Hidden Crisis project presentation in the China Africa water Forum Series No. 7, at Windhoek, Namibia

By Dessie Nedaw
8 August 2019

The China Africa Water Forum is a platform for all professionals within the fields of water science and technology in Africa and China. The China Africa Water Association also referred to as CAWA, is a non-profit organization that predominantly organizes annual events. One such event was held for three days from July 22 to July 24, 2019 in Windhoek, Namibia with title “Risk Reduction through Sustainable Water Management in Developing Countries”.

The conference was the seventh of the series held under the title China Africa Water forum. The conference has been prepared in collaboration between China Africa Water Association and Namibia’s chapter of Association of Hydro-geologists and other stakeholders. 

The opening speech by Minister of public enterprise has emphasized the current fresh water supply challenge of Namibia facing and the possible solution of desalinization as the future option. The Chinese Ambassador in Namibia has emphasized on the neeed of China Africa partnership in a win-win strategy based on mutual benefits. He mentioned the similarities of challenges faced by both China and Africa and stressed some of the innovative approaches and technologies in China stressing the importance of the forum for transfer of skill and knowledge.  Nearly 25 presentation from Africa and China covering a wide range of water related topics focusing in reducing risk of water supply, management and sustainable utilization water resources, transport and diffusion of water pollutants and exploration and development of groundwater has been addressed during the three days conference.

The Hidden Crisis project work was presented at the conference within the groundwater exploration and development theme – highlighting the work of the project to apply a tiered approach to assess functionality of handpumped borehole supplies in terms of different levels of performance. The findings have shown this approach to be helpful to unpack national statistics and develop more nuanced understanding of functionality within the country. 

The experience has given opportunity to highlight the project and also given good opportunity to share ideas from other professionals, particularly Chinese water experts. Ethiopia has formally requested to be the next organizer of China Africa water forum in the meeting.

Figure: Dessie Nedaw

Technical brief now available – Project approach for defining and assessing rural water supply functionality and levels of performance

The Hidden Crisis project team have now published a Technical Brief on the methods developed and used by the project to assess rural water supply functionality and levels of performance – now available from here.

This technical brief is aimed at sharing the learning and approaches developed by the project to look at how the functionality and performance levels of boreholes equipped with handpumps (HPBs), can be assessed using a common set of definitions and methods. A tiered approach to defining and measuring functionality was found to be useful to examining functionality for different scales and purposes of monitoring. 

The report is aimed at national and regional actors involved in the provision and monitoring of rural water supply functionality.

The brief sets out the tiered functionality definitions, and accompanying survey methods, which were developed by the project and have been applied in functionality surveys across Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi .

Photos: BGS © UKRI. Survey 1 Field teams, Uganda and Malawi

Rural water supply: a political economy analysis

The Hidden Crisis project team examined the political economy of rural water supply (RWS) in Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi during 2017 and 2018. These are based on literature and interviews with government staff and water sector stakeholders to unpick systemic obstacles to sustainable access to water.  

The three reports summarising the key findings are now published – and available from here.

The findings provide an insight to some of the key structural factors which affect RWS performance (historical, institutional, actors) in the three countries – examining systematic factors, decision making logic and opportunities for reform.

Photo: BGS © UKRI. Hand-pumped borehole water supply, rural Malawi.

Study shows boreholes are key to drought resilience in Ethiopia

BGS Press Release

Installing more boreholes to tap underground water will improve rural Ethiopian
communities’ resilience to drought, according to a new report.

Research carried out by the British Geological Survey (BGS), the University of Addis Ababa and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) showed that people who have access to groundwater from boreholes are much less affected by drought than those who rely on wells or springs for their water supply. The report also links the shortage of water to:

  • conflict in local areas
  • migration
  • a decline in breastfeeding rates
  • a rise in miscarriage rates
  • more children missing school

Groundwater experts from the BGS monitored 19 hand-dug wells, springs and boreholes in two districts in northern Ethiopia over 18 months. They also held focus-group discussions with local people, including school and health centre staff, near each of the groundwater sources.

The team found that boreholes drilled to 50–100 m were the most reliable source of water during the extended drought of 2015–16 and through the dry season.

Prof Alan MacDonald, the BGS hydrogeologist who led the research, said: ‘We found that
boreholes equipped with hand pumps were more reliable than springs or hand-dug wells, and this reliability was not affected by drought or seasonal change. As hand-dug wells dried up and springs failed, the boreholes we monitored gave exactly the same flow throughout the year.

