Just in time for World Water Day, Ohio State and partners are wrapping up the first step in a major rehabilitation effort of broken rural water systems in Tanzania.
From November 2015 to March 2016, a field team led by Ohio State partner WorldServe International visited 43 rural villages in eight regions of Tanzania. The purpose of the field visits was to meet the communities and gather data about why their wells aren’t working, a common situation for rural communities in developing countries.
“We knew the official statistics on broken water points in Tanzania, and we’d heard a lot of anecdotal evidence about why water and sanitation systems fail,” said GWI Senior Research Associate Rebecca Gianotti. “But to develop a solution that will really address the root of the problem, we need first-hand information about both the physical and socioeconomic context for why people don’t have reliable access to clean water.”
At each site, the field team conducted technical assessments of the physical infrastructure—boreholes, pumps, tanks and power supplies—and engaged in dialogue with community leadership and local water committees about village needs, goals and constraints in developing more sustainable water systems.
One surprising result was that financial, rather than mechanical, barriers often stood in the way of villages using their current water systems, which are powered by generators. “The common hardship encountered by some villages is raising enough money for diesel to run the generators,” said Simon Shoo, head of the WorldServe field team. “Something has to be done.”
And that’s just what Ohio State and partners hope to do. These 43 communities are part of a group of 125 high-priority sites identified by the Tanzanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation, which has invited the partners to pilot a new model of sustainable rehabilitation (the WE3 Program) to get these water systems back in shape and keep them running sustainably for years to come.
The goal is to use the site assessment data to design village water systems that will serve current needs and grow sustainable prosperity in the future. Features of the sustainable systems proposed by the WE3 team include:
- solar power for water pumps instead of costly diesel
- direct linkages to sources of income like farming or mobile charging
- water system maintenance by a local business owner
- training and tech support for community members via mobile phone
Data from the site visits will be augmented by efforts by researchers at Ohio State and the University of Dodoma to mine existing remote sensing data and historical records for these regions. The combination of site-specific and regional data should help the team better understand the condition of existing infrastructure and the long-term sustainability of groundwater resources in the country.
But to Gianotti, the community dialogue aspect may be the most important outcome of the site assessment.
“Communities expressed their intention to leverage improved water access to support improved livelihoods and new small businesses, like expanded livestock herds, vegetable production, and brickmaking,” she says. “These conversations illustrate the potentially transformative power of clean water – if the systems are sustainable.”