Research Dissemination in Ethiopia – Measuring functionality and performance levels

By Tseguereda Abraham, Zinash Kefale (WaterAid Ethiopia) and Dessie Nedaw (Addis Ababa University)
25 April 2019

WaterAid in collaboration with Addis Ababa University recently conducted workshops with two Ethiopian Universities to begin to disseminate some of the key research from the first major survey phase of the project – these were held at Bahir Dar University (16t April 2019) and Mekelle University ( 18 April 2019).

Both workshops were attended by over 30 WASH academics, including academics and lecturers, in addition to post-graduate students and University staff, and staff of the Nile Basin Development office.

Dr Dessie Nedaw and Dr Seifu Kebede (Addis Ababa University) introduced the Hidden Crisis project to both workshops.  The workshops then presented the project work to define functionality using a tiered approach and the field methods used to assess different performance levels within a rapid survey.  The different levels of functionality defined and assessed by the project are:

  1. Binary Functionality – is the water point working and delivering some water (yes/no)
  2. Functionality: yield snapshot – does the water point work and provide sufficient yield (10 L/min) on the day of the survey
  3. Functionality: reliable yield – does the water point provide sufficient yield (10 L/min) on the day of survey, is it reliable (<30 days downtime in last year) or abandoned (not worked in past year)?
  4. Reliable yield and water quality – as 3 above, and also passes WHO guidelines

Key findings from the data collected by the first major survey phase in Ethiopia were presented and discussed. 

Participants were particularly interested in the methods used to assess functionality, and including reliable yield and water quality.  The key points of both workshop discussions centred around:

  • Whether population expansion and service over use has been considered as a criteria?
  • How seasonality has been accounted for in measuring reliability?
  • The basis for selecting a down time for 30 days as a measure of ‘reliability’? And variations across Regions and woredas/districts
  • What success will look like in the context of Ethiopia and why universal access is not happening anywhere?
  • How the UPGro Hidden Crisis work relates to the functionality challenge in Ethiopia and achieving the SDG targets for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
  • Which type of pumps were considered in the study and why?
  • Water security issues in Ethiopia and how some issues are preventable though a well implemented water safety plan? Water quality parameters can also vary by type of target area.
  • How the sampling was done and what a representative sample was also another area of interest.
  • The role of the political economy and an entire chain of drivers and barriers, which determine functionality, as well as technological issues and physical

There was also interest in how the work could be applied to lowland areas for regions such as Tigray, Somali and Afar.

Both universities showed real interest in several areas of potential follow-up, and areas of more in-depth dissemination were identified, including:

  • Encouraging similar studies by students
  • Engaging the Water bureau and districts for them to be regularly measuring functionality using the tiered approach
  • Arranging another workshop to share Research II findings and how it applies to the Region

Bahir Dar Institute of Technology have shared already the workshop photos and news in their website.

Dr Seifu Kebede presenting key research findings from Ethiopia in the first major survey phase of the UPGro Hidden Crisis project.
Dr Dessie Nedaw presenting the field methods and approach to assess the functionality and performance levels of handpumped boreholes.
Both workshops were attended by >30 academics, lecturers in addition to post graduate students.

IRC WASH Symposium

By Donald John MacAllister
10 April 2019

I recently attended the IRC WASH systems symposium that took place in The Hague, the administrative capital of the Netherlands, from the 12 – 14 March 2019.

The conference was held in The Hague, which is known as the International City of Peace and Justice. The Peace Palace is one of the most iconic buildings in the city, it houses the United Nations International Court of Justice.

The symposium focussed on WASH systems and systems thinking in the WASH sector. The event aimed to increase understanding of how systems approaches can help build sustainable and expanded WASH services around the world.

Broken pumps were identified as a symptom of broken systems and were contrasted with tap water supplies that are normal in the western world and which indicate functional systems. The need for broad and systematic thinking and collaboration across different organisations, sectors and skill sets was strongly emphasised. The One WASH programme in Ethiopia and The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign) programme in India, both government led programmes, were cited as highly successful examples of systems approaches that are delivering positive change. Sessions relevant to UPGRo included discussions of novel techniques for groundwater supply monitoring in fragile states, water safety planning, and piped water and self-supply in rural and urban environments. Sessions also focussed on data and use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to maximise benefit from routinely collected and/or publicly available data.

Work from the Hidden Crisis project was presented in the water theme in a session called ‘Overcoming rural water supply challenges’, which included contributions from academia and NGOs. It was recognised early in the session that point source water supplies, including hand pumped boreholes, serve the vast majority of people in rural SSA and are also growing at the fastest rate, and that this is likely to be the case for some time to come.

