A borehole that lasts for a lifetime

Groundwater is a valuable resource for communities, but accessing and maximising its potential can be difficult. Vincent Casey, WaterAid’s Technical Support Manager for Water Security, introduces a series of videos demonstrating good practice in borehole drilling.

Groundwater is a valuable resource for communities, but accessing and maximising its potential can be difficult. Vincent Casey, WaterAid’s Technical Support Manager for Water Security, introduces a series of videos demonstrating good practice in borehole drilling.

Good practice must be followed if groundwater development programmes are to reach their full potential. If certain steps are not taken, there is a high chance that boreholes will fail, investment will be wasted and people will remain un-served.

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Getting the basics right

I’ve just returned from Liberia, where Kerstin Danert and I, together with Caesar Hall and Jenny Schmitzer are coaching, training and mentoring staff across from government agencies to prepare the first a Sector Performance Report (SPR) for Liberia. Ultimately, this this could become an annual report for the whole WASH sector across the country. It pulls together data from different sources and provides the evidence base for making decisions decisions and prioritising at the second annual Joint Sector Review (JSR) – a two day workshop of around 200 stakeholders that will happen at the beginning of May.

Monrovia Water Point
An Afridev handpump in central Monrovia, behind the Ministry of Education (photo: S. G. Furey, Skat, 2014)

The approach, in this form, was pioneered by the Ministry of Water & Environment in Uganda ten years ago. A decade later, it is the primary mechanism for coordinating WASH actors across government, NGOs and Development Partners, and for reporting activities, outcomes and priorities for the coming year in Uganda.

This is not an easy. It has been a challenging, but rewarding, process and it has been a long journey for Uganda, and Kerstin was there, coaching and cajoling for the first seven SPRs (SSOZI, D. and DANERT, K.,2012). For this reason, the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) invited us to Liberia to support the government as they start on this long journey.

Similar to Uganda when it started, Liberia is now a decade clear of a long and often brutal civil war. The physical and government infrastructure, which was weak to begin with, was largely destroyed and the social scars still have a rawness. Liberia has a unique history in that it was founded by American freed slaves, but resentment between Americo-Liberians and those of indigenous descent added fuel to the fire of the brutal wars that took place between 1989-96 and 1999-2003.

The current president, H. E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was the first woman to be elected as a head of state in Africa and she has been a unifying voice both at home and abroad. She is also the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) so the sector has a champion at the highest level.

However, responsibility and scarce resources for WASH are split between around nine different ministries and government agencies. Policy and strategy has been established, thanks to strong support from UNICEF, WSP and bi-laterals such as IrishAid,and USAID. There are also several other development partners in the country . However, implementation through government has been slow, for example the rural water division of the Ministry of Public Works has no budget for implementation for the current year. Stuff is happening: water and sanitations systems are being built and hygiene and CLTS is going on at quite a large scale, but it is NGOs, not government who are doing the spade work.

Is this a problem? Short term maybe not, because the needs of the people are great, but without a strong, capable government there can be no end to dependence on international aid funding international NGOs, neither of whom are directly accountable to the people or leadership of Liberia. We shouldn’t expect the private sector to ride the rescue either: where there is social and environmental responsibility, a fair, strong Government regulator is essential.

So what is needed? The basics done well.

  • Data: collection, quality control, storage, access, analysis, presentation
  • Information flows: so that stakeholders really know who is doing what, and where so that collaboration is improved and duplication avoided.
  • Writing: literacy, touch-typing, analytical thinking; articulating persuasive and logical arguments; self-critical review and proof reading.
  • Presentation: structure, content and timing, voice and body language, listening and responding.

These, and many other communication and analytical skills, seem so obvious that surely to consider them in the context of experienced, national government staff could be considered patronising. However, during the war they would have been less worried about using PowerpointPowerPoint and more worried about avoiding the likes of ‘General Butt Naked’ (CNN report). Fragile States are exactly that.

Mapping information flows in the Liberia WASH Sector with the NWSHPC
Mapping information flows in the Liberia WASH Sector with the National Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion Committee (NWSHPC) – Abdul, Watara, Joseph, Kerstin (photo: S G Furey, Skat 2014)

While many of the staff we have met are knowledgeable and committed, there is need to build morale and confidence; so even they not only improve their reporting and analytical skills but also have the confidence to really commit them to paper.