‘Boreholes also had better water quality. As the drought ended and rain started falling many of the springs and hand-dug wells became grossly contaminated. The boreholes performed much better, with less than half of them showing any level of contamination.

‘Our findings make a clear case for the installation of more boreholes to improve resilience to drought. If constructed carefully and regularly maintained, boreholes can transform the water security for rural villages and make them much more resilient to the effects of climate change.’

Dr Seifu Kebede, from Addis Ababa University’s earth sciences department, said:

‘A significant finding of our study is the length of time people without boreholes spent in water collection during the dry season and drought, and the very low volumes of water they were able to collect.

‘People were routinely queuing for up to 10 hours, which led to tension and sometimes violence, and had wide-ranging impact across communities. Women breastfed less and experienced more miscarriages, meals were missed and farm work was reduced to help collect water. School attendance was down in all but one district, as children were involved in water collection. All health centres in the study area reported increases in diseases, and, in some cases, employees were paying for water collection to keep the centres functioning.

‘We must look at how communities source water during a normal dry season to predict how they will cope during drought years. This study shows that boreholes, where they can be installed, could be the most reliable source of groundwater in these areas of northern Ethiopia.’

According to the BGS’s African Groundwater Atlas, Ethiopia has a high potential for groundwater in the highland regions due to the mostly permeable rocks. A major challenge, however, is the rugged terrain, which can hinder the movement of drilling rigs.

The project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Department for International Development (DfID).

The full paper is available in Environmental Research Letters.

For further details please contact:
Sarah McDaid (sarah@mcdaidpr.co.uk/07866789688)
Twitter: @BritGeoSurvey


Editors note:

This week, groundwater experts from around the world will be attending a meeting of GRIPP at the SIWI World Water Week to discuss how to governments and aid agencies can take evidence like this into account when designing and implementing their policies and projects, and specifically around an exciting new groundwater initiative with the African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW)

The Politics of Water 3: Area Mechanics in Malawi

by Naomi Oates, re-posted from University of Sheffield

Competing narratives surround the role of ‘area mechanics’ in Malawi

In November 2017 I started my ‘politics of water’ blog as an outlet to share experiences and findings from my research in rural Malawi on water governance and service sustainability.

The first instalment describes my initial impressions of Balaka District while the second explores the relationship between extension workers and rural communities.

This might have left you wondering – what about everyone else?


Area Mechanics receive hands-on training in water point repairs (Author’s own)

Water services in Malawi are decentralised, at least in theory.  This means two things. Firstly, district councils, together with district water offices, are mandated to develop and monitor water infrastructure in rural areas.

Secondly, communities are expected to maintain and repair their water points with minimal external assistance. For more serious problems, local ‘area mechanics’ are their first port of call, followed by the district water office.

In reality, district water offices are severely under resourced, there are currently few area mechanics, and the effectiveness of community-based management varies considerably. However, where they are present, area mechanics are thought to play an important role in keeping water points functioning.

Area Mechanics: volunteers or entrepreneurs?

So what is an area mechanic? This sounds like a simple question, but the answers are complex and contradictory.

The area mechanics Thoko interviewed in Balaka for her MSc research tended to consider themselves, foremost, as volunteers working for the greater good of the community. After all, they were selected from the local community and have strong social ties with the people they serve. An area mechanic may be a relative, a neighbour or a fellow churchgoer, even the village headman himself. Trustworthiness was emphasised by communities as an important criteria.


This training manual describes area mechanics as ‘artisans in advanced hand pump repair operating on a payment basis’ (GoM 2015)

The depiction of area mechanics as volunteers has been echoed in my own conversations with extension staff and NGO workers, but in combination with another term – entrepreneur. According to national policy, area mechanics are meant to operate as independent businesspersons. They are given training and a few basic tools, after which they are expected to make a small profit to sustain their operations. They are also encouraged to sign written contracts with communities to clarify payment for services.

This model is clearly aimed at economic viability and is meant to incentivise area mechanics by providing them with an income. Arguably, the model has failed to gain traction locally because it ignores the social context in which area mechanics operate.

A third view is that area mechanics are integral to formal water governance arrangements – in other words part of, or plugging a gap in, the government’s extension system. This may not be stated explicitly, but is implicit in the use of government issued ID cards.