There were five presenters, four of these focussed on various aspects of point source water supplies in SSA, and a fifth presentation discussed piped water systems in rural Nepal. I presented work from our detailed analysis of hand pumped borehole functionality which forms the second phase of the Hidden Crisis project. My presentation focused on the some of the emerging findings to the influence of water levels, aquifer properties and pump materials on hand pumped borehole functionality in Ethiopia. Other contributions to the session included institutional aspects of rural water supply in Kenya by fellow UPGRo researchers from Oxford University; challenges of finance, governance and technology in Nepal by Oxfam; and, problems with supply chains in Ethiopia by CARE.

A panel discussion focussed on some key questions within the rural water supply sector, focusing on technology and the institutional context of rural water supply. Challenges with community management, user satisfaction, motivation and finance were also discussed. Gaps in the supporting environment were highlighted as crucial weak points in rural water systems, including high vacancy rates and low capacity in district water offices. Badly designed drilling contracts and lack of hydrogeological oversight were also discussed. Political will was highlighted as central to achieving higher success rates and long term sustainability in the rural water supply sector.

The symposium provoked many interesting discussions on a range of topics relevant to Hidden Crisis, and UPGRo more broadly, and was an important audience for communicating the emerging findings from our research. The need to take a systems approach was central to the discussions and advocated as an innovative way of achieving universal access to safe and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene. As the systems approach aims to understand the whole WASH system it may be a good opportunity for hydrogeologists, and technicians more generally, to engage more in the discussion around achievement of SDG6, as groundwater is often a key part of the WASH system.

The Netherlands is famed for its culture of cycling

UPGro programme – Early Career Workshop

By Chikondi Shaba, Malawi University
26 – 30 November, UK

UPGro Early Career Researchers convening in London

The Early career workshop was the highlight of my 2018!  It was my first time to attend an early career researcher’s workshop that combined Natural and social sciences and my first time to visit the UK. All other workshops that I have attended have been very scientific, technical and specific to my area of study and interest – Analytical Chemistry and Mass Spectrometry. Until joining the Hidden Crisis team in 2017, my research work was primarily lab based, of course with the aim of achieving solutions that will have positive impact on humanity. We collect samples, analyse and report – a very technical focused scope.  

The workshop contained a range of sessions over the 5 days including: writing peer-reviewed academic papers; verbal and poster communication; communicating across disciplines and with different users of research; and grant writing.

This workshop gave me direction on several of my individual skill gaps such as dealing with the communication gap between communities and scientists, incorporating a social science aspect into a purely natural science project, putting direction into a proposal to the funders benefit and not just the communities, and I learnt much about the art of pitching.

The handouts and discussion on technical writing were very enlightening of the “common but not so obvious” mistakes made in manuscript preparation and writing in general. During this interactive session, we explored components of Brevity, Clarity, and Accuracy in writing styles. Most useful was the reference to research and donors with regard to the African countries and not just the UK context.

I have only ever done one poster presentation, the practice of giving a two-minute overview of a presentation was quite challenging for me and it did make me perfect organisation and time keeping during presentations.

I have read about UPGro and the various projects under it, but meeting other UPGro career researchers especially from the other projects other than Hidden Crisis, in person, was surreal. We got to share about the various work we are all doing, the impact on the communities, the experiences during fieldwork, and our personal development. It was fun and highly motivating. This interaction and the Ineson lecture put into perspective how I could combine my research interests and my Hidden Crisis experience.

This week was very inclusive both in terms of nationality, and in terms of natural and social science disciplines. I look forward to another early career researcher’s workshop for more skills and as a platform to share our work and experiences.

On another note, the UK has always been at the top of my travel destination list, and UPGro made it happen. The tour of London was super amazing and a great start to the week.

UPGro ECR’s hard at work during the training week!
UPGro Early Career Researchers presenting their research from within the UPGro programme, at the UPGRo conference, Burlington House, London.

A political economy analysis of Malawi’s rural water supply sector

UPGro report from Malawi:

Many rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa still lack clean water for basic needs such as drinking and washing. Even where water points have been constructed, many break down prematurely or provide inadequate, seasonal or poor quality water supplies. While techno-managerial factors are relevant in explaining these problems, attention is needed to the institutional and political-economic dynamics shaping policy outcomes on the ground.

This report presents the findings from a political economy study of Malawi’s rural water supply sector. Combining a review of the literature with in-country interviews at a national and district level, the analysis identifies the underlying causes of bottlenecks in the service delivery chain, which undermine sustainability and functionality of water points. These relate to structural factors (i.e. the political, economic and institutional context) and actors’ practices, influence and incentives. The authors recommend that central government departments and development partners engaged in water service delivery:

  • give greater recognition and support to District Councils and District Water Development Offices, as their role is crucial to delivering sustainable water services
  • adhere to basic good practices in developing and implementing programmes
  • increase attention and funding to neglected areas of the service delivery chain, namely post-construction support and monitoring activities
  • avoid ideological approaches to decentralised service delivery, and focus instead on context-specific solutions, including support to successful innovations
  • provide spaces to critique dominant approaches to service delivery, as part of an adaptive learning process.