So what’s the answer? Perhaps hire some international consultants to come in and write a thick report “for government”. WSP didn’t want us to do that and there was no way we going accept the task if that had been the case. The 2014 Liberia SPR will be written (mostly, though not entirely) by Liberians.

To achieve that, where capacities are low, and experience lacking we ran a four day writing course then followed up remotely, and in person, with each team of writers who were charged with creating thematic mini-reports on rural water, sanitation, hygiene, gender, urban water and sewerage, solid waste management and water resources.

This is a tough process for all involved. For the ministry staff, they have been chasing around bringing together the data and activity reports that are often scattered around their organisations or guarded. In certain cases, the process uncovered new data sources from Government officials – in particular the data collected through surveys and publishes by Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LSGIS).

For us it has been tough to resist the temptation to dive in and write it all for them. On occasion I give in where it was clear that the data analysis and presentation would take much more time than we had available and I couldn’t leave it. But as I write this, the writers were spending two days to review the entire report; and decide what to change.

However, the pleasure came from seeing the final product start to emerge and the shared sense of accomplishment.

So have we strengthened the capacity of the WASH sector to go it alone? No. Clearly not, and as I write this I still don’t know whether this approach will work, but the process so far as proved to be as valuable as, hopefully, the final report will be. The international community will still have a crucial role in tackling the chronic poverty found across Liberia, but that role needs to diminish with time as Liberian institutions take over.

From what I experienced, I saw the importance of education and mentoring to develop skills and confidence to discharge duties effectively, but that alone is not enough. Karwee Govego, Director of Rural Water, complained that their best staff get poached by NGOs. That ‘brain drain’ is inevitable as long as salaries and morale are low, management and mandates are disorganised, and career paths are determined by more than than merit.

Love it or hate it, government is essential; to build a strong, competent one in Liberia is going to take a lot of teamwork, hard graft and getting the basics right.

—-

Liberia is an active member of the Sanitation, Water for All (SWA) Partnership and will be presenting a new set of commitments at the High Level Meeting in Washington DC this month

Where do you throw your dirt?

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Watara Sackor (Min. Public Works / National WASH Committee), Pinky E. White (Min. Health) and James Kokro (Min. of Health / National WASH Committee) head off to interview residents of the Fiamah area of Monrovia.

So I’m in Monrovia this week running a 4 day writing course for twenty staff from across a dozen ministries and government organisations who will be working together to produce the 2014 Sector Performance Report (SPR).  Today we did some fieldwork – the group split into three and each visited a community in or near Monrovia.

We wanted to collect some data to illustrate the opportunities and challenges of data collection, presentation and analysis. The first challenge came yesterday when I asked the group to agree on three questions, which would asked to at least 20 people at each visit site.

The first question to be agreed on was “Where do you get your drinking water?”. Pretty straight forward, except that this morning when I wrote up the questions I accidentally wrote “Where do you get your water?”.   The consequence was interesting – one team asked about “water” rather than “drinking water” and they were the only ones where some of the respondents gave multiple answers: “Sometimes we get our water from the handpump, sometimes from the well, sometimes from the pipeline” said one woman, interviewed by Watara Sackor, from the Ministry of Public Works.

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New RWSN publication on EMAS Technologies in Bolivia

EMAS has been promoting low cost technologies for rural water supplies in Bolivia for over 30 years – with considerable success. EMAS technologies comprise manually drilled wells, a locally fabricated pump and rainwater harvesting technologies. EMAS are combining low-cost water supply solutions with a relatively high level of service at the household. Today RWSN publishes an independent assessment of the EMAS technologies. The authors, from the University of South Florida, undertook surveys, semi-structured interviews, sanitary inspections and functionality tests in 86 households.

Please visit http://www.rural-water-supply.net/fr/ressources/details/518 to download the publication.

EMAS is the Spanish acronym of the Mobile Water & Sanitation School in Bolivia.  An organisation established, and run by Wolfgang Buchner for over 30 years.  EMAS technologies are counted as contributing to the MDGs and SENSABA; the Bolivian national government agency responsible for rural water supply is a proponent of household water supply technologies in rural areas. Bolivia has a history of developing low-cost water supply technologies, particularly manual driller and handpumps. In fact, an estimated 20,000 manual drillers well systems are being used throughout the country.

