Editor's Note: Students from Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering are working in Tanzania to help improve sanitation and energy technologies in local villages. This series chronicles work being done by the student-led group, known as Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP), to design "rocket stoves" in the village of Mwamgongo and top-light updraft design (TLUD) gasification stoves in the village of Kalinzi. The goal is to create a healthier, more energy-efficient cooking apparatus that these villagers will accept and use. HELP students are filing these dispatches from the field during their trip. This blog post, their 14th for Scientific American, addresses water systems.

Along with water sanitation testing, HELP has also worked with the village governments in order to develop a solution to the multitude of issues that the water systems face. A major problem of the water system is a general lack of maintenance and upkeep, and as a result, things break frequently. The source of the tap is rarely monitored or cleaned, and the Water Committee that is supposed to be in control of the system is severely underfunded.

In order to assist the water committees in Mwamgongo and Kalinzi, Aaron and Mitch worked with the committees to develop a tap system/protected springs logbook. The logbook was developed to serve as a basic monitoring system for the tap. The book is written completely in Swahili, and details all the noticeable changes that occur with the tap/protected springs system throughout the year, and was developed with both the committees in Kalinzi and Mwamgongo. Aaron and Mitch met with the water committee, and they discussed regular monitoring of the system, the purpose of the book, and whether or not the committees thought that a logbook would be an effective way to help monitor the water supply.

As I said previously, the water committee is severely underfunded, and sometimes it takes weeks, or even months, to gather enough money from the village governments to make repairs. The major purposes of the book were to both ensure that the system is maintained regularly and to predict what repairs will need to be made so the water committee can begin petitioning the village government for money before the system breaks. The water system in Mwamgongo is at least 10 years old, and the system in Kalinzi is close to the same age, so it is understandable that the system will begin to break down, especially with infrequent maintenance.

In the last week of my trip, I met with representatives of both the Mwamgongo and Kalinzi water committees to see whether any progress has been made since their meetings with Mitch and Aaron more than one month ago. I first met with two representatives of the water committee in Mwamgongo, including Pelizara, a well-respected village leader who served on both the water and stove committees, and was an invaluable asset to us during our stay in Tanzania.  We discussed their progress, whether the system Mitch and Aaron suggested was being used, and any questions or concerns they may have had.

During that month, the water committee in Mwamgongo had made a lot of significant changes. They have begun cleaning the water system more regularly, replaced a large percentage of the broken taps in the area and fixed some of the leakage problems at the broken junctions of the system. They also had begun to use the water checklist book.  At the time, the committee was waiting for the village executive officer to come back to Mwamgongo from Kigoma in order to set up a meeting with him.

We discussed some of the confusion they had with filling out the forms (things were filled out in the wrong place, dates and the type of inspection were never filled out, etc.), and discussed why it would be useful to record things such as the date and the name of the person conducting the inspection. I suggested that they attempt to perform a water systems check at least once a month if it was possible, but that they were entirely free to monitor the system as they pleased, because we were only acting as consultants. Because all members of the committee share the responsibility for the continued maintenance of the spring, I suggested that when they spoke with the village chairman, they set up some type of system of accountability, possibly assigning each person responsibility for one month. Zach later told me that the committee continued to make progress after I left, and hopefully Tim Bolger will be able to perform another checkup later this fall.

Four days later, I met with one member of the Water Committee in Kalinzi named Siwema Musa. Unfortunately, the other members of the committee with whom I was supposed to meet were unable to attend, due to some last-minute problems.  I was informed by Siwema that the committee hadn’t met as a group since their meeting with Mitch and Aaron. They allegedly meet once a month, but hadn’t met as a group in about two months. Meetings are held when the Water Committee Chairman telephones all the members of the committee and states a time and place for the meeting.

Each sub-village had two members serve on the water committee. Siwema told us that she made two attempts to go check on the water springs with the other committee member who lived in her sub-village, but the other member continued to stand her up. I told her that although it would be great for the two of them to go evaluate the spring together, it was not essential that they both go. We went to one of the nearby protected springs, and she filled out the protected spring forms for the first time.

During our discussions, we talked about some of the water committee’s struggles, including their financial problems. Siwema’s suggestion was that that each member of a sub-village pays a small amount every month in order to cover repair expenses such as new taps. Supposedly, this system has been suggested before but hasn’t actually been implemented yet.  I mentioned that it is very important that she bring these things us up to the village chairman during their discussions, but she wanted us to craft a letter to the village government as well.

The water committees in Kalinzi don’t seem to be very enthusiastic about the books, even though they played a major role in their development. It’s really important that the water committee continues to have complete control over the water systems. We tried to work with the committees as consultants, and hoped that together we could develop a sustainable way to ensure the longevity of the tap systems, but it remains to be seen whether or not any progress will be made in the next couple of months. Hopefully, regardless of whether the method we came up with is implemented, the system will be better maintained in the future.

Image courtesy of Wendy Hado