite) formation, test it in an African country, and have it adopted by the private sector… in three years.  Back then I could never have imagined that in 2019 (and in my mid-40’s), that I would join ten others for a seminar hosted in Madrid, Spain on the role of manual drilling to reach universal water access.

Looking back, the goals of the project were unrealistic, but we did not know that at the time, and research provides space for considerable learning. Oh, and by the way, digital cameras were very new on the market in 1998.  My colleague had one, which produced recognisable, but quite grainy images.

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) Knowledge and Research (KAR) funded research project, “Low Cost Drilling” took me to Uganda, and three years of field work in collaboration with the (now) Ministry of Water and Environment and district local governments in Mukono and Mpigi. Following initial trials in a field in the UK, UNICEF and the government enabled use of the rig to provide drinking water supplies within their joint drinking water programme (called WES).

We proved that the new technology (which we called the Pounder Rig) could work, but embedding it in Uganda proved to be beyond us within the three-year period. In the meantime, I had gone from standing in a hotel lobby to make calls to landlines and leaving messages for people who were not there, to having my first mobile phone. My photographs remained analogue; a digital camera being well out of financial reach at the time.

The PhD research process taught me so much, but let me try to stay close to the topic of manual drilling. The subject of innovation diffusion was opened up, and I came to learn that the successful adoption of any technology is brought about by much more than technical aspects (my PhD thesis provides insights into this in case you wish to be one of the very few people to read it).

Over the subsequent years, I was extremely fortunate to have the chance to keep on returning to the subject of manual drilling. The collaboration with UNICEF to follow-up their efforts to support manual drilling professionalization in several countries was a welcome opportunity, leading to not only the 2015 manual drilling compendium, but also more in-depth documentation of the status quo in Nigeria and Chad. In short, we documented that by 2015 manual drilling technologies had provided drinking water sources in at least 36 countries.

Manual Drilling

There are quite a few organisations introducing manual drilling technology, including private enterprises developing new markets; local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with overseas funding; governments relying on foreign/local expertise as well as foreign companies and NGOs (including several faith-based organisations).

However, as I started to learn while in Uganda some 20 years ago, the diffusion of innovation has different phases.  Broadly speaking, there is the introduction phase, the uptake phase (also known as the valley of death, given that many technologies are not taken up), and the established phase. Mobile phones combined with digital cameras (aka SMART phones), that can enable you to make calls and take high resolution photographs are in the established phase.

Innovation Uptake (003)

Dr Pedro Martinez-Santos, the new UNESCO Chair in “Appropriate Technologies for Human Development” at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid chose the role of manual drilling technologies towards universal water access as the topic for the first seminar of the chair in April 2019.  I was privileged to be among the eleven people who attended the event. I thus had the opportunity to listen to, and learn from professionals talking of specific experiences in Nigeria, Senegal, the Demographic of Congo, Zambia and Guinea Bissau as well as more widely. It was also a chance to present my own experiences and reflections, and engage in open and fee dialogue.

Returning, after two decades, to an academic environment and reflecting on a topic that has engaged me ever since, is something that may only happen once in a lifetime! There is much that I could say about manual drilling, and even more to learn about, but I close this blog with three short messages:

  • Manual drilling is fully established in some countries and less so in others. Globally, a suite of technologies, when used in the right locations and with professional construction methods, can provide drinking water of good quality. Manual drilling undoubtedly has a significant role to play in reaching the Sustainable Development Goal Targets for Drinking Water, especially in remote areas, but also in rapidly growing urban centres where piped supplies are failing to provide reliable services.
  • Manual drilling is not just about technology but also: the businesses that invest; the drillers (male and female) that need be able to work professionally; the data that can be collected; and the question of whether some people are left behind while others tap the water from their back yards. And there is the regulation (alongside other innovations) needed ensure that the sources are, and remain safe to drink, tapping sustainable groundwater resources.
  • I close by urging not only governments, but also development partners to consider manual drilling, and manual drillers in policies, legislation, investments and capacity strengthening efforts rather than leaving it on the margins. As we experienced in Madrid in April, engage in real dialogue and listening with the different actors involved. The rewards may even be beyond your expectations!

You can download all the presentations from the Madrid seminar from here.

RWSN has collated information on manual drilling technologies and associated wider issues here.

How a radio talk show is promoting WaSH in Northern Uganda

This is a guest blog by Justine Olweny, a Ugandan WASH entrepreneur and resource centre founder. You can find out more about his activities here.

“YOT KOM LONYO” (meaning “Health is wealth”) is a WaSH campaign radio program talk show conducted every Thursday from 16:00–17:00 hours East African Time. It encourages the involvement of local entrepreneurs, school leaders, pupils, politician, district technocrats, and partner representatives on water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) promotion discussions. It has promoted the utilisation and ownership of WaSH products among the communities of Kitgum District.

The weekly talk show was started in September, 2018 and has so far covered 7 WaSH topics within 22 episodes.This involves the engagement of eight stakeholders within the region being represented in at least two sessions. This talk show was motivated by the need for community ownership in safe WaSH infrastructures created by difference agencies, including the government.

Mightyfire 91.5FM has a total coverage of about 1,500,000 listeners in Northern Uganda. It has made significant progress in reaching out to the majority of refugees from South Sudan in the local language Acholi, which is spoken by them. The intention was to prepare for the rainy season, which often leads to an increase in the prevalence of waterborne diseases, including cholera, through the production of short radio spots to promote hand-washing with soap before eating and boiling drinking water to avoid illness.

This 6-month partnership between Mightyfire 91.5FM and Water Access Consulting is a pilot project to explore the possibilities of promoting hygiene and sanitation products and services led by the communities of Kitgum District. It was inspired by the webinar From Beneficiaries to Business: Promising findings from customer-centered approaches to sustainable water services.

Achievements:

  • Improved pit toilets (DuraSan and the SaTo pan supported by the “Sanitation as a business” programme of Water for people Uganda) are being constructed by landlords, while demand for improved pit toilets has increased together with the services provided by the pit-emptying gulpers team of the Municipality.
  • The radio programme materials were developed in accordance with the context, with compelling radio programmes that engage listeners in good hygiene practices, and with references to Lifewater mWaSH and UNHCR WaSH manuals.

Learnings:

  • The materials and topics discussed are generated by the audience themselves, for example during a school Q&A session, and during interviews
  • The audience pay a lot of attention to jingles, and they memorise short spot messages instead of the entire radio talk show
  • It is very motivating for both parents, elders and pupils to listen to their recorded debate play over the radio.

What do you think? How can we create more WaSH service demand using media? Do you have any examples of good WaSH campaigns in the media, that have contributed to behavior change in WaSH? Please share your experiences below.

(Photo credit: Water Access Consulting Archive)