The Digital Dividend: Information Technology Improves the Delivery of Water and Sanitation Services
Mobile phones and applications enable real-time monitoring of WASH services and improve repair responses.
Matabeleland South Province, Zimbabwe, 7 January 2019 - Sukoluhle Ndlela (32) of Vusisizwe Village knows only too well the power of a mobile phone and its importance in improving water and sanitation for her community.
Ndlela is a registered key informant (KI) for the Mahole water point in Insiza South District, south-east of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Her duties include ensuring that information on water infrastructure under her watch (including the pump functionality of boreholes, water yields and water quality) reaches in real time, the area enumerator Ms. Tecla Dube. She has done this many times from the comfort of her home on a monthly basis, or when the need arises.
It’s an important role that Ndlela enthusiastically performs under the Rural Wash Information Management System SMS Notification Response (RWIMS.SNR) project in Matabeleland South Province.
RWIMS.SNR is being undertaken by the Government of Zimbabwe in partnership with UNICEF and with funding support from, UNICEF, UK aid from the UK government, the Government of Switzerland through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Government of Sweden.
As a registered KI, Ndlela, is linked to (RWIMS) via a mobile application (app) powered by ‘RapidPro’: a free SMS platform which permits her to stay in constant communication with the water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) database for her municipal ward (a sub-division of the district). She say,
The SNR system has made life easier. I do not need to travel to look for the village pump mechanics and enumerator. I just use my mobile phone and SMSs are for free.
The community and livestock, too, have felt the results of RWIMS.SNR. “Because of the short time taken to repair boreholes, the availability of water at all times has helped us at household and community level. As a mother, I can now do laundry whenever I want, [and] plant vegetables and fruits to ensure a balanced diet for my family. Availability of water has improved general hygiene in the community. Our livestock is also benefiting as they have drinking water close by.”
Tecla Dube, is the Ward 2 extension worker/enumerator equipped with RWIMS FieldForce application on her tablet. As an enumerator, she analyses, reviews, approves and effects updates from KIs like Ndlela, allowing such changes to be viewed in RWIMS. She also solicits responses from the village pump mechanics and the environmental health technician.
Dube is excited by the positive changes she has noticed since RWIMS.SNR was introduced. She says she now receives reports on time, and pumps and boreholes are being quickly repaired. “KIs send reports which I receive on this tablet in the comfort of my home. I no longer move around in search of reports. The RWIMS.SNR has improved the lives of community members as they have constant supplies of water. It has improved child health, especially under-fives and that of pregnant mothers as nutritional gardens provide vegetables and fruits,” she notes.
RWIMS is a mobile-to-web-based system which captures and stores WASH data in near real time thereby providing quick access to up to date national data on WASH infrastructure at all governance levels. On the other hand, the RWIMS.SNR integrates data from RapidPro (SMS messages) to geo-referenced data of facilities and villages in RWIMS. The SMS based RWIMS interface enables communities to report changes in the infrastructure functionality by texts message directly to government functionaries.
Insiza Rural District Council focal person for WASH and RWIMS, Messie Msindo- Mpofu says RWIMS.SNR recognizes the strategic role that communities play in the management of their WASH services. She says because of success stories of RWIMS.SNR, there has been a buy in by local community leadership. During full council meetings, she reveals, they share information on the RWIMS database with the councilors. “This motivates them to work with their communities and support KIs,” she says.
Insiza has a population of 100,333 people, 967 communal water points, 199 schools, 17 health institutions and 304 villages. “There is enhanced response servicing with gross reduction in down-time of water points,” she explains. RWIMS.SNR, she says, has improved workmanship for sanitation facilities with EHPs notified in real time of all community level latrine construction works requiring their support and supervision.
“It has also strengthened enabling environment for private public partnerships (PPPs) with the system able to link WASH facilities to service providers for enhanced response servicing.
“The system also comes with a dashboard for monitoring enumerator performance and enumerator requirements for data bundles at any given time (value for money),” she adds.
Member of the Provincial Water Sub Committee and Focal person for RWIMS, Patrick Mirirai, says RWIMS.SNR has major advantages at provincial level. “We can log into the system online and see all dynamics and events in the district and ward at KI level. “People at provincial, sub-committee and national level are also able to observe changes in the systems. If we notice that no action has been taken on an issue, we make a follow up as we have user rights in the system. This has also helped us in terms of decision making,” Mirirai reveals.
As each day passes, Ndlela and Dube ensure that their cellphone and tablet batteries are always fully charged. They do not want to miss out on making any important WASH updates through RWIMS.SNR.