Water Access in Mbola MVP: Not Just Another Pipe Dream
For my first week of sector rotations, I worked with the Water and Sanitation (Watsan) team in the Mbola Millennium Village. I chose to do my Watsan rotation first, thinking I would get one of the sectors that I have less interest in, out of the way. My attention grew, however, as the challenges of providing improved water access to the village coincided with our own struggles for water supply at the Tabora MDP student house.
During my rotation I spent a day delivering cement to Water User Group’s in the Mbola Cluster sub villages, where I learned how improved wells are built and how the community will manage these points in the future. To build a shallow well, which is a maximum of 15 meters deep, Iocal labor digs the hole by hand, set and place large cement rings to line the hole, and then build a cement ‘apron’ on top to cover the source before installing the pump. None of this is done with machinery. The shallow wells are generally near traditional water points- which are open air ponds (see picture at bottom of post). Local artisans build the improved points, and as long as the materials are there, it takes just two weeks. Village water groups are in charge of managing the pump (deciding if there will be access fees, security and repairs) and the District Water Engineer can be called for any major issues.
The importance of a clean and consistent water supply became clearer to me as our own house in Tabora faced water shortages. Water from open wells in both the village and Tabora, which is the closest town to the Mbola cluster, is a chalky white color due to clay sediments that dissolve from the soil. As the water tank at our house went dry, we had this well water delivered to us. Aside from the challenge of living without running water, we also realized how expensive in terms of time and money it could be to purchase or filter water. MVP began a PUR water purification intervention in three of the Mbola villages in 2009. As we were provided our own ten liter bucket, a filter cloth and the PUR sachets, we quickly discovered why sensitizing the community to using the PUR powder was a challenge. As the water turned brownish red from the cleansing powder and spilled everywhere while trying to filter it, even I wondered if it would be something we would bother with regularly. (Hakuna matata, we do!)
Whether or not filtration is the best system, it is effective and procuring our sachets and well-water only required a call to our landlord. Getting our buckets filled is now part of an (almost) daily schedule. In the villages, however, water procurement is not that simple. The Mbola cluster is very spread out, so often women can spend up to six hours walking to collect water. When we spoke with both the Regional and Mbola Site MVP Watsan Coordinators, it also became apparent how much time can go into planning water projects and procuring supplies. There are questions of surveying water points for environmental conditions, equitable distribution, getting a budget approved that follows survey recommendations and finally hiring and buying local labor and supplies. This is just for smaller scaled projects. For the large scale ones in the MV, such as drilling the boreholes and providing piped water to three of the villages, the UNDP global procurement process requires a call for contractors that can take months.
Despite these challenges and delays, the piped water scheme in the Mbola cluster will cover 100% of 5,500 residents and the boreholes planned for all other village centers ensures that the site is on track to achieve the MDG goal of halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water.