Investigating water governance arrangements in Balaka District, Malawi – news from the field

by Naomi Oates, Grantham institute, UPGro Hidden Crisis

My first impressions of Malawi? It is hot! Temperatures are reaching 37°C in Balaka district at the moment. Around midday it is particularly difficult to move around in the scorching sun – much preferable to sit under a shady tree until the heat dissipates a little (usually it becomes bearable by 3pm).

The landscape is very dry. Sometimes there is a gentle cooling breeze, but that can also kick up a lot of dust. Fortunately, the rains will be starting in November, which will cool things down and allow the crops to grow.

Power cuts are a frequent occurrence at that moment, as the country cannot generate enough to meet demand and electricity has to be rationed. The main energy source is hydropower – reservoirs are at their lowest at this time of year.

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From L-R: The landscape around Alufeyo village, Balaka; Households pay 300 kwacha a year to use this waterpoint.

My first week in the field was spent settling in to the District Water Office in Balaka, getting to know the staff members. This will be my home for the next 4-5 months (with a break to return to the UK for Christmas).

The office is located just behind the market in Balaka town. It has four rooms and lots of storage containers for equipment and spare parts. I sit in the same room as the District Water Development Office – the boss – but he is often away for meetings.

There are around 49 staff employed by the office in total. Many are based at the treatment works and dam in Ntcheu (the neighbouring district) which supplies Balaka with piped water. There are far fewer staff working on groundwater supplies – namely, the boreholes with handpumps provided to rural communities. It is the latter that my research is focussing on.

In my second week the UpGro Hidden Crisis survey team arrived – the project my PhD is linked to. The team are investigating the multiple causes of waterpoint failure. This includes the functioning of mechanical components in the hand pump, borehole characteristics (e.g. siting and yield) and various aspects of water quality. Discussions are also held with communities to discuss the history of the waterpoint – its construction, breakdowns and repairs, and local arrangements to collect fees and maintain the handpump.

Every waterpoint has a different set of problems – in the case of Alufeyo the community were contributing money for repairs, and showed willingness to pay, but the borehole has been badly sited and produces a low yield.

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From L-R: The UpGro researchers carry out a pumping test to measure the water yield of this borehole; Measuring water temperature, pH, conductivity and salinity.

Next week I hope to accompany the Water Monitoring Assistant (Mr Nkwate) on a Red Cross project that will be drilling and rehabilitating boreholes, and training Water Point Committees (community volunteers).

The objective of my research is to understand the role of different actors at the district-level in developing and sustaining rural water services – how they get their jobs done and the networks of relationships on which they draw. One aspect of this is to explore the interface between the district government offices and the communities they support.

“Groundwater is the key to Unlocking Green Growth in Africa”

On 25th October, the prestigious keynote Ineson Lecture 2017 at the Geological Society in London was given by Dr Callist Tindimugaya, head of Water Resource Planning and Regulation in Uganda’s Ministry of Water & Environment, and one of four UPGro Ambassadors. In his speech he highlighted the importance understanding and managing groundwater well, not for its own sake but because it is a natural resource that underpins most, if not all, African societies and economies.

However, he expressed his frustration that the economic contribution of this resource has not yet been properly quantified so that its invisible contribution is made plain to all, from ordinary citizens to political leaders. Nevertheless, he was encouraged by the many initiatives across the continent to address the knowledge gaps and to improve the visibility and use of groundwater – in particular the importance of the UPGro programme and GRIPP. He concluded: “You cannot milk a cow, if you do not feed it”, likewise if the potential benefits of Africa’s aquifers are to be realised, then investment is needed in research, monitoring, regulation and – most of all – in education and training.

The day-long event was well attended and as well as a lively debate and a presentation by Guy Howard, DFID WASH policy team leader, there were numerous inputs from across UPGro, including: presentations by Prof. Richard Taylor about GroFutures and the Chronicles Consortium; from Brighid Ó Dochartaigh about the Africa Groundwater Altas; from Prof. Alan MacDonald about the Hidden Crisis project; and an array of posters from UPGro Catalyst and Consortia research, including a poster on the AMGRAF project by David Walker (Newcastle University) supported by UPGro and REACH, which had won the award for best Early Career Researcher poster at the recent 44th IAH Congress in Dubrovnik.

A huge thank you to Brighid Ó Dochartaigh and all the organisers at  IAH BGS, and Geol. Soc.

