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Problems need problem-solvers

Capacity Development is one of those buzz-phrases that gets used and abused almost as much as Sustainable Development. Capacity has various definitions, but for me, one of the clearest is:

“Capacity is the ability of individuals, groups, institutions and organizations to identify and solve problems over time”

(Morgan, P. 1993 quoted on p.7 of Capacity development for improved water management, UNESCO-IHE 2009)

A shortage of capacity – the ability to identify and solve problems – is found in rural water supply across the world, from issues like pump corrosion, to lifecycle cost recovery to making the Human Right to Water a reality.

Problems become a lot easier where there are competent champions or – even better – strong teams who are able and willing to do a good job, even in adverse circumstances.

That’s why I have come to the annual meeting of UNDP Cap-Net, – at the invitation of its director, Dr Themba Gumbo. Cap-Net is a global network of capacity development networks that support capacity development in the water sector by providing technical and match-funding support to water-related training courses. The meeting was hosted by the Spanish cooperation agency, AECID, at their exceptional training facility in Cartagena, Colombia.

The main theme of the week was to explore how to use online and ICT methods to deliver courses and support learners. The centre-piece is Cap-Net’s Virtual Campus. The first three courses, which ran successfully earlier this year, were:

The courses work in similar way to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), but requires a bit more commitment and if you want to join you have to submit a short CV and letter explaining why you want to do the course.

The meeting was also an opportunity to meet coordinators from some of  Cap-Net’s 22 regional and country networks from all over the world and to explore ideas for developing face-to-face training events. From this I got a lot of ideas and contacts to explore further.

There were other partners there as well, including CAWST, Water Integrity Network (WIN), Global Water Partnership (GWP), Sustainable Energy for All, the UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI, Water for People, and SDC Global Programme Water Initiatives so it was good to meet them and find out about the interesting work they are doing.

Another topic, was the potential of serious games, and two examples were presented:

  • Diana Rojas (SDC) presented an mobile game called Aventura Yaku for helping children (and grown-ups!) understand water and ecosystems services.
  • Gareth Lloyd (DHI) presented an online game called Aqua Republica, and we had a group competition on a version developed specifically for Cap-Net. Aiming at an audience of 13-18 year olds, behind the attractive graphics and game play is a direct link to detailed hydrological models in Denmark.

While great for introducing new audiences to the importance of water resources, don’t expect an RWSN game app for rural water any time soon. I’m not convinced that is it the right solution for what we want to do, but I like these initiatives very much.

Over the course of the rest of the week there were presentations and discussions on the importance of innovating and keeping up with the fast evolving ways of engaging new audiences through communications technology – whilst not forgetting the importance of hands-on, face-to-face learning.

As the week ended, I concluded that here are a group of people – and organisations – that RWSN should collaborate with if we are to fulfil our mission of raising the level of quality and professionalism of rural water supply services.

Watch this space…




Sanitation and Water for All? a view from the SWA partner meeting

SWAThis week, I attended the Sanitation & Water for All (SWA), partnership meeting in The Hague, Netherlands.

Skat Foundation is a member of the Research & Learning constituency of SWA and I was there, among other things, to represent RWSN, both to raise relevant issues from our network with SWA partners, but also to find out what SWA is doing that is relevant for those working in rural water services.

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UNC Water and Health Conference Event: Resources to Keep the Water Flowing

Originally posted on Improve International:

By Susan Davis, Executive Director with research support from Lydia Prokosch

Keep the water flowing side eventAt the UNC Water and Health conference last week, Improve International hosted an event called Keep the Water Flowing. We highlighted the various types of post-construction support, results and costs. Below are links to the presentations:

We also shared several resources, links to which are provided below by theme.

The Case for Post-Construction Support

Guidelines for Resolution of Problems with Water Systems.

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Lessons Not Learned in International Development

Originally posted on Improve International:

MERLTech susans talk Photo and drawing by Katherine Haugh

Susan Davis wrote this guest blog on ICTWorks based on her lightning talk at MERLTech:

The world has made several commitments to water and sanitation, starting as far back as the 1970s, and leading up to the recent Sustainable Development Goals. Also over the past few decades, the development of the internet and cool data collection tools has enabled more and more organizations to share their evaluations and monitoring data publicly.

But is anyone actually learning from them?

Read the rest of the article here.

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The Sustainable Development Goals are here, and “business as usual” won’t work!

RWSN Secretariat:

thoughts in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Originally posted on Improve International:

By Susan Davis, Executive Director

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were approved by the UN last week. A tweet last week about the SDGs caught my eye: “Business as usual does not work. We need to move beyond the traditional mode of development, says @IrinaBokova. ##ICSD2015 #SDGs”

I totally agree with this, and that’s part of why I founded Improve International.  But is this phrase spurring the action it intends?

As part of some research, I’ve been reading some older documents about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). I keep coming across the phrase “business as usual.” I’m not sure the WASH sector is grasping the concept, because people have been saying this since at least 1998. Some highlights (italics are mine):

1998: Safe water supply and adequate sanitation to protect health are among the basic human rights. Ensuring their availability would contribute immeasurably to health and productivity for development…

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New Horizons: towards universal water access by 2030 // De nouveaux Horizons: vers l’accès universel à l’eau d’ici à 2030

by Ton Schouten, Chair of RWSN

Ton Schouten, Chair of RWSN

Ton Schouten, Chair of RWSN

The world has signed off on the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 6 is the big water and sanitation goal and includes targets for water services and water resources: universal access to a safe and affordable water supply, but also targets for water quality, water use efficiency, water related eco systems and water resources.

Le monde s’est engagé sur des Objectifs de Développement Durable. L’Objectif 6 est le grand objectif pour l’eau et l’assainissement et inclue des cibles pour les services d’eau et les ressources en eau : accès universel à un approvisionnement en eau potable sûr et accessible financièrement, mais aussi des cibles sur la qualité de l’eau, l’usage efficient de l’eau, les écosystèmes reliés à l’eau et les ressources en eau.

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“Your challenges are our challenges”, reflections from Oklahoma, USA

Today I write from Oklahoma, USA, having just come