technology, water, water availability, water management

Real Time Data for Water and Sanitation

If you’ve been following recent events like World Water Week or the online Transparency in the Water Sector talk, you’ve heard a lot of buzz about real time data collection. Real time data collection happens when modern technologies (mobile phones, GPS, and computer systems) are adapted for data collection, organization, and dissemination with little time delay. Such technological adaptations helps water users and managers, and as an Alertnet article states, “mobile technology boosts water security for the poor.”


Above Photo: Water for People

Mobile phones play a big part in real time data collection. Over 6 billion people have mobile phones worldwide, and more people have mobile phones than toilets. The GPS, camera, word-processing software, and mobile network associated with some mobile phones allow water users and managers to better: map and track water and sanitation systems to evaluate current and future system development.

  1. Akvo FLOW is a tool for Android Phones with GPS to collect data, analyze data, and visualize data on maps. It has been used in Liberia to create water-point maps. This program was supported and funded by the World Bank. Here are the actual online maps.
  2. WASHFunders.org has a great toolkit for monitoring and evaluation on their website. This toolkit features – among others – FLOW and Water Aid’s Waterpoint Mapper. The Waterpoint Mapper is an open source mapping tool that can be used with no internet connection.
  3. Manobi Development Foundation created mWater which is a program that “allows water-service operators to share information with national authorities and financial institutions via mobile phone.” This system features text messages sent about water production levels, water system financial updates, and water service disruption warnings.
  4. Deep Springs International has been distributing water treatment kits in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. They ensure water technicians are equipped with mobile phones that use radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to identify levels of chlorine in each household kit. Technicians text results back to the organization for further analysis.
  5. Water for People partnered with Akvo to use FLOW as a tool for monitoring and evaluation. They also just unveiled a new real-time sponsor tool called Reimagine Reporting. It links the FLOW data with the funding data.

For more information on mobile phones for real time data collection, check out mobileactive.org. There you can search directly for “water” applications and case studies. There is a great review of such technologies in the WASH sector called mWASH: Mobile Phone Applications for the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Sector. Happy Saturday!

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asia, ngo, participatory management, rural, sanitation, sustainability, water justice, water management

Gandhian Thoughts on Gender, Water, and Sanitation

An eight-hour overnight train journey leaves me waking up just before arrival to Dindigul Junction as the engine rumbles to a stop. For my final field visit in South India, I have come to Gandhigram Trust to see how their recent water and sanitation interventions, funded by Arghyam, have affected women and men in rural villages as part of my studies on gender, water, and sanitation.

Gandhigram began with the encouragement of Mahatma Gandhi. He supported his two friends, Dr. Soundram and Dr. Ramachandran, in starting an organization for local development in rural areas. Since 1947, Gandhigram has engaged in a number of activities to empower those in rural communities through promotion of local industries to strengthen economies, building low-cost health centers, providing housing for abandoned children and the elderly, creating schools for youth to study, and – lately – assisting villages in developing water and sanitation systems.

Kasturba, Gandhi, Soundram, and Ramachandran
Above Photo: Dr. Ramachandran, Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi, and Dr. Soundram.

My interest in Gandhian principles (non-violence, simplicity, empowerment, equality, localism, and others) excites me for this visit. I am curious to see how such principles are incorporated into Gandhigram’s water and sanitation activities. What’s more, gender equality and Gandhian philosophy have much in common as they both advocate equality for all people regardless of socio-economic backgrounds and bottom-up, participatory social structures.

Upon arrival, I visit with the Secretary of Gandhigram, M.R. Rajagopalan. He claims not to be a scholar, but his shelves are filled with the writings of Gandhiji and other books on Gandhian thought. He authored a paper entitled “Gandhi – A Divine Environmentalist.” In this paper, he argues if all people are able to embrace Gandhian principles, the world (people, plants, animals, and inanimate objects) will be a kinder, more holistic, and more sustainable place. He says:

“Gandhiji would have wanted us to follow the path of the robust left – of the – centre social democratism where empowerment of women and the weaker/poorer sections of our society was guaranteed. Secondly, he would have liked us to link environmentalism with some basic social, economic, and ethical tenants.”

With this in mind, how does Gandhian thought translate to Gandhigram’s mission to assist villages in access, planning, and managing water and sanitation systems? Further, how does Gandhian thought overlap with reaching gender equality for water and sanitation systems?

By raising awareness about the importance of the use of toilets in reducing the spread of diseases, renovating community standposts and other water structures, and providing micro-credit for the construction of toilets, Gandhigram is creating better access to water and sanitation resources for some women and men in villages. If all people are able to garner equal access (a gender equality and Gandhian goal), less people will fall ill or have to relocate to urban areas (a gender equality and Gandhian goal). Access to water and sanitation resources for many women in these villages is improved by the creation and renovation of community standposts, which reduces their time fetching water, and the construction of toilets, which provides a place for them to manage their menstrual cycle (a gender equality goal).

Renovated Standpost
Above Photo: A renovated standpost in village.

Gandhigram assists with the formation of community groups in villages. One group, called the Village Water and Sanitation Committee, consists of village elders, government leaders, religious leaders, and others of influence. Another group, called the Water Users Group, consists of women in the villages. Both of these groups are intended to facilitate a bottom-up, participatory approach to water and sanitation planning and management (a gender equality and Gandhian goal). But these participatory management structures for planning and management are still evolving, and there are subtle caste, economic, political, and gender disparities which result in unequal participation in planning and managing water and sanitation resources in these villages.

