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

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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Generating credible evidence for UPGro: start of Survey 2 in Uganda – by Gloria Berochan, WaterAid, Uganda

The Survey II of unlocking the potential of Ground water for the poor (UPGro) research project has kicked off in Uganda. The research aims at building a robust, credible body on groundwater supply failure, build knowledge and use this knowledge to influence the delivery of a step-change in future functionality.

The Survey 2 – is a detailed survey of 50 boreholes  equipped with hand pumps, aimed at providing detailed physical and social science datasets to better understand the underlying causes of poor functionality of rural water supplies.

The team is undertaking detailed fieldwork on the multiple factors governing water point failure –  collating social sciences, natural science and engineering data. The survey methods include:

  • detailed community discussions and transect walks with key attention to financing, management and governance arrangements
  • examination of the construction standard of the water point and the groundwater resource properties, including water chemistry.

This involves dismantling of the hand pumps, visual inspection of the components to quantify evidence of wear, corrosion and structural defects, galvanizing thickness of the pipes and rods for cross-country comparisons to standard pump components sourced from a reputable manufacturer in India.

So far, seven boreholes have been competed in Luwero district…43 more to go!
The Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) are strongly supportive and engaged in the work in Uganda:

We appreciate the efforts and progress so far made in unveiling the potential of ground water….because we need answers to reverse the high failures as a nation. Uganda therefore, waits eagerly for this ingenuity” said MWE officials.

Some field highlights

Uganda 1&2
From L-R: Uganda team researchers (Makerere University & WaterAid) and Donald John (BGS) at the MWE for an entry meeting prior to survey 2 field investigations; Discussing the material science of the hand pump parts after visual inspection.

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(Above) The team conducting Groundwater quality field measurements to;

  • Examine the reasons for HPB corrosion and assess the corrosiveness of aquifer water.
  • Assess the general groundwater chemistry and microbiology within the aquifer.
  • Determine the residence time of groundwater which will allow investigation of recharge dynamics for each individual HPB.

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(Above) The team used borehole CCTV camera to assess the construction details for comparisons with the original construction logs. This also allows assessing the current condition of the borehole. Key details being captured are;

  • Condition, type and interval of the casings
  • Well designs
  • Open-hole sections of the borehole
  • Any visible inflows, such as fractures and  evidence of bubbles and their origin, if it is possible and identifiable
Uganda 6&7
From L-R: The dynamics of dismantling uPVC pipes; Community mapping session.

UpGro Hidden Crisis Physical Sciences Longitudinal Studies – Uganda Lift Off!

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Clockwise from top left: Measuring SWL in the elusive abandoned borehole and a cow; Installation of one of the rainfall collectors in the community chairpersons backyard; Securing the logger access hatch onto the pump pedastool; Modifying the handpump headworks so that a logger can be installed securely

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 main survey phases in the project (field survey 1 and 2).

The temporal datasets collected by the longitudinal studies will be used to estimate groundwater recharge to the groundwater system and also examine how the aquifers respond to climatic events or potential contamination issues.

What data is being collected?

  1. Bulk monthly rainfall samples, will be used with the groundwater chemistry data collected in Survey 1, to estimate groundwater recharge by applying the chloride mass balance (CMB) method.
  2. Water level data from HPBs, will be collected using manual measurements, as well as pressure transducers.  These data show the short (seasonal episodic events) and long term trends which can be used as indicators of the capacity of the water resource and its sustainability.

How? The mainstay of the fieldwork will be conducted by the in-country physical science researcher, Joseph Okullo from Makerere University, in conjunction with a number of ‘community researchers’, who will conduct frequent and regular monitoring and observation of rainfall collectors and water levels. Samples collected will be analysed at Flinders University in Australia.  The sites being used were selected from some of the sites sampled in the First Main Survey phase of the project.

Easy? The field program hasn’t been without its challenges. Mobilisation, logistics and consultation on the ground always take longer than you think. Most HPBs in Uganda are also India Mark II, which we have had to modify with the assistance of some additional ‘hydrogeologist’ tools (aka an angle grinder) so that water level measurements can be made and water level loggers deployed.   Re-finding HPB’s visited in Field Survey 1 is also not without some challenges – some proving quite elusive and others difficult to re-access at all times of the year in thunderstorms when tracks very muddy.

Watch this space for updates and results!

Ethiopia Phase 2 – Survey Update

UpGro Combined

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 problem is before putting it back together again. The tests include investigating the condition of the pump and sending a camera into the borehole to check the construction.  We also carry out many different tests to determine the permeability of the rocks, the chemistry of the groundwater, and the residence time of the water pumped from the borehole.

At the same time, our social science team carries out detailed discussions with different groups within the community to understand how the water point is managed, and how they cope when the waterpoint doesn’t work.

Once the field study is completed in late July 2017 we will have a unique dataset of the different reasons for the poor functionality of some boreholes equipped with handpumps.  This will also help us to see linkages between physical and social aspects of rural water supply.  Armed with lessons learned from this study, the Ethiopian government and partners will be able to construct more resilient water points in the future.

In case you’re wondering where the community gets its water for the 2 days we are dismantling their pump, we have two water tanks with us that are filled to keep the supply going.

The work in Ethiopia is being undertaken by a team of researchers from Addis Ababa University, the British Geological Survey, Sheffield University and WaterAid. Two more surveys in Uganda and Malawi will start later in the year.

Image captions from L-R: The team puts a camera down the borehole to investigate its construction; We lay out the pump component parts and measure corrosion and materials; Before the tests we fill up some water tanks to enable people to still fetch water.