 

UPGro at 44th IAH Congress

Once again, UPGro has a strong presence at the annual congress of the International Association of Hydrogeologists, which this year is in Dubrovnik, Croatia. UPGro highlights this year include:

T2.2. THE ROLE OF GROUNDWATER IN REDUCING POVERTY
Conveners: Alan Macdonald (BGS/Hidden Crisis) and Viviana Re

With presentations by:

T2.2.1 Tim Foster: “A Multi-Decadal Financial Assessment of Groundwater Services For Low-Income Households in Rural Kenya” (Gro For Good)

T2.2.4 Fabio Fussi: “Characterization Of Shallow Aquifers In Guinea Bissau To Support The Promotion Of Manual Drilling At Country Level” (Remote Sensing For Manual Drilling Catalyst)

T2.2.5 David Walker: “Comparison Of Multiple Groundwater Recharge Assessment Methods For A Shallow Aquifer: Why Are The Results So Varied?” (AMGRAF Catalyst)

T2.2.6 Adrian Healy: “Exploiting Our Groundwater Resource: Choices And Challenges In Managing The Water Commons”  (Upgro Spin-Off Project)

T2.2.9 Richard Taylor: “Large-Scale Modelling Of Groundwater Resources: Insight from The Comparison Of Models And In-Situ Observations In Sub-Saharan Africa” (GroFutures)

T2.2.11 Jade Ward: “Rapid Screening for Pathogens In Drinking Water: Preliminary Results From A National Scale Survey In Malawi” (Hidden Crisis)

T2.2.13 Alan Macdonald: “Hand Pump Functionality: Are The Rural Poor Getting A Raw Deal ?” (Hidden Crisis)

And in other sessions:

T2.3.3 Núria Ferrer: “How Do New Development Activities Affect Coastal Groundwater Systems In Africa? The Case Of Kwale, Kenya” (Gro for GooD)

T4.4.6 Richard Taylor: “Recent Changes in Terrestrial Water Storage In The Upper Nile Basin: An Evaluation Of Commonly Used Gridded Grace Products” (GroFutures)

T4.4.3 Albert Folch: “Combining Different Techniques To Monitor Seawater Intrusion Integrating Different Observation Scales” (Gro for GooD)

T2.6.1 Johanna Koehler: “A Cultural Theory of Groundwater Risks And Social Responses In Rural Kenya” (Gro for GooD)

Posters:

T2.2.14 Jacob Katuva: “Groundwater and Poverty – Evidence From Kwale, Kenya” (Gro for GooD)

T2.2.15 David Walker: “Investigating the Resilience of Shallow Groundwater Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Case Study from Ethiopia” (AMGRAF Catalyst)

T2.3.14 Moshood N. Tijani: “Hydrogeological and Hydraulic Characterization of Weathered Crystalline Basement Aquifers of Ibarapa Area, Southwestern Nigeria” (GroFutures)

Agenda for Change: UPGro influencing systems thinking on WASH services

Agenda for Change is  a collaboration of organisations who recognise we can achieve more by working together.

Launched in May 2015 by Aguaconsult, IRC, WaterAid, Water For People and Osprey Foundation, Agenda For Change sets out what we think we need to do and how we need to act so that everyone, everywhere has water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services that last forever.

Agenda For Change:

  • stems from Everyone Forever from Water For People, the Service Delivery Approach of IRC, the WaterAid District-wide Approach and the aid effectiveness agenda of the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership.
  • is about making a fundamental change in the way we work. To deliver positive change towards water, sanitation and hygiene service delivery, we need a systems-wide approach that tackles policy, financing and institutions – key building blocks of the water, sanitation and hygiene sector.
  • promotes harmonized district level work to ensure everyone in the districts has adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services. Agenda For Change ensures that national level systems are in place to enable all districts in the countries to reach everyone and that systems are in place forever.

Among the many influences on this important initiative we are delighted that a recent paper Elisabeth Liddle and Richard Fenner from the UPGro Hidden Crisis team has been highlighted on the short-list of best current thinking.

To find out more and to get involved, visit the Agenda for Change website.

