By Max Backmann
A capable digital platform could enhance the coordination and exchange in planning, construction, and operation of boreholes and pumps. ǀ inc.com
Communication is key - especially when it comes to projects involving several parties working with each other over extended periods. Malawi is facing multifaceted challenges when it comes to providing effective freshwater sources to its population in rural communities. A variety of stakeholders working on different levels with varying methods without proper exchange and coordination have led to ineffective boreholes and pumps. Could a digital platform for the constant and direct exchange of information and knowledge be the solution?
Out of 25 boreholes for the provision of fresh water in the rural areas of Malawi assessed by Muthi Nhlema and his colleagues, 72 percent showed some sort of defect leading to poor functionality or higher efforts in maintenance. Aside from groundwater salinity, the paper identifies insufficient planning and inadequate construction practices as the main reasons for ineffective boreholes.
In an attempt to improve the systematical coverage of Malawi's rural areas with freshwater and standardize the process among all stakeholders involved, the Malawi government introduced a policy to enforce the use of the Afridev handpumps. This measure led to an improvement of the functionality regarding the pumps themselves, but as highlighted in Muthi Nhlema's paper the challenges with supplying fresh water to the people of Malawi reach beyond the handpump.
With numerous NGOs working with unstandardized processes in different regions in some cases even in parallel, there is a need for a new and more holistic approach, which includes the national government, the regional authorities, NGOs, and the people living in Malawi's rural areas, a platform encourage the exchange of data and standardized practices.
The Afridev handpump is a proven solution for the provision of fresh water in rural areas of Malawi. When installed improperly, it can lead to ineffective water supplies. ǀ theonefoundation.org.uk
One platform for all stages
A digital platform where all necessary data can be accessed and shared between all parties involved in real-time is not a new idea but has been proven quite effective on many levels of optimization of processes. In this particular case, where data and knowledge are spread over large distances throughout the country and over different organizations, a digital tool could include all stages of establishing water sources.
Starting with the planning phase of the boreholes and their location a digital platform could enable data collection, analysis, and visualization to support evidence-based decision-making. This can involve mapping of water sources and population distribution, as well as analysis of existing infrastructure and resource availability. The platform can also facilitate collaboration and feedback from stakeholders such as government, NGOs, and local communities.
During the construction phase, a platform can support project management by providing real-time monitoring of progress, resource allocation, and quality control. This can enable timely identification and resolution of issues, and reduce the risk of delays and cost overruns. The platform can also enable remote supervision and training for construction workers.
In the testing phase, a platform can support data collection and analysis of water quality and supply. This can involve the use of sensors and remote monitoring. The platform can also facilitate the communication of test results to stakeholders, including health officials and the public.
A collaborative approach
Altogether a digital platform could support improved planning, construction, and testing of water supply infrastructure in Malawi by enhancing collaboration, data-driven decision-making, and efficient project management. In order to ensure the inclusion of all parties this platform should be developed with a collaborative approach. The initiative could be led by the government with access to greater resources and an interest in standardizing the practices but should take the needs of NGOs, the public, and other stakeholders into account, because only through integration of a productive exchange can be established and the planning and construction of boreholes and pumps improved to in the end overcome the challenges together.