 

 

2nd Project workshop meeting, Edinburgh, 21-24 Nov 2016

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Overview and aims of the workshop

Since our last project workshop, held in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in September 2015, the first main survey phase of the project (to survey the functionality and performance of a sub-sample of water points and committees) has been completed within each of the three countries, alongside a rapid political economy analysis studies for Ethiopia and Malawi (Uganda to happen within the next few months).

The aim of the workshop was to bring the project team together to foster our growing working relationships, and to:

1. Review Survey 1 – key challenges and successes – and to review the initial analysis of the data and plan for more detailed final analysis
2. Planning of Survey 2  – location and site selection criteria, the research approach and aims, methods and logistics
3. Planning of the Longitudinal studies in the 3 countries for both physical and social science surveys
4. Interdisciplinary research – to review and discuss our approaches to interdisciplinary science in the Hidden Crisis project and lessons learned from other UPGro Projects
5. Discuss ongoing stakeholder engagement and a Publication Strategy – for both the country research teams, and for the project as a whole.

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Attendees and meeting programme

The workshop was held at the British Geological Survey (BGS) office in Edinburgh, UK, over four days – from 21st to 24th November 2016.  Representatives from all institutions and from each country involved in the research consortium attended the workshop – 23 people in total.

Day 1 was focused to reviewing the work of Survey 1 across the three countries and the initial data analysis; on Day 2 the key logistics and research aims of Survey 2 happening  in 2017 were discussed, as well as the political economy work completed so far; Day 3 explored interdisciplinary research in the project, and the key aims and logistics for the longitudinal studies; and, Day 4, was used to identify and review the key priorities and planning actions for the next few months across the project team for the next main research survey phases. Several short “Ted talks” were also given throughout the week.

Summary of discussions

Presentations were made by Dessie Nedaw (Ethiopia), Michael Owor (Uganda) and Evance Mwathunga (Malawi) of the successes and challenges in completing Survey 1 across the three countries.    The project database and QA process which has been developed to store all the data collected by the project (both physical science and social science) from Survey 1, and subsequent surveys.

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A preliminary analysis of Survey 1 data from Ethiopia was presented by Dessie Nedaw and Seifu Kebebe.  The analysis used the project approach of examining the impact of using different definitions of water point functionality.  These include: working at the time of visit, having an acceptable yield, passing national inorganic chemistry standards, and whether they contained total thermal tolerant coliforms.

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The initial results of the rapid political economy analysis (PEA) work from Malawi and Ethiopia were presented by Naomi Oates and Florence Pichon of ODI, respectively.

There were detailed discipline group discussions and wider project team discussions to identify the main methods, key criteria for site selection and the main challenges and logistics for planning Survey 2.  Discussion was given to logistical and ethical challenges of repair of water points visited, risk of damage of the water points, and management of community expectations and follow-up during the mobilisation phases.  Key timescales for planning were identified by the project team.

planning

A half day of the workshop was focused on a wider project team discussion of our approach to interdisciplinary science – and the key challenges and opportunities of doing this in the next phases of the project.  Kirsty Upton (of the UPGro programme co-ordination group) gave a presentation of an external MSc research paper, which has reviewed the different approaches to interdisciplinary science across the 5 UPGro consortium projects.  Lissie Liddle (PhD student Cambridge University) presented the systems dynamics analysis she will be conducting for the Hidden Crisis project, bringing together physical and social science data, as part of her PhD within a Bayesian network analysis; and, Richard Carter then led a facilitated project discussion on our different perceptions of physical and social science factors to HPB failure.

Malawi Phase 1 – Survey Update

Progress to date

The Phase 1 survey is now 80% complete and the team are preparing to start fieldwork in the final district, Mzimba. The survey began in the south; Balaka was the first district to be completed, followed by Machinga, Lilongwe Rural and Nkhotakota. The rains have now begun in the south but will not reach Mzimba for another few weeks, so the survey is on schedule to finish at the very end of the dry season.

A total of 160 hand pumped borehole (HPBs) have been surveyed to date, 32 of which have been abandoned or were non-functional at the time of assessment.

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Survey 1 completed in Uganda

Survey 1 completed in Uganda – report from Joseph, Felece and the team

Survey 1 in Uganda was conducted from June 4 to September 15. A total of 200 boreholes across ten districts has been surveyed – three of the districts in central Uganda, two in the western region, three in the northern part, and two in the eastern part of the country. In each of these districts, 20 communities/boreholes were visited and surveyed.  Out of 200 boreholes surveyed: 60% were found to be in use at the time of visit, 20% were not functioning, and 20% were abandoned.

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UPGro Survey 1 in Uganda consisted of a team of 6: Physical science researcher – Joseph; Assistant physical science researcher – Bonny; Social science researcher – Felece; Driver & bucket changer – Phillip; and two pumpers (identified by the district water officer of each of the respective districts).  Michael did a commendable job in ensuring the smooth running and success of the Uganda survey, and working closely with WaterAid Uganda whose assistance in ensuring the Survey was completed on time was invaluable and greatly appreciated.   In Uganda, pump mechanics were found very useful due to being more conversant with the road network and communities of their district. Hence, for each district at least one of the pumpers was a pump mechanic. This enabled a number of challenges to be overcome as they were known by their communities and hence saved a great deal of time for the survey team.

 The team has gained a lot of experience from the ‘twin survey’ (i.e. physical and social science surveys) methodology, equipment and the different social communities across the Uganda. In addition, the survey 1 has helped most of the surveyed district water officials to update their borehole status database.

 Major challenges found by the Survey team in Uganda were: accessibility to water points, due to poor road network and farmland boundaries; finding social committees especially where HPB’s had been abandoned; and the tight time schedule of the survey. Fortunately all the challenges were overcome and finished our survey of ten districts in time!