Survey 2 begins in Malawi

The final country survey of the Hidden Crisis research project has begun in earnest in Malawi. Following the successful completion of the survey in Ethiopia, the equipment was shipped back to the UK, quickly checked and repaired, before being shipped out to Malawi. Like Uganda and Ethiopia before it, the survey will take an in-depth look at the reasons behind low levels of functionality of hand pumped boreholes in four districts in Malawi; Balaka, Lilongwe, Machinga and Nkhotakota. Across these four districts 50 water points were selected from an original survey sample of 200 boreholes. Each water point, over two days, will undergo deconstruction and detailed investigations of the hand pump materials and condition, the aquifer properties, borehole design, water quality and recharge processes, before being reconstructed and handed back to the community. Simultaneously, detailed community social surveys, including focus groups and village mapping exercises, are being conducted.

Malawi COmbined 1
Clockwise from top left: The team conducting hand pump component investigations; the team preparing for a pumping test; repairing the riser pipe after removal for hand pump investigations, heat is used to soften the PVC cement so that the ends of the pipes can be removed from the couplers.

Reflections on 2017 – Donald John MacAllister

Having joined the project in February this year, it has been a whirlwind adventure to the three African countries, meeting our team members and learning the ropes. The effort that has gone into each country surveys is phenomenal and I can’t thank each of the field teams enough for all their efforts, long days and commitment to working for four to five months in the field. Without them the work would simply not be possible.

Each of the communities and hand pumped borehole water supplies I’ve had the privilege to visit, with the survey teams, have been unique. My experience over the last six months has clearly illustrated that the level of functionality of a hand pumped borehole cannot be explained solely by the engineering, physical or social factors that influence its continued use, nor is it easy to predict how and when a borehole might fail or be abandoned.

Malawi Combined 2
From L-R: The team conducting a pumping test; the team enjoying investigating the details of the borehole construction.

Two consecutive investigations at two hand pumped boreholes in the first week of the Malawi survey vividly illustrated the complex factors which influence hand pumped borehole functionality. At the first of these sites several facets of functionality were immediately apparent; firstly, the borehole dried up after less than 5 minutes of pumping at approximately 0.25 l/s, and secondly, the borehole contained high concentrations of faecal coliforms. It was clear that the aquifer was simply not capable of delivering the design yield of an Afridev hand pump at this location and there were clear contamination problems associated with this particular borehole. Despite this, long queues to use the supply and the presence of another source nearby, the community were meticulous in keeping the hand pumped borehole functional. When a part broke it was quickly replaced and the borehole was kept working under most circumstances.

At a neighbouring community we encountered a very different situation. The hand pumped borehole was high yielding and had good water quality. Yet the source had been abandoned, partly because, according to the community, the plunger had broken. Apart from the broken plunger it wasn’t clear why such a highly productive source had been abandoned. Further, investigation revealed three additional water sources in the area and this may have played a role.  Although no conclusions can be drawn from these two sites, they clearly illustrate some of the complex factors influencing functionality, including the complex interplay between sustainability of the service provided by the source, demand for that service and access to a productive water resource. However, it is clear that a one dimensional approach to assessing functionality will never adequately address the challenge of explaining the multi-faceted and underlying reasons for poor levels of functionality across sub-Saharan Africa, hence why our work takes a much broader approach.

Similar issues were encountered in Uganda and Ethiopia but the stark contrast of these two particular sites, so close geographically and in the survey schedule, illustrated to me the potential of the rich data set that will have been constructed when survey 2 is completed across the three countries in January next year. Together with the data collected in the first round of survey’s and the longitudinal studies, the data collected in this second round of survey’s will help inform our understanding of the issues encountered in Malawi and across the other countries.

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