To give another example, area mechanics are sometimes (but not always) introduced to communities by a government representative in order to establish their legitimacy. Several of the area mechanics Thoko spoke to wanted their role to be formalised to enable them to negotiate fees with communities, or conversely in the hope of receiving material and financial support from government.

The ambiguity of water mechanics

Despite appearances, none of these narratives is mutually exclusive, and they may be employed at different times depending on the context. As one extension worker explained to me:

“Area mechanics are entrepreneurs by design and should make communities aware of that. They are supposed to have a signed agreement. The area mechanic needs to be paid, a little.”


Area mechanics often prefer working as a team – two heads being better than one! (Author’s own)

He then went on to clarify:

“It is not payment as such but a token of appreciation. It is up to them if they want to work for free. However they shouldn’t deny assistance to a Water Point Committee just because they don’t have money.”

The ambiguity surrounding area mechanics can be confusing and could be viewed as a failure of policy (or its implementation). But, in my view, that conclusion would be overly simplistic and misses the point.

The co-existence of these different narratives, or interpretations of policy, leaves room for negotiation and pragmatism. These are arguably important ingredients for success, especially when adapting policies to local realities. In short, the role of area mechanics in Malawi’s water governance system is not yet set in stone.

In addition to my PhD fieldwork this blog draws on previous work by the authors under the UPGro Hidden Crisis project. Check out our report on the political economy of rural water supplies in Malawi.

“They Gave Us Breakfast and a Good Meal”: Roles, Perceptions and Motivations of Water Point Area Mechanics in the Maintenance of Borehole Hand Pumps in Balaka District, Malawi

by Thokozani Mtewa, Evans Mwathunga, Wapumuluka, Mulwafu

Abstract

“In the rural areas of Malawi, water is accessed mostly through boreholes. The borehole and hand pump functionality concept is currently getting a central place in development agenda for the provision of affordable and safe water supply under the Sustainable Development Goals.

A study on area mechanics and borehole functionality was conducted in Balaka district in Malawi in 2017. The study used qualitative research methods of data collection using
political economy analysis to understand the role of Area Mechanics (AMs), their relationships with water point committees and other stakeholders, their perceptions,
motivations and challenges. Questionnaires and an audio recorder were employed to
collect data from individual interviews and focus groups.

The study findings revealed that even though the system of AMs is well defined in
policy, in practice things are done differently. The AMs defined their jobs differently; from entrepreneurs (10%) to community volunteers (90%) and the sizes of catchment areas of AMs are mostly divided informally and unequally which affects service delivery.
The study also found AMs are motivated by both monetary and non-monetary benefits
from the communities under their jurisdictions.

Consequently, overall the level of incentives and disincentives seem to have affected
their maintenance service provision as well as their relationships with other water point
stakeholders. For proper functioning of an AM system as part of groundwater infrastructure, this paper therefore proposes the need to revise the policy and procedures in training, selection and allocation of AMs as well regular short term trainings to area mechanics at district level.”

Source: Conference Abstract

An Analysis of Hand Pump Boreholes Functionality in Malawi

by  Prof T. Mkandawire, E. Mwathunga, A.M. MacDonald, H.C. Bonsor, S. Banda, P.,Mleta, S. Jumbo, J. Ward, D. Lapworth, L. Whaley, R.M. Lark

Abstract

A survey on functionality of boreholes equipped with hand pumps was undertaken in five districts in Malawi in 2016. The survey aimed at developing a robust evidence base and understanding of the complex and multifaceted causes of high failure rates of groundwater supplies in Africa in the wake of climate change. This would guide sustainable future investments in water and sanitation projects.A stratified two-stage sampling strategy was adopted.

The results from the survey indicate that 74% of hand pump boreholes (HPBs) are functional at any one point; 66% of HPBs passed the design yield of 10 liters per minute; 55% passed the design yield and also experienced less than one month downtime within a year; and 43% of HPBs which passed the design yield and reliability, also passed the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards of water quality.

The survey also assessed the village level Water Management Arrangements at
each water point. Results indicate that the majority of the Water Management Arrangements (86%) are functional or highly functional.

The initial exploration of the data shows no simple relationship between the physical functionality and Water Management Arrangements.

