In Tanzania, nearly half of rural water points do not work and about 20 per cent of newly constructed water points become non-functional within one year (MOWI 2013). Without a reliable source of water, communities soon return to traditional, unimproved water sources, and consequently endanger their health and wellbeing (UNICEF/WHO 2015). The Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MOWI) monitors the implementation and performance of rural water supply and sanitation in the country, and for a long time relied on an ad hoc system of reporting by District Water Engineers (DWEs) to keep track of coverage. Following a nationwide water point mapping survey project funded by the World Bank, MOWI commissioned the Water Point Mapping System (WPMS) in 2010, a web-based information system featuring a large dataset of geotagged water points together with their functionality status. But the MOWI WPMS was not without its problems. For example, the sheer number and remote location of rural water points meant that data collection was both difficult and expensive. The paper-based process of updating made it hard for DWEs to report in real time and the information sourced at the village level was often inaccurate or lacking entirely. In response, SNV and its partners designed a mobile updating mechanism, which was implemented and deployed in collaboration with MOWI and local government authorities (LGAs) in Bunda, Morogoro Rural, Njombe and Mufindi districts. The overall goal of the mechanism was to reduce the downtime taken in response to operations and maintenance of water systems and therefore increase communities’ access to safe water.
The SNV project operated on two parallel tracks. First, it introduced open data ICTs through which real time reports on the functionality of public rural water supplies could be collected and reported via mobile phone, and analysed and visualised using a desktop dashboard (the ‘SEMA System’) by the DWEs. Second, the innovation facilitated a series tailored training and mentoring sessions for the DWEs, technicians, water point reporters, councillors, Community-Owned Water Supply Organisations (COWSOs), and Help Desk Officers on data collection, communication, and visualisation.
The project seeks tp improve the health outcomes of communities in Mbeya Region by:
- A total of 3,077 water points were tracked in 420 villages located in the four districts.
- A total of 1,899 community members were registered as reporters in the SEMA System to provide monthly updates on the functionality status of their respective water points.
- A total of 3,078 water points were recorded by the project after 12 months of monitoring – an increase of 297 water points from the baseline figure provided by MOWI.
- Monitoring data for Bunda district shows an estimated increase in functionality of the water supply of 15 per cent. These additional functional water points have the potential to serve an extra 10,000 people.
Ownership and self-reliance increases sustainability: The engagement of MOWI, the LGAs, DWEs, Village Executive Officers, and COWSOs helped embed the SEMA System into existing structures and enhanced their ownership of the reporting process. Communities are demonstrating their willingness to participate in improvement efforts by helping to report and monitor the functionality status of their local water points.
Understand the technological barriers to access and adapt accordingly: Poor mobile network connectivity in some of the project areas meant that some water point reporters were unable to use the mobile reporting system effectively, while a lack of airtime vouchers and transport prevented DWEs from responding to and verifying reports of water point downtime. The project negotiated with SELCOM to provide free SMS texts. Reporters who are AirTel or Tigo customers can now upload data free of charge while Vodacom users can now do so at a greatly reduced rate.
Gender equity and social inclusion
Women and girls in particular have benefited from the certainty of a reliable water supply. For example, girls whose time might otherwise be spent walking to collect water from an alternative source far away, are now more likely to attend school and complete their homework.
Principles for digital development
Be data driven: In addition to developing a platform capable of sending, processing, and analysing real time reports, SNV trained stakeholders on how to collect, communicate, and visualise the data generated. The project has also provided open data on water mapping that the national government can use to monitor the functionality of the total infrastructure across the country and maintain it over time.
Understanding the ecosystem: Digital innovation projects need to engage actors in the local innovation ecosystem as well as the sector-based ecosystem. This includes, for example, community members and local, regional, and national stakeholders in government. SNV designed the project taking into account the particular structures and needs of all the beneficiaries involved – from MOWI and the DWEs, to the water technicians and villagers.
While SNV has no plans to take the project to scale, it is hoped that the lessons generated during project implementation can be adapted and used by others wishing to adopt a similar approach within their own settings.