Water and Sanitation Solutions "Fit for Purpose" no.1 Water

The Kilombero Valley is a large flat plain bordered by large mountain ranges.  Water falls on the mountains and flows above and below ground into the valley delta to a large river.  There is a large wet season that provides ample underground water sources throughout the valley region.  The region has some 450,000 mostly poor rural people who farm rice, sugar and maize.  There are also groups of marginalised Sukuma and Masai who graze cattle, sheep and goats.  The whole valley is rather isolated being located 500km SW of Dar es Salaam.  The last 200km is over rough dirt roads that do not pass onwards - only to the end of the valley.
Water Solutions
  • Local Boreholes  and open wells- Auger hand drilling and open well digging has the limitation that you can only drill to the water table before the hole starts to collapse.  So these water points often become dry during the dry season or as a water table is drawn down.  Further, this shallow seasonal water is polluted and unsafe.  A major source of pollution from 0-10m is from pit latrine waste, animal pens, and rubbish pits.  Auger boreholes are typically 5-10m deep, sometime up to 15m deep.  A survey by MSABI last year determined 85% of 750 water points surveyed were open wells of an average depth of just 4.5m.
  • Foreign pumps - There are good and bad designs.  The Tanira pump is a direct action piston pump - see pictures in below post.  They cost $1600 and it is difficult to find and afford spares.  All pumps break!  A good pump should be easy and quick to repair.  Piston pumps have rubber o-ring type seals that wear quickly due to the abrasive action of sand that often enters the borehole through the filter screen or by a poor seal at the surface and people's feet carrying sand onto the apron which falls down the borehole.
  • High-Tech Solutions - Deep boreholes with piped water to villages is back in fashion.  Tanzanian politicians want western solutions now - jumping to the end game similar to how mobile phones have leaped forward communication in Africa.  Government officials in Dar funded by institutions such as the world bank are designing these systems without ever visiting the villages!  Piped water sounds like a great idea.  But how will the villages afford to operate and maintain these systems?  The latest trend I have seen are boreholes drilled to 100m (by contractor trucks from Dar that cost TZS 26 million (AUD$16,000) and then a solar system to pump water to a tank which feeds piped water to various points in a village.  This has been done for 5 villages in the Kilombero - well the boreholes have been drilled (back in March) but nothing more.  The project will not finalise until the community contributes money.  For the village of Idandu they must put-up TZS 7 million (AUD$4400) such that the TZS 300 million (AUD$187,500) system is installed.  That equates to around TZS 150,000 (AUD$95) per head for safe water.  This might seem a fair cost and fair community contribution - but my experience with this village and talking to our MSABI team they think it will be impossible for the village people to do so.  This is a very poor village - search Idandu in our blog - we worked with the community to put in a borehole for the school - it took them months to put up TZS 250,000 for their monetary contribution.  This sole water point now supplies the school and village.  We also helped out with a special project to buy books because the 1 teacher school for 200 students over 3 grades had a total of 5 texts!!!  Anyway I'm digressing, the village council may be able to raise the money by using TZS 7 million obtained from land lease payments made from a teak company and mobile phone tower to find the TZS7 million - which would take a few years to save.  Also this is really a proxy contribution from the community - hence no individual commitment or buy-in.  So the 100m boreholes will likely stay untouched for a few years...... but Ok lets say it gets built - the community then has TZS 300 million worth of infrastructure to operate and maintain.  Sure you may say solar should not need much maintenance, but after a year or so there will need to be maintenance and repairs of the pump, pipework and tap points.  This is where a communal system will fail.  Such a system was done in the nearby village Namwawala (search blog) in the 1980's for a diesel pump distribution system.  It lasted a few years and has been lying in waste since.  Swings and balances - water design trends come and go in reflection to political fashion.  Now the other sad kicker with a solar system is theft.  PLAN international recently in the last 2-3 years installed 5 borehole and solar pump systems in Ifakara for local schools.  Not one of them is in operation today.  Every system has been stolen - word is it was the same contractors who installed them came back a few months later and removed them.
  • MSABI Approach - We drill boreholes to 20-30 metres deep and install a locally manufactured rope pump for a total cost of TZS 1.6 million (AUD$1000) or accounting for community contributions in the form of money, labour, materials, food/accommodation - the subsidy cost is between TZS 750,000 to TZS 1 million.  So the cost of a water point is around TZS 6600 (AUS$ 4.40) per person assuming 150 users per pump.   For the rope pump MSABI pays TZS 110,000 (AUD$ 70) to a local contractor to manufacture the pump.  This creates local business and keeps money locally (compared to Tanira pump which cost >15x more and adds no value to local business).  Our 2011 pump survey has found all 150 installed rope pumps are in working order (excluding two that we did a pump conversion on government boreholes that run dry in the dry season).  The pump is not sexy or hi-tech but it is reliable and is concreted into the apron.  We have yet to have a pump stolen.  Lastly, this approach is affordable for the community and the contributions are significant.  The pumps are privately owned by a group or family creating ownership.  Further, we promote water businesses.  Owners of MSABI water point sell water per bucket at an affordable rate (TZS 20-50, AUD$0.01-0.03) per 20L bucket.  Owners recoup capital outlay and have an income to repair/maintain the pump.  Parts are cheap and available locally and an owner making money from their pump is likely to fix it fast.
  • So in conclusion.  We would all love a sexy high-tech solution delivered to our doorstep.  Idealism does not always match with realism.  Realistically rural Africa is still a long way from being able to sustainably afford and manage piped water systems.
    New MSABI installation with two abandoned auger borholes in the background.
    The above MSABI pump is the 4th pump at Kwiongwile Primary School in as many years.  In the background you have a yellow handpump and behind that is the mound remains of another borehole.  Both of those installations were using a hand auger that can only drill to the water table before collapsing problems stop drilling.  Hence, these water points do not produce water anymore as the water table has lowered.  Below is the 3rd water point installation - the remnants of a solar pump system for the school - with everything of value stolen.  The MSABI borehole and pump we believe will provide a longterm solution to providing water at this school.  These pictures are a good example of the failing water supply situation in Tanzanian and beyond.
    PLAN solar pump installation for Kiongwile School.  The system lasted 3 months before the panels and pump were stolen.