Sustainability and well functionality are major challenges for the entire water aid world. Many water organizations to provide clean water, but frequently wells dry up or break down within a few years. Marion Medical Mission faces those same difficulties, but has found a maintenance process that results in high levels of success. We’re continually working to improve the 35,000+ MMM wells built since 1990.
So how do we maintain such high well functionality when it’s such a challenge? Or more accurately, how do the communities maintain such high well functionality? Two words: infrastructure and ownership. Here at MMM we believe that each village community must take ownership over their well for it to be sustainable. And with an organized and committed group of Field Officers, installation supervisors, builders, maintenance people, water committee members and villagers, these communities are provided a vehicle to sustainability.
Here’s how it works…
1. Village Maintenance
A water committee is selected to preside over the well and then two local volunteers are chosen to maintain it. Those two people are trained by MMM in well maintenance procedures.
When a well requires repair, the water committee contacts their local maintenance person and within 48 hours he or she comes and fixes the well. Once a well has been fixed, the villagers give the maintenance person chicken, rice, vegetables or some other type of gift to compensate them for their time and effort.
Additionally, each village pays an annual fee of approximately $10 to cover the cost of spare parts. If the fee is paid and correct procedures are followed, the well will be fixed without any extra cost to the villagers.
Pump parts are readily accessible because MMM has set up workshops in Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania where all the parts are manufactured by skillfully trained subsistence farmers. The maintenance person receives parts from these manufacturing and distribution centers, which are stocked with extra inventory for yearly maintenance needs.
2. MMM Functionality Monitoring System (developed by Dr. Hayden Boyd)
The MMM functionality monitoring system enables the 23 MMM Field Officers to oversee the functionality and maintenance of the wells in his area. Each community is responsible for managing and maintaining its wells, and MMM empowers them to succeed in this task. Systematic monitoring ensures that any issues are identified so that corrective action can take place.
Each year, a Field Officer visits a stratified random sample of 100 wells from among the 1,000-2,000 wells that have been built in his area. At each of these wells, he collects on Android tablets detailed information about the condition of the well, including the condition of the well structure, the condition of the pump, the quantity and quality of the water, and the well’s recent maintenance history. The sample survey is supplemented by spot checks of additional wells. This process is designed to give MMM, and its donors, a documented, objective estimate of the overall functionality of MMM wells.
Each Field Officer can assess his wells in a systematic fashion, to detect any problems and initiate corrective actions. If he observes construction and siting issues, the names of the builder and supervisor for that well are recorded, so he can work with them to improve performance. If the well is found to be dug insufficiently deep to be drought tolerant and yield reliable water year-round, the depth of the well and its water when the pump was installed is on the Android, to guide corrections for existing and future wells. If there are maintenance issues with the pump or structure, these will be discussed with community leaders, the local ZMT, and the maintenance people, to encourage and enable better performance.
Statistical validity requires the Field Officer to find and survey a list of specific sample wells. Navigation to the sample wells is assisted by a map on the Android, where sample and non-sample wells are designated by color-coded pins. The Field Officer selects a sample well from a list on the Android, and goes to the designated village with a supervisor or maintenance man who has expert local knowledge. He then inspects the well and interviews the community, filling a detailed survey questionnaire on the Android about all aspects of the well’s functionality, including the condition of the structure and the pump, the quantity and quality of water, and the well’s recent maintenance history. In addition to the GPS coordinates, the Field Officer also takes a photo of the well to visually record its current condition. All information is collected in electronic form on an Android tablet.
Each of the four MMM program areas in Northern Malawi, Central Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia has the equipment and software to take the survey information from the Androids and convert it into useable spreadsheet form. A database of more than 24,000 wells is maintained by an American volunteer, who is also responsible for developing and improving the functionality monitoring system. The database includes information collected on Android tablets for all wells installed in 2012 and later and baseline surveys of earlier wells in Malawi. MMM African staff are conducting baseline surveys of additional earlier wells in Zambia and Tanzania, which will be added to the data base.
Funds can be donated directly to this purpose. Our goal is to provide safe, sustainable, sources of clean drinking water that will meet the villagers’ needs indefinitely.