The flexi-pump is a simple design comprising PVC, glass play marbles and rubber, thus allowing it to me fabricated by local technicians. The fact that the pump can collect water from significant depths to a tank above the ground is a key selling point.  It is meant one to 6 families. The pump is reported to cost US$ 30 to 45 (excluding the drilling). As you start to ask questions about its longevity, the research found that only one of the pumps of the 79 surveyed was non-operational. It was noted that after 11 years of operation, some pumps were working less than optimally. Repairs can and are undertaken locally.  Some people prefer the Baptist pump due to its higher flow rates.

Manual drilling comprises a combination of techniques, and can be undertaken by trained technicians. Relatively small diameters are drilled, and a polyester sleeve/sock is used to prevent fine materials from entering the pump. The researchers observed that the techniques were widely used by small business, with Reyes as an example of a small rural town where most of the population has a manually drilled borehole in their yard. Here, the drillers charge US$ 140 for drilling and completing a 15m well, including the EMAS or a similar pump. Although EMAS promotes the installation of an apron, many wells observed did not have this installed. Of the 75 wells surveyed, 73 were reliable, providing water for 12 months of the year

EMAS rainwater harvesting systems comprise below-ground or above ground storage tanks. Various sizes up to 7,000 litres are promoted. The below ground tanks use a cement sand mortar mix, whereas the above ground tanks are ferro-cement. Uptake to date has been rather limited, although the technology is now catching on in Cachilaya after several years of promotion.

In terms of finance, 63% of the systems surveyed were paid for fully by the households; 5% sing loans and 28% with partial subsidies from an implementing agency or local government. There are places, such as Somopai where poor families apparently cannot afford the wells. However, this is a topic which could be explored and researched further; to understand the reasons and options for such families.  There are examples of labour exchange rather than cash payment for well construction.

EMAS has trained technicians from all over Bolivia in these technologies, and runs regular training courses, which can also be attended by people from overseas. EMAS has moved beyond Bolivia’s borders to other Central and Latin American countries, Africa and Asia. EMAS support typically consists of supporting in-country groups and organisations with training. However, technician training needs to be accompanied by promotion of the news technologies in order to bring about their adoption.

“Added value” is at the core of the EMAS concept.  This means that water users can have a much higher level of service than they would with a community supply.  Water is piped into taps in the house, and people can even have a shower and solar-heated water. How is this possible, you may ask? Well, the EMAS manual pump is able to lift water from below ground and up into an overhead tank, from which it can be distributed throughout the homestead. As people become accustomed to a high level of service, they are more likely to fix it when something breaks. The analogy with electricity supply is a good one – when you only use it for light you may just revert to a lantern when it stops working. However if the electricity is used also for a fridge, television and computer, which you are used to, you are more likely to value it and do something if the power fails. Not all households surveyed had chosen the added value option, but they have access to volumes of water within their homestead.

If you want to learn more about EMAS, please contact Wolfgang Buchner on: emasinternational@yahoo.es or visit http://www.emas-international.de/index.php?id=32&L=3

To learn more about the research, you can contact: Mike MacCarthy on mmaccarthy@mail.usf.edu

Should you wish to share your comments about the EMAS approach with other RWSN members, you can do so through the appropriate RWSN online discussion forum, e.g.:

Wishing you a productive and enjoyable weekend!

How did you wash up doing WASH?

Rain from the skirts of Hurricane Mitch lashed the ancient Landcruiser as it hurtled along the dark tar snake of the Pan American Highway.  Cans of burning oil belched out black smoke and orange flames in a line along the carriageway to demarcate roadworks. Sodden policemen waved us on as workers tried to salvage their equipment from the storm. I had arrived in Guatemala.

A steep learning curve in Guatemala (c) Skat

A few days later I was standing by the shore of Lake Atitlan, in the town of San Lucas Toliman.  I was staring down a large diameter well choked with electric cables and rising mains. Off to my a left a team of community members were digging a trench for a new 4″ PVC pipeline that would snake up the ridge behind the town and down to the scattered finca (coffee plantation) hamlets on the other side.

The foreman turned to me and asked whether their pump would have enough power to get water up to their people living on the side on the volcano. All eyes were on me. Not hostile, not friendly, just expecting an answer from this young gringo ‘expert’.  I was gripped by fear. My stomach cramped, my heart-rate went through the roof.  This wasn’t a university field trip, my career as a WASH professional had just begun.

How do I start a career in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)?
Continue reading “How did you wash up doing WASH?”