Even in the presence of these existing hierarchical social structures which detract from true equitable and participatory systems, Gandhian principles provide valuable guidance for fair and just access, planning, and management of water and sanitation systems. Other scholars, like Amartya Sen, argue that Gandhian thought is not the answer for global environmental problems. Yet, seemingly, few would contend that fair and equal access, planning, and management of water and sanitation resources is a negative aspiration. It is my belief that equity and empowerment must also come from within each individual. It is up to every one of us in our daily lives – whether in a village or in a city – to incorporate gender equality and Gandhian principles (non-violence, simplicity, empowerment, equality, localism, and others) into our routines in order to create and maintain equitable systems for water and sanitation resources.

“Success attends where truth reigns”- Gandhi’s last phrase for Gandhigram.

Author’s Postcript:
I am living in India for an internship with a water-focused NGO called Arghyam. Along the way, I will document my journey. Please see the Water in India page above for more information.

africa, agriculture, community, drinking water, groundwater, ngo, visions of water, visions of life, water availability, water management

Visions of Water, Visions of Life: ECAG in Kenya

This is the second interview for the series Visions of Water, Visions of Life. Today’s interview is with Gibson Munanga. He is the director of an organization called Environmental Community Assistance Group (ECAG) working on water and land issues in rural Kenya. And, let me tell you, Gibson is one busy director. He works as a teacher at a school for the deaf. Somehow he still manages to find time to dream-up ideas, organize work parties, and implement a variety of projects to ensure water and land sustainability in his village.

Gibson and Kids
Above Photo: Gibson and students at Kakamega School for the Deaf.

Your organization originally started growing tree seedlings and working on land restoration projects. Can you please tell us why you decided to direct your focus towards water issues?

Our organization began and is still growing tree seedlings and working on land restoration projects. In the course of undertaking these, we encountered enormous challenges to finding water for irrigating the tree seedlings in preparation for planting during the rainy season. Water problems are a chronic issue here in the dry and rainy seasons. We have not shifted our focus, but we had to approach them [water and land restoration issues] at the same time because they go hand-in-hand. We left water problems to be addressed by ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE GROUP. The tree nursery and land restoration projects are handled by our co-organization called WESTERN TREE NURSERY, SEED COLLECTION, STORAGE AND VENDING GROUP.

What is the water situation in your village? What is the water situation in Kenya?

The water situation in our village is bad. People have to walk long distances in search of water. This mainly affects women and children (especially their standard of education and quality of life). The overall water situation in Kenya is worse. In Turkana, Pokot, Ukambani and other northeastern parts of Kenya near the border with Somalia, the search for water may take a whole day. It takes over a year for these places to receive rains, which may last only a week or luckily a month. This type of rainfall pattern can not support crop growth or open-water systems. It is rocky and expensive to drill for water in these areas. The water is very deep.

What do you believe is the solution to improve the water situation in your village?

The solution to improve the water situation in our village is to strategically situate boreholes in central places where water can be used easily by families. In addition, many trees were destroyed in most water catchments over twenty years ago. Water-catchment friendly trees should be planted in those areas because many small streams and rivers have dried up. The range of climate and rainfall in our village allows for rainwater harvesting. Provision of water-harvesting tanks would help to solve water problems here. Provision of water lorry tankers [see picture below] would help provide water to people during extreme water shortage events for a small fee.

Lorry Tanker
Above Photo: This is the type of water tanker that ECAG would like for their community.

Do you talk about water issues with your students at the school for the deaf? What do the children believe is the solution to improve the water situation in your village?

[The students are deaf so they wrote their answers on a chalkboard. Mr. Munanga took pictures of their answers with a camera. Please see the forthcoming post called Kakamega Youth Talk About Water Problems in Kenya.]

Has ECAG completed any significant water projects?

Six years ago ECAG constructed a very successful water project [well] at Alfred Amulyoto’s home (in Kambiri in the Kakamega District) to serve neighboring communities. Community members agreed to maintain the well pump through small donations. We constructed another successful water project [well] at Emily’s home (in Sichirayi) with the help from neighboring homes. Another water project [well] was constructed at Mr. Peter Matwanga’s home (in Khayega Village) which services a big homestead and 15 nearby homes.

What are a few other non-water projects that ECAG has completed?

We are producing tree-seedlings for planting in water-catchment areas. We are propagating medicinal trees for blood purification, stomach problems, malaria treatment, and other ailments. We are propagating fruit trees to alleviate hunger and provide vitamins, and we are propagating trees for firewood. In a nut-shell, trees are very much related to water, environmental issues and rainfall-storage quantity.

What is your advice for future generations on water?

My advice for future generations on water issues would be to conserve water and use it wisely, protect all water sources, and plant trees. Every drop of water counts!

For more information about ECAG or if you would like to make a donation, please visit their website here.

lakes, water management

Integrated Lake Conservation in India: Umiam Lake

Dropping water levels in Umiam (Barapani) Lake in the state of Meghalaya in northeast India are causing tension among competing water users. This lake was constructed as a reservoir for a hydroelectric project in the 1960s. It (and associated tributaries) provides water for power generation, agriculture, drinking water, and recreation.

Not only does this lake face dropping water levels – 39 feet over the last three years, to be exact – water pollution is also becoming a serious problem. Untreated sewage flows into the lake from streams and rivers that pass through the capital city of Shillong. Increased sediment enters the lake resulting from urban sprawl in Shillong. Construction of roads and buildings in the city cause soil erosion. And, because of the urban sprawl, poor farmers must change cultivation patterns which is also leading to rapid soil erosion. Lake problems are compounded by the fact that numerous stakeholders are responsible for different areas of management.

So, what is the solution?

One organization called People’s Learning Centre believes that bringing stakeholders together to plan integrated approaches for lake-water management might be the answer. On March 9 and 10, 2009, they hosted a conference (with the support of Arghyam) in Shillong to allow various stakeholders to discuss conservation strategies. Videos and presentations are now available on the India Water Portal.