Guest Blog by Laura Brunson, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Millennium Water Alliance
Ethiopia is home to 112 million people with more than 81 million living in rural areas. According to a 2017 Joint Monitoring Program report, in rural areas of Ethiopia, only 4% have access to safely managed water services, 30% have basic water service, and 26% have only limited water service, with the rest consuming water from unimproved or surface water sources. Many households spend 30 minutes or longer to obtain drinking water daily. Despite Ethiopia’s achievement of the 2015 Millennium Development Goal on water, there are several unaddressed challenges that hinder safe and sustainable water service delivery for millions of rural Ethiopians.
The One WASH National Program (OWNP) of Ethiopia is a flagship program that has enabled the WASH sector to collaborate more broadly and achieve substantial progresses since its launching in 2013. The evaluation of the first phase of the OWNP (2013-2017) commissioned by Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity (MoWIE) revealed a set of bottlenecks encountered by the water supply sector in Ethiopia. These include: lack of an independent regulatory entity, inadequate involvement and resource for the private sector including microfinance institutions, absence of harmonization between water inventory and other sector data, and the absence of an operational Management Information System (MIS) for data.
Challenges with Data Management
Cognizant of the gap in water point data availability and utilization, a series of workshops conducted through the MWA partners in 2018-2019 in the Amhara Region provided clarity on the type and extent of challenges faced by WASH sector partners due to this data challenge. Some of the major problems associated with the lack of up-to-date water point data included: inability on the side of water actors to make evidence-based decisions on operation and maintenance, increased non-functionality rate of water points, and difficulties with financial resource allocation. Rural water point data is housed in a multitude of formats and places with woreda (district) governments, national government, and NGOs which all have their own sets of data for particular geographic areas that are often outdated.
MWA and its members and partners recognize the urgent need to strengthen the government’s capacity in water supply data management, analysis, and evidence-based decision making. Strengthening the government-led monitoring system is one of the priorities identified for MWA and partners in the on-going Sustainable WASH Program, 2019-2024, funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. This program operates in the Dera, Farta and North Mecha woredas; MWA members in Ethiopia, via other programs and funders, are working on water in more than 100 woredas.
A Platform for Data Sharing, Access and Analysis
WPDx is a free and open-source platform that serves as a repository for rural water point data and provides decision-making tools to support governments and other stakeholders. Over time the WPDx Working Group developed a short list of standard parameters that are required in any data upload, alongside a much larger list of optional parameters which support a more robust data set. Recent updates to WPDx have resulted in a fast and easy method by which data can be shared and is collection tool agnostic (e.g. data collected in ODK, mWater, Akvo and other forms can all be used). WPDx provides maps and easy ways to search for and access data by organization, location, and other parameters. One of the strengths of WPDx is its ability to compile data from multiple entities or platforms (e.g. government and NGO data from one district) and make all of it available for use. WPDx provides four decision-support tools, three using geospatial analytics and one using machine learning to make status predictions. The three geospatial tools include: assessment of basic water access by district, prioritized locations for implementation of new water points, and prioritized locations where repairs are most impactful. The predictive tool provides insights on the probability that any given water point will be functioning or not.
WPDx can serve as a helpful tool for governments and NGOs as many are seeking to improve their data collection, use and analysis. With quick and easy data uploading, dispersed and fragmented data sets can be combined for easy visualization and then free access to the analysis and decision-making tools. The Government of Sierra Leone has already incorporated WPDx as one of its focus tools and has mandated that all rural water point data collected across the country must be shared into the WPDx platform. The national Ministry of Water Resources has a national directive in place to require the use of WPDx decision support tools in all investment decisions for rural water services. You can see more about the role of WPDx in Sierra Leone here.
A New Partnership
In 2020 MWA and the Global Water Challenge (GWC) developed a partnership with the goal to provide support in response to these identified rural water point data challenges in Ethiopia. As a starting point, MWA had a series of discussions with the Water Development Commission (WDC), which sits within MoWIE, about their challenges and whether or not WPDx could be a useful tool to help strengthen rural water service delivery, functionality and informed decision-making in line with the Sustainable Development Goal target 6.1. The WDC expressed interest in using WPDx and getting support from MWA, its members, and other stakeholders to use WPDx in Ethiopia.
Several resulting actions took place:
- WDC issued a formal letter requesting NGOs to share rural water point data to WPDx
- WDC issued a formal letter of support to GWC to collaborate to implement WPDx
- WDC assigned a focal WPDx person to support these efforts.
Building on this expressed interest and formal requests from the Ministry, MWA provided a series of training opportunities for NGOs and government partners to learn more about WPDx. This first set of trainings included:
- Purpose and value-add of WPDx in the water sector
- How to easily upload data using the new WPDx ingestion engine
- Example from Sierra Leone showing use of WPDx by national government
- Noting that MoWIE, via WDC, has approved partnership with WPDx and encourages organizations to share their data to WPDx.