ODI is an independent, global think tank, working for a sustainable and peaceful world in which every person thrives. Their vision is a sustainable and peaceful world in which every person thrives. They harness the power of evidence and ideas through research and partnership to confront challenges, develop solutions and create change.

A political economy analysis of Uganda’s rural water supply sector

UPGro report from Uganda:

Many rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa still lack clean water for basic needs such as drinking and washing. Even where water points have been constructed, many break down prematurely or provide inadequate, seasonal or poor-quality water supplies. While techno-managerial factors are relevant in explaining these problems, attention is needed to the institutional and political-economic dynamics shaping policy outcomes on the ground.

This report presents the findings from a political economy study of Uganda’s rural water supply. Combining a review of the literature with in-country interviews at national and district level, the analysis identifies underlying causes of bottlenecks in the service delivery chain. Based on interviews with key informants, the authors recommend that the UpGro Hidden Crisis project:

  • involves stakeholders (particularly government) early on during project planning and shares preliminary findings
  • engages district-level actors and not only ministry experts in planning and undertaking the research
  • shares findings with politicians, as well as technical experts and development partners
  • produces accessible written outputs (e.g. reports and briefings) and disseminates these widely
  • hosts multi-stakeholder workshops or forums in which to discuss the research findings and their implications for policy and practice.

ODI is an independent, global think tank, working for a sustainable and peaceful world in which every person thrives. Their vision is a sustainable and peaceful world in which every person thrives. They harness the power of evidence and ideas through research and partnership to confront challenges, develop solutions and create change.

Hidden Crisis interviewed at WEDC Conference, Kenya

Patrick Makuluni is a lecturer in the Mining Department of the University of Malawi, the Polytechnic. Makuluni holds MSc in Mineral Exploration and Mining Geology from Curtin University in Australia and BSc in Civil Engineering from University of Malawi, the Polytechnic.

Recently, the scientist published a paper showing how to recognise where sediments (the exact piece of rock) are coming from by using the geometrical properties of the sediments as opposed to the more expensive methods that have been used previously.

The 30 year old scientist is a family man and his life has always been around his children, work, research and fun. He has developed an interest in Hydrogeology and he would like pursue a PhD in Petroleum Engineering. For the full interview then just click the link.

[IE] How did you know about the UPGro project, and how did you join the team?

[PM] I was recruited by the Principal Investigator for the Hidden Crisis Project, Professor, Eng. Theresa Mkandawire. By then, September 2017, I was just coming into Malawi from Australia where I was doing my MSc in Mineral Exploration and Mining Geology. This was after data collection of phase one of the UPGro project had just been completed.

[IE] In which UPGro study are you working on in Malawi?

[PM] I am the team leader for the physical science team of the phase two of the Hidden Crisis Project in Malawi. The study project seeks to completely understand failures of water points and how to keep water flowing from boreholes to reduce waste and thus improve water services for Africa’s poorest communities.

[IE] What are the early findings of the study?

[PM] Some of the early findings of the study include the following: Functionality of boreholes in Malawi has been affected by theft and vandalism. This comes in because of lack of proper security principles from the borehole users and other factors beyond their control.

Poor water quality in some boreholes has also led people to stop using such boreholes and look for alternative sources.

Most boreholes have failed due to poor or lack of proper maintenance. This has been due to several factors including poverty, lack of proper management to raise funds for maintenance among other reasons.

Poor downhole conditions also leads to frequent borehole breakdowns and poor water quality which both affect the borehole functionality. Some or most of the boreholes have silted up which reduces their capacity to cater for the communities.

Political issues from the government and within the communities also affect borehole functionality.

[IE] What new lessons have you learned through this study?

[PM] This study has taught me a lot of lessons. Firstly, I have learned how to be a good team leader in the field and in the offices. Being in the field (remote areas) is not an easy thing and more to that, making sure that every member of the team is happy with all the activities was not an easy thing.

I have also learned to persevere during hostile conditions while making sure that goals of the project are being achieved. More importantly I have gained a lot of technical skills including hydrogeological skills, field water chemistry, pumping and recovery tests and those involving groundwater and community water point management. I have also gained research skills.

[IE] How has the UPGro work impacted on your teaching career?

