Did you know that most public water infrastructure in Tanzania breaks down within four years of installation? Or that it takes anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to repair those broken water points?
Many charities exist to help build new clean water infrastructure in low income countries like Tanzania. They use your money to dig new wells and to install pumps, tanks, and public water points where people can collect clean drinking water every day close to home. Many of these public water points are set up in schools so that girls don’t have to walk miles to fetch water, but can simply bring water home at the end of their school day. That’s very important work, and we are so glad that those charities exist.
Unfortunately, when the public water point is broken, people just go back to finding water where they can. Some people may be lucky enough to live near another public water point where they can get clean water, but often that’s not the case. So those water points exist, but the people who live near them are still traveling long distances to get water that may not be safe to drink at all.
There are many problems involved in fixing the public water points. The first problem is letting the right people know that the water point is even broken. When a water point is in a rural area, it may be that simply no one at the water supply organization even knows there is a problem.
Geeks Without Bounds is working with Dutch and Tanzanian partners to provide open source software that allows citizens to report when their water point is broken. In pilot programs run last year we saw excellent results with the use of this software. People were able to use their feature phones to let the district water engineer know that there was a malfunction, and that meant that someone could come out to see what the problem was much sooner than before.
But that’s not the only issue. Some people didn’t even feel like it was worth reporting a problem, because they didn’t believe it would help anything. People felt like when they did make a report, their complaint just fell into a black hole. That’s why we’re building a complete ticketing system into the software.
Already, the water engineers with access to the Web can see what’s happening with a broken water point and how long it takes to get fixed, but with the help of local programmers we’re building a more complete tool to allow anyone to learn the status of their local water point using just a feature phone and text-based messaging. Very soon, citizens will be able to see whether a technician has been sent out to fix the problem they reported, whether they are waiting on a new part, and what the estimated time to completion of the repair might be.
There’s another problem in this chain of events, though. It’s impossible to repair broken infrastructure when you don’t have the money to pay the technicians or buy the parts. But there’s not much money available because not many people are paying their water bills each month. Why pay for water when your local water point doesn’t even work? (In some districts as few as 40% of public water points do work, so they have a point.) This leads to a vicious cycle.
But we already know that people in Tanzania who have access to clean water on a regular basis DO pay their bills. In fact, in the district with the best maintenance record, many people pay their water bills in advance because they see it as an investment in their community.
So how can we fix that problem everywhere else?
Our strategy is to first build trust in the system to help get things fixed faster and then to use the same system to accept payment for monthly water service.
Mobile Money (mPesa) is a very common way to pay for things in Tanzania. You just send a message to a shortcode with your phone and money gets transferred from one account to another. We’re building mobile payments into Maarifa so that people can pay their bill in the same place where they get information about their water service — right on their phone.
We have a grant from UKaid through HDIF which is supporting much of this work, but it doesn’t cover everything we need to do. We need your help to provide additional training for local software developers and to provide full salaries for the local technical team over the next year.
For just under $500 we can pay for a month’s salary AND ongoing training for a junior software developer. That investment helps Tanzania’s clean water infrastructure at the same time as expanding the local technical capacity, providing a springboard for young developers who may go on to develop many other amazing projects in the future.
If you send us a donation of $20 or more, we’ll send you a thank you postcard from Tanzania signed by members of our local team.
If you send $50 or more we’ll send a GWOB sweatshirt to your US mailing address. (For $60 or more, we’ll send it to you anywhere in the world.)
After we receive your donation, we’ll send you an email with information about your thank you gift options.
We wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyous Solstice, and general all around great end to 2015!