New – Water point failure in sub-Saharan Africa: the value of a systems thinking approach

The latest output from the UPGro programme comes from Cambridge University as part of the “Hidden Crisis; Unravelling past failures for future success in Rural Water Supply” and examines the role of system-based analysis in understanding the root causes of the success or failure of rural water points. The full open paper is available to download from Practical Action; http://www.developmentbookshelf.com/doi/abs/10.3362/1756-3488.16-00022

Water point failure in sub-Saharan Africa: the value of a systems thinking approach

Thousands of water points have been installed across sub-Saharan Africa over the past four decades; however, a number have been found to be dry/low-yielding, unsafe for human consumption, and in some cases marked with appearance, taste, and odour problems. Subsequently, many users have been unable or unwilling to use these water points and have had to revert to the use of unimproved water sources.

 A number of factors could be causing each of these problems, either directly or indirectly. Furthermore, these factors may be interdependent and these relationships may be marked by non-linearities, feedbacks, and time delays. Deciphering which factors need to be prioritized becomes a confusing and complex task.

 To help understand the impact of different interventions, this paper proposes the adoption of systems-based analysis for looking at water point failure and introduces some of the more common qualitative and quantitative analytical tools that could be used to reveal how these complexities might be managed more effectively.

 While the use of these tools within the WASH sector has been limited to date, they hold potential for helping to identify the most suitable remedies for water point failure. Examples of where such tools have been used in relation to water point failure are reviewed, and the extent to which each approach could be applied is examined from a practitioner perspective, recognizing the limitations arising from the differing data needs and time-consuming nature of each type of analysis.

Ethiopia Phase 2 – Survey Update

Phase 2 of the Hidden Crisis fieldwork is underway – right on schedule. The work has started in Ejere, a Woreda about 100 km north of Addis in Ethiopia. In this major survey of 50 poorly functioning rural waterpoints, we spend two days dismantling and testing each water point to work out what the main […]

via Ethiopia Phase 2 – Survey Update — UPGro: Hidden Crisis

Uganda lift off!

The physical sciences longitudinal studies have kicked off in Uganda this week. The aim of these longitudinal studies is to capture the time-based hydroclimatic and hydrogeological processes of the groundwater system at selected hand pumped boreholes (HPBs). These temporal datasets provide valuable information to understanding HPB functionality that could not be addressed from the two […]

via UpGro Hidden Crisis Physical Sciences Longitudinal Studies – Uganda Lift Off! — UPGro: Hidden Crisis

New: “Can ‘functionality’ save the community management model of rural water supply?

We are pleased to share a new UPGro paper from Luke Whaley and Prof. Frances Cleaver (Sheffield University) of the Hidden Crisis study – Can ‘functionality’ save the community management model of rural water supply?”

It is primarily a literature review paper so many elements will be familiar to rural water practitioners, however, Whaley and Cleaver are coming from a social science perspective so they highlight that previous analysis has focused on community management of water points as a “techno-managerial exercise” that largely ignores from broader social, political and cultural rules and relations around power – which groups and individuals have power over others and how is that used (or not used).

So what? The author’s suggest that current dialogue on water point functionality is not enough to save Community Based Management, because there is often a wider problem in with the under-resourcing of local government (and governance) and that more work is needed to help develop context-specific management, “rather than attempting to tweak the current blueprint of development the next ‘big thing’”

The full open access paper can be read and downloaded from Science Direct

Please take some time to read this and feel free to discuss – and argue! – about it in the RWSN Sustainable Services community

@engineer4change : Charitable Foundations Have a Unique Opportunity to Change the WASH Sector

In a recent Engineering for Change (E4C) article, “Charitable Foundations Have a Unique Opportunity to Change the WASH Sector”, UPGro Hidden Crisis research was cited  in making the case for stronger efforts by charities and funders to focus on the sustainability of what they fund:

The Unlocking the Potential for Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro) research project piloted a methodology in Uganda to uncover the causes of water point failure. The pilot study report found that “there is limited data or analysis on why sources are non‐functional and therefore little opportunity to learn from past mistakes” (Bonsor 2015).

The Hidden Crisis consortium project is currently addressing these knowledge gaps in its work in Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda.

E4C, based in the USA, is a global knowledge & media hub for tech & global development that connects and informs  more than 1,000,000+ #tech4dev practitioners worldwide.

Piecing together Africa’s groundwater history

The UPGro programme, supported by AfriWatSan & ESPRC, conducted a pan-African capacity-strengthening and knowledge co-production workshop at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania from the 10th to 12th of February, 2017.

40 participants from 12 countries in Africa took part and analysed multi-decadal, groundwater-level data (“chronicles”) from 9 countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Sénégal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Continue reading Piecing together Africa’s groundwater history