Source: Conference Abstract

Photo: SADC-GMI (via Twitter)

Resilience of Rural Groundwater Supplies to Climate Change

Key Note Presentation by Prof. Alan MacDonald @ 1st SADC Groundwater Conference
Keywords: (Drought, Climate, Change, Infrastructure, Groundwater Resources, Resilience).

Alan

“Recent droughts have highlighted the need to understand and forecast the resilience of water supplies to climate variability. Resilience of groundwater supplies is determined by several factors: groundwater storage; long term recharge; permeability; and the infrastructure put in place to abstract groundwater.

“Drawing on recent research from across Africa, mainly funded through the UPGro programme, this talk examines the relative importance of each of these factors for rural drinking water supplies, and attempts to distinguish between the behaviour of the groundwater resource and the water infrastructure.

“A variety of data are presented and evaluated: detailed groundwater level monitoring of springs, wells and boreholes; national survey data of borehole functionality; groundwater residence time indicators; and also information from GRACE and global Land Surface Model.”

Source: Conference Abstract

Photo: SADC-GMI (via Twitter)

Facing the groundwater threats and opportunities in Southern Africa

This week, regional and international water experts have converged on Johannesburg at the 1st Groundwater Conference of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The event has been convened by the SADC Groundwater Management Institute (GMI) in assocciation with a number of partners including GRIPP

UPGro has a strong presence at the event as part of the build-up to Africa Water Week next month, in Gabon:

  • Opening Keynote: Karen G. Villholth (GroFutures) and Jude Cobbing.
    “Adapting to Climate Change in the SADC Region – A Focus on Groundwater.”
  • Presentation: Theresa Mkandawire (Hidden Crisis) presented “An analysis of hand pump boreholes functionality in Malawi.”
  • Keynote speaker: Alan McDonald. (Hidden Crisis/GroFutures) “Resilience of rural
    groundwater supplies to climate change”
  • Presentation: Thokozani Mtewa,Evance Mwathunga and Wapulumuka Mulwafu.
    (Hidden Crisis) “They gave us breakfast and a good meal’: Roles, perceptions and
    motivations of water point area mechanics in the maintenance of borehole handpumps in Balaka district, Malawi.”
  • Keynote speaker: Dr Callist Tindimugaya “Groundwater and African National Development Strategies”

You can follow the conference on Twitter: #gwconference2018

photo : Prof Theresa Makandawire presenting UPGro Hidden Crisis work in Malawi (credit BGS via Twitter)

 

:: New UPGro Paper :: Understanding process, power, and meaning in adaptive governance

Two new social science papers from Hidden Crisis

Key Points from :

Understanding process, power, and meaning in adaptive governance: a critical institutional reading.

  • “Adaptive governance” has a number of core principles:
    • The need to live with change and uncertainty
    • To foster adaptive capacity (i.e. being able to anticipate and respond to change and uncertainty)
    • To understand human and natural systems as interconnected
    • To consider resilience as the central desirable attribute, e
  • One of two case studies focuses on a non-UPGro project, called SWAUM (2011-2016), in the Great Ruaha River catchment in Tanzania (which, by coincidence is one of the GroFutures observatories)
    • Concerns about the catchment arose in the 1990s and a number of donor-funded projects tried to improve the natural/water resource management of the catchment.
    • An evaluation of the SWAUM project had strengthened coordination both vertically and horizontally through hierarchies at different political levels.
    • Limited improvements in land management had taken place but despite the greater awareness, debate and agreement, local people continued to cultivate river banks and river beds to the detriment of the river flows – and despite a deliberate attempt to include marginalised people, they did not get significant representation from pastoralists. This may be in part due to a dominant narrative from other, more powerful, stakeholders that they are to blame for resource depletion.
  • Cleaver and Whaley conclude that the following three elements are inextricably bound together:
    • Process: institutions that are designed for adaptive governance (such as knowledge sharing platforms, resource management arrangements) may only work and endure where they serve other socially valued processes and are embedded in accepted forms of behaviour and practices.
    • Power: allocation or resources or dominance of particular narratives about cause-and-effect is driven by visible, hidden and invisible uses of power by individuals, social groups and organisations. This is often why designed interventions for adaptive governance often deliver less than expected.
    • Meaning: There different worldviews on cause and effect in the human and natural worlds and involve multiple processes that will likely affect adaptive governance arrangements.