Tuesday, October 20, 2015

SMARTerWASH project enhances rural water provision

By Edmund Smith-Asante, ACCRA
Eumerators taking data on a dis-functional water system.
Rural water provision in Ghana has received a major boost through the introduction of the use of the smartphone to collect data on the performance of all water facilities provided for communities, irrespective of who provided them.

Known as the SMARTerWASH project, the provision of a database on the functionality of rural water systems, which began as a pilot under a Sustainable Services at Scale (Triple-S) project in three districts of the country in 2014, has since then been scaled up to cover 119 districts in six regions.

These are the Upper East, Upper West, Northern, Brong Ahafo, Central and Western regions where data has been collected on about 20,000 hand pumps, including boreholes, hand-dug wells with pumps, pipe systems comprising small town, small community and mechanised water systems.

A total of 131 districts have, however, been covered in the data collection procedure, leaving 85 districts in four regions – the Greater Accra, Volta, Eastern and Ashanti.

The project is a public private partnership supported by the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC), Akvo and Skyfox Ltd, with collaborative funding from the government of Ghana, the Dutch government, the World Bank, UNICEF, the Conrad Hilton Foundation and SNV at a total cost of about €3 million.

Data collection process
In an interview with the Daily Graphic last Monday, the focal person for the project and Director, Planning and Investments at the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), Mr Benedict K. A. N. Kubabom, explained that the project entailed “using the smart or android phone to capture data on the various water facilities we have on the field.”

“This information is transmitted straight to what we call the cloud (dashboard), which can be accessed if you have Internet services.”

A total of 371 android phones have been provided for the data collection, with each district receiving three phones.

Mr Kubabom said the data collection was done using a data collection tool or software known as the Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW) that was developed by a Dutch company Akvo, formerly a US-based company known as Water for People.

“So you just go to the site where the system is, then you take the GPS location of the system, then you do a stroke test on the system to see how many strokes will bring out the water, then from there you go to the managers of the system (the water board or water and sanitation committee) to interview them and then to the district assembly, which is supposed to ensure that water services are properly managed in the district and talk to them.

“There are questions on the electronic form which are keyed in when answers are provided to the questions asked and as soon as the data is captured, it goes straight to the dashboard by means of the Internet,” Mr Kubabom said.

He added, however, that data could be collected offline and later sent to the dashboard.
Every information gathered on the field is downloaded and cross-checked or verified (cleaned) by Information Technology (IT) personnel in CWSA’s regional offices before it is added to the database on the dashboard.

Later, the data is transferred onto excel sheets and analysed, from which graphs, pie charts, tables and others are generated to give information on the districts in the region, the water systems available and the number of systems functioning or not functioning, the water management structure in place, water quality and other similar considerations, he added.

Field personnel
Mr Kubabom said enumerators were recruited in the districts to assist with the data collection in the districts and then support was provided from the agency’s offices.

The project Coordinator, Mr Emmanuel Atengdem, told the Daily Graphic that at the district level, over 700 staff drawn from the community development, district planning and coordinating and environmental health and sanitation units had received training to collect baseline data from the field and also assess the performance of providers at the communities.

At the regional level, apart from CWSA staff, over 152 staff from the Regional Coordinating Council (RCC) and the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) have also been trained as trainers of trainers, while about 30 personnel have been trained at the national level, he stated.

“So it means you can safely say about 900 people have been trained under this project in the new framework for rural water monitoring that has been developed,” Mr Atengdem said.

He said one of the challenges that the CWSA faced was the lack of reliable and accurate data to make informed investment decisions to do informed planning, budgeting and others. “Clearly, if you do not know what the situation is, it becomes difficult to know what action to take to address that particular situation,” he stated.

According to Mr Atengdem, the lack of credible data also affected the kind of remedial actions that the agency had to take to improve on service delivery.

Benefits of project
Touching on the benefits of the project, he said it provided accurate data on water systems, enabled assemblies to provide support where needed, identified gaps in communities to enable the assemblies and CWSA budget adequately, and it afforded communities access to potable water, as well as training for community and service providers.

He indicated that as a result of the project, it had been identified that over 30 per cent of boreholes in the Northern Region, which translates to over 1,000 of the facilities, were not working. He said based on the projection that a borehole is supposed to serve not more than 300 people, over 30,000 people therefore were denied access to potable water.

Next phase
The next phase of the project would be to track the response of the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) to the data, seek additional funding for the remaining 85 districts to have a complete national picture and see how the data collected impact on the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development’s functional organisational assessment tool (FOAT) which assesses the assemblies based on the systems that are functioning.

Writer’s email: edmund.asante@graphic.com.gh

This story was first published by the Daily Graphic on October 7, 2015

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