[PM] Teaching/lecturing in college goes hand-in-hand with research. Thus, research is a vital component in every lecturer’s career and Hidden Crisis Project has improved my research skills and increased my desire to publish more. The data we have gotten from this project will be available for research and publication of various papers which I intend to be part of.

[IE] What message would you give to your students based on this project?

[PM] In the mining industry, areas that have not been explored properly or thoroughly are called “Green Areas/fields”. So, the message to my students is that ground water in Malawi and most of African countries is a green field. There is more that people do not know about ground water, additionally, groundwater has the potential to reduce water problems and poverty in Malawi thereby ameliorating living standards. More research is needed in this area

[IE] What areas do you think may need further study in regard to unlocking the potential of groundwater?


  • The direct link between the geochemical properties of rocks around a water point and the water chemistry which may have impact on borehole functionality
  • How different people’s beliefs impact on water point management which affects functionality of boreholes. This might involve comparing borehole functionality within areas inhabited by people of different tribes, beliefs and social-political norms
  • How different geological environments affect the silting up of boreholes which may have an impact on functionality of boreholes

[IE] What are your future plans beyond UPGro project?

[PM] I want to pursue my PhD and continue with more research

Patrick was one of the UPGro Early Career Researchers that presented their work at the 41st WEDC Conference at Egerton University, Nakuru Kenya (9-13 July 2018)

Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment at Hidden Crisis Annual Meeting

This year’s annual project meeting of Hidden Crisis was hosted by our Ugandan country team in Kampala (5-8 February 2018).  This workshop marks a turning point in the project as we move from data collection to analysing, interpreting and disseminating the wealth of data generated within Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi.

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There was strong engagement from the three national Governments.  Ministry representatives travelled from Ethiopia and Malawi to take part in the workshop, and for Uganda, a large team attended for one full day, as well as attendees on other days.   This involvement greatly enhanced the projects discussions – particularly about how we frame the data analysis, and how we make the final research results of greatest value and impact to supporting future investment and governance of rural water supply.

In total, there were 10 Ministry officials at the workshop, and 26 project researchers from across the three African countries and UK groups.
Christopher Tumusiime, Assistant Commissioner for Research and Development [Rural Water Supply] with the Ugandan Ministry, gave an opening presentation to the workshop, highlighting the uptake and value of the earlier UPGro Catalyst Grant work (2013-14), and the importance of early engagement with government.

Eng. Aaron Kabirizi, Director of Water Development in Uganda, gave a keynote address – this highlighted ways in which key findings and messages from the Hidden Crisis research can be effectively communicated to senior policy makers within government.

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From L-R: Eng. Aaron Kabiriza (left); Chris Tumusiime (centre).

Other ministry attendees highlighted:

  • the value of the methodologies used within the two survey phases of the Hidden Crisis project, to improving monitoring and evaluation of rural water supply.
  • the need for practical guidelines and recommendations to allow adoption of the methods with existing practices.

Full list of ministry attendees included:

Uganda:  Eng. Aaron Kabirizi, Director of Water Development; Christopher Tumusiime, Assistant Commissioner for Research and Development; Joseph Oriono Eyatu, Commissioner of Rural Water Supply; Anthony Kyalilizo, Principal Water Officer Water Resources Regulation; Olweny Lamu, Principal Engineer Operation and Maintenance; Robert Mutiibwa, Principal Water Officer Groundwater Development; Martin Rwarinda, Principal Water Officer Water Resources Regulation; and Samuel Senfuma, Hydrogeologist.

Ethiopia: Ato Nuredin Mohammed, Director of Water Supply and Sanitation, Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy

Malawi: Prince Mleta, Deputy Director of Water Resources for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.


The Hidden Crisis uncovered in Kampala

by Donald John MacAllister, February 2018

The Hidden Crisis team met, in Kampala, Uganda, 5-8 February 2018, for our annual project meeting. The meeting followed the successful completion of Survey 2 in Ethiopia and Uganda, the initiation of the Longitudinal Studies in all three countries, and some initial analysis of the Survey 1 results. The Malawi team are making good progress in Survey 2 and are due to complete the work in March 2018. So there was a huge amount to discuss at our third workshop.

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Team members from each of the project countries attended, with our Australian members dialling in by Skype on the final day. We were also fortunate to have the Director of the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment and many of his senior colleagues attend for a full day of the workshop. The Ministry has been very supportive of the work of the Hidden Crisis following its inception in 2015, and the success of the catalyst grant that ran in Uganda from 2013 – 2014.

The workshop reflected on the excellent progress that has been made in the project this year, discussed the key interdisciplinary research questions and analysis required, and began planning for the final 18 months of the project. The team also took the opportunity of being together to discuss how the key messages and outcomes from the project could be communicated to key stakeholders and different target audiences.