WASHplus\FHI360 and CARE/Zambia are implementing a 4-year USAID-funded initiative targeting primary schools in the Eastern Province called SPLASH (Schools Promoting Learning Achievement through Sanitation and Hygiene). Working alongside local government ministries, this project aims to bring clean drinking water, child and gender-friendly latrines, hand washing stations and hygiene education to rural schools across four districts of the Eastern Province of Zambia.
As a WASH consultant over the summer, my primary task was to work with the SPLASH staff to develop tools for the operation and maintenance of implemented infrastructure. Sustaining water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) resources at these schools after the life of this project, is a key component of this initiative. My time in Zambia has been split between working out of the SPLASH offices in Lusaka and Chipata, with school visits sprinkled throughout the span of two months. Working with the FHI360/CARE staff and officials from the Ministry of Education has been a unique and enjoyable learning experience.
Effective monitoring is one of the biggest challenges in the water and sanitation sector, with over 40% of infrastructure failing within five years of implementation. Crucial to infrastructure sustainability is developing a mechanism for school and district level officials to routinely monitor and report on the functionality of water points and latrines constructed during the project. Using a tool called TextIt, I developed a mobile-based survey through which schools can directly relate information about the functionality of WASH infrastructure. Using any cell phone that sends text messages, rural communities can access this service, allowing for timely, accurate and transparent monitoring of services. Once this data is reported, it is automatically analyzed using a tool called Water Point Mapperwhich produces a map displaying the various infrastructure across the area of operation, and up-to-date information about each WASH facility.
The use of mobile-based reporting bypasses paper-based surveys conducted periodically by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Local Government and Housing. Conducting paper-based surveys is an expensive and time-intensive process, requiring staff to travel to rural communities, over roads that are often impassible during the rainy season. On the other hand, mobile-based surveys can be initiated at the instance of infrastructure failure and significantly reduces human error. However, the use of mobile phones to access these services requires communities to bear the cost of sending text messages. These costs are considerably lower than the cost of transportation and salaries of surveyors and data entry staff. Moreover, cell phone credit can be transferred from the accounts of government ministries directly to these communities, so as not to pass the cost onto the users. There is also potential for private sector partnerships with cell service provides within Zambia.
Once the map of WASH infrasructure is generated, it will be accessible to staff at government ministries, project implementing organizations, funding agencies and members of community WASH committees. Engagement of all these stakeholders is vital for the sustainability of infrastructure and services. Working in unison, they will be able to report and address any issues that may arise with the implemented water system, latrines, handwashing stations, menstrual hygiene facilities and drinking water points. These tools will also aid organizations to efficiently allocate resources, recognize trends in performance and service levels and have a visual, easy-to-understand representation of project progress. The use of WASH mapping all allow monitoring organizations to easily detect points of failure in service delivery and generate user-friendly reports for funders and partners. Through this structure of reciprocal monitoring where communities can directly communicate with the project implementer, communities are encouraged to take ownership of their water and sanitation resources, and play an active stake in operation and maintenance.
During my last week at SPLASH, I presented these WASH monitoring tools to representatives from USAID, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Local Government and Housing, FHI360, CARE and other NGOs working in this sector in Zambia. The various entities called for adoption of these monitoring tools and increased cooperation for WASH sustainability. In the coming months, SPLASH will implement these tools in conjunction with the Ministry of Education in the schools in the Eastern Province where SPLASH is currently working.
Working with the SPLASH team in Zambia has been an incredibly fulfilling experience and has solidified my passion for working in the WASH sector. I have learned a lot about the challenges that organizations face in sustaining implemented infrastructure, and strategies used to overcome these challenges. Working with SPLASH has allowed me the opportunity to innovate and create novel technologies to ensure WASH sustainability. I am excited to see how these tools are implemented in the field over the coming months and whether they are effective over the coming years.
While not in office or the field, I have had the opportunity to explore the natural beauty of Zambia at its many wildlife reserves. From visiting elephant orphanages, helicopter rides over the Victoria Falls, and bungee jumping, my time here in Zambia has been exhilarating to say the least.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of USAID or the U.S. Government.