Wednesday, June 19, 2013

CWSA, Triple – S, Use Mobile Technology To Tackle Water, Sanitation Facilities Breakdown

Participants at SMARTer WASH project launch
By Patrick Baidoo

Statistics available indicate that about 30 percent of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities across rural and peri-urban communities in Ghana have broken down, or are not functioning properly and in need of maintenance to ensure their sustainability for long term use.

A functionality and sustainability study conducted by Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) under the Sustainable Services @ Scale (Triple-S) initiative in three districts in Ghana shows an average non- functionality rate of 30 percent which confirms the current statistics on non-functionality.

But, the conundrum should be that as government and its institutions as well as civil society continue to receive resources from different donors to construct new WASH facilities for usage, maintenance of existing facilities must also be ensured so that the communities enjoy safe and potable facilities all year round.

This idle situation is different since WASH facilities are left to malfunction due to inability to consistently ensure maintenance, hence, funding for new projects are rather channeled to providing repairs or resuscitating broken down water points to the detriment of some communities and their inhabitants that are seriously in need of such amenities.

Notwithstanding the over 80 percent potable water provision coverage that the country has achieved under the Millennium Development Goal as indicated by the Joint Monitoring Platform, a cross section of people and communities are still in need of safe drinking water and good sanitary conditions.

But this achievement none the less have been embedded with great challenges, which could be largely attributed to the growing high percent of non-functioning of WASH facilities as inaccessible and untimely supply of spare parts, delays in repair services by area mechanics, weak community based water service providers, lack of reliable and up to date data on WASH facilities and to a large extent inefficient monitoring and evaluation system at all fronts.

An important step towards addressing non-functionality of WASH facilities is having a robust and comprehensive monitoring system that provides continuous reliable data required for remedial and corrective action.

SMARTER WASH PROJECT

In this regard, the Triple-S Project working through the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) has developed indicators for monitoring rural water service delivery based on national standards, norms and guidelines, under a project termed, SMARTer WASH.

This three year project which has commenced uses mobile phone technology for the monitoring of rural water and sanitation Services delivery with the application of Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW) software. 

The project strengthens the enabling environment for sustaining the monitoring mechanism in Ghana, develops and applies latest information technology and would strengthen private sector investment in the country.

The project aims at establishing the architecture for nationwide and long term monitoring of WASH services in rural communities and small towns in Ghana. It will be implemented in three regions: Greater Accra, Northern Region, and Brong Ahafo. 

It is thus designed to build on the vision and guidelines for monitoring in Ghana, in particular those of the CWSA and aligns with other sector monitoring initiatives. 

The indicators under this project have been tested in three (3) Triple-S, focused districts, namely,  Akatsi (Volta Region), East Gonja (Northern Region and Sunyani-West (Brong-Ahafo region), respectively. 

Based on the national indicators for the provision of WASH services in the rural water sub-sector, comprehensive baseline data of water supply facilities in the project pilot districts was collected by district staff using mobile phone technology based on Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW) application hence the implementation of such a product in some selected regions in the country. 

FLOW MECHANISM

FLOW is a web-based information and communication technology used for monitoring and data collection and uses smart or tablets running the android operating system. 

The mechanism has gone through pilot application in some communities and the next  phase which has already started will be conducted in all districts in the Northern, Brong – Ahafo and Volta Regions of Ghana to reverse the situation where the traditional manual data collection method used to be cumbersome, and staffs had to carry camera’s, GPS and papers to the field to monitor and evaluate water facilities which invariably lead to the keeping and delaying in processing and sharing of information on WASH facilities for prompt action.

FLOW allows all these features to be integrated into one phone and data collected is sent to a central database over a local mobile data network where it is shared instantly for action.

Also the FLOW, allows officers from the local authority, WASH technicians and engineers even in the poorest parts of a country to monitor and evaluate whether projects are making a difference or functioning properly to enable the appropriate remedial actions to be taken. 

The experience of using FLOW in the Triple-S project pilot districts showed that data collected is more secured, decisions making is based on field data, and there is greater transparency and accountability in data access and use.

The bottom line is that after information on water facilities have gathered from the field with the specialized fitted phones simple and easy to acquire (any ordinary) mobile phones could be used to sent text to appropriate quarters for any problem associated with the WASH facility (like spare parts supply) to be tackled with alacrity.

CEO - CWSA

In that regard the chief Executive, CWSA at a workshop to share the beneficial outcome of FLOW and the SMARTer WASH project with its partners as a result of some piloting on the concept noted that the new technology, “enables water points across the entire regions or communities to be monitored affordably – with accurate data that is easier to gather and share”.

He said that the tool was of great essence thus he was envisaging a future where the district assemblies would take hold of the FLOW mechanism to turn the WASH development agenda positively.

During deliberations it came to light that each district would be provided with at least two android phones to help with their field surveys and M&E for prompt redress of WASH facilities breakdown, while at the same time building the capacity of staff to be in tune with the new initiative.
The CWSA Boss, also indicated that his outfit was reviewing existing national strategy documents and guidelines for the WASH sector in due cause to ensure sanity.

Forum Outcome

Various speakers at the end of the session called for the development of ways to push the FLOW mechanism on a large scale, hold technical sessions for senior managers for them to understand the tool for adoption in their projects, look at harmonization of existing baseline information and tools on M&E and the developing of guidance M&E framework based on the various pilots in the WASH sector.

“We must take advantage of ICT to collect data as opposed to regular paper base data collection. This enables traditional questionnaires to be stored on smart phones or devices and answers from respondents keyed in directly while on the field for prompt redress”, Jeremiah Atengdem, Northern Regional Learning Facilitator, Triple – S.

About CWSA and Triple - S

CWSA is the government agency responsible for facilitating and regulating rural water and sanitation services in rural and peri-urban communities, while Triple - S Project is an initiative of IRC International - Netherlands to improve water supply to rural poor in Ghana through: Action research, piloting and testing innovations, multi-stakeholder dialogue, and sector change and reform.

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