8 Months and Counting.... - MSABI and WASH Development Work in rural Central Tanzania

With more than 8 months having passed since leaving the familiar sounds, sights and particular smells of Australian environment, engineering and construction life, I thought I would take this occasion to provide a small update on proceedings within the developing world of the water, sanitation and hygiene sector in rural Tanzania.  For those unaware, in the latter half of 2013, I accepted a volunteer position of WASH Engineer / Field Project Manager with the non-profit, non-government organisation, MSABI.  MSABI itself is a Kiswahili acronym for Maji Safi kwa Afya Bora Ifakara or Clean Water for Better Health Ifakara.  As the name would tend to suggest, the base of operations for the organisation is in Ifakara, a bustling agricultural town located in the district of Kilombero, part of central Tanzania’s Morogoro Region.

A brief background on MSABI shows you how rapidly this sector is developing to cater for the accelerated population growth and the associated impacts on services, facilities and infrastructure  provision experienced by various marginalised communities in Tanzania.  Tanzania and many other sub-Saharan nations are in danger of not meeting their Millennium Development Goals associated with  improved water access and sanitation provision by 2015.  Water, sanitation and hygiene projects and implementing organisations such as MSABI within these countries are continually looking to reduce the well documented estimate of approximately 9 million deaths each year of children under 5, through causes associated with lack of clean water and improved sanitation and hygiene (WHO, 2010).  MSABI does this better than most, through innovation, research and grass-roots, community driven project implementation.

Since its inception as an operational NGO in 2009, MSABI has quickly grown to become one of the largest, locally-based active implementing NGO’s in Tanzania.  This is highly demonstrated through the completion of over 330 safe water point and rope pump installations (servicing over 70,000 people), 8 school latrines (with an 9th on the way), 45 private latrine systems and over 3000 community education and mobilisation meetings, effectively passing knowledge to over 350,000 people within the Kilombero district.  The intervention locations themselves stretch over an approximate operational area of 40,000 km2, throughout the largest inland river delta system in East Africa (equivalent to the size of Switzerland).

Photo 1 - Community water point in the village of Kanolo, Kilombero district

Photo 2 - Domestic water collection is generally undertaken by the women of the community

I have predominantly undertaken an operations manager role since starting my time with MSABI, which involves a lot of field work, site visits, quality assurance inspections and systems development.   I have been incorporated into a very close knit team of local Tanzanian sector professionals and contractors.  Initial focus has been towards further management of the water point program, through which I have assisted with the installation of a number of water points for a number of different donors including AusAID, learning more every step of the way.  Installation of water points such as these will serve to improve lives, through the direct benefit of receiving reliable sources of clean water to the more indirect reduction of labour hours commonly experienced by females within the community.  Quite often people will have to walk up to distances in excess of 8 km to complete a round trip with 10 L buckets supported on their heads and another in each hand.  These community based water-points greatly reduce the stress upon livelihoods and it can genuinely be seen when you go to visit one and the local resident greet you with an abundance of smiles.

These water points are completed utilising a 12-point quality assurance and verification system which covers everything from rope pump fabrication to final water quality sampling under WHO water quality guidelines. MSABI has quickly become the name that epitomizes sustainable, clean water for communities within the Kilombero.  This has recently been coupled with an innovative micro-insurance structure, characterised under the business moniker, “Pump for Life”, of which I have been fortunate enough to become a part of in its pioneering stages.

This system looks to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of water point and rope pump installations throughout the Kilombero, through the use of internet cloud-based monitoring and mapping, proactive maintenance visits and locally produced spare parts.  The system is integrated through the use of small android tablets and smart-phones, eliminating potential systems duplications and paper based work.  The system is powered through an internet portal known as Visible Impact, which allows transfer of quality information from the field to the MSABI central office (and contributing donors) in real-time, facilitating rapid response maintenance services and data collection. It has also been the recipient of a number of new grants aimed at developing the system, the latest received through the Stone Family Foundation.  It is hoped that this management system will be replicated throughout the district and further within the Morogoro region through adoption by partner non-government organisations and endorsement from government representatives.

Photo 3 – Drilling contractors employed by MSABI commence rota-sludge drilling activities in the village of Idete, Kilombero district.  This will be a new borehole serving approximately 200 members of the village community.

One of the latest advances for me here with MSABI has been to continue developing and employing standardised construction procedures and quality verification methods for construction of MSABI interventions.  Having been involved with the design, construction manual revision, budgeting and quantity checks for MSABI’s latest eco-san, composting school latrine, it is certainly a big step to see the guys break ground and undertake construction with recently developed system of quality checks to ensure that all construction stages will provide a long standing, robust and functional structure.  Construction of the latrine is currently approaching superstructure completion, with final site finishing and plumbing due to be delivered within the next two weeks.   Furthermore the sanitation team continues to progress with the monitoring and evaluation of the recently completed school hygiene club education training, which was aimed at improving the background knowledge around hygiene practises in Tanzania, enhancement of which has been shown to effectively reduce diarrheal diseases by up to 45% (remember that for camp meal and crib times, you lot).

Photo 4, 5 and 6 – Construction activities underway at Mkasu School Eco-san Latrine Facility

An off-shoot of the sanitation project work will be to commence design on a readably affordable, robust latrine structure that can be constructed for houses to remove the reliance upon using deep pit latrines.  Deep pit latrines, which are still commonly used in the majority of village households, have been shown to adversely affect residual sub-surface water quality, producing untold amounts of faecal coliform contamination in both ground and surface water resources.  It is hoped by introducing a marketable alternative, this will alleviate the common place use of deep pit latrines in the Kilombero and markedly improve water quality within the basin.

A number of other new projects and potential interventions also line the horizon, such as the scaling of model drip irrigation farms and technologies within the valley to ensure year round cash crop and food production for families and the wider community in areas which are currently reliant on highly seasonable flood irrigation methods.   Wider technological adjustments using solar pump technologies also abound, such as the use of community based reticulated water delivery systems.  We are also looking to develop some research and education projects focused towards improving environmental practises within farming and water use, such as soil conservation practises and catchment based water quality mapping. Further to this, in the next couple of months I will be working on developing the safety systems for all sub-programs within MSABI, in an effort to modernise and improve safety requirements in construction and other aspects of MSABI work.

Photo 7 - Pump for Life fundi's, one of the off-shoot businesses developed through MSABI interventions

These small achievements and projects are ridiculously over-shadowed by the commonly overlooked , everyday achievements of the Tanzanian staff that facilitate and coordinate these projects.  The local Tanzanian team is highly motivated and knowledgeable of the task at hand and works often tirelessly to ensure that objectives for each individual sub-program are met to the highest quality.  As always within the development sector, funding availability is an ever present requirement to ensure that this work continues.  If you feel so inclined, please look to address your line of enquiry as to potential funding of these programs to the MSABI office, knowing that every little bit does count and goes to help improving livelihoods and health in one of the world’s poorest countries.

That’s enough for now.  MSABI will be taking a well-earned, short operational holiday over one of the regions wettest rainy seasons in the last 10 years.  To all, stay safe and hope to hear from you all soon.

Photo 8 - Drilling contractor, Bw. Mauruce Sambakali obtains some help in passing to drilling sites in Kanyenja, M'angula

Photo 9 - Local children play "MSABI", with home made model Rota Sludge drill rigs

Photo 10 – MSABI Clan in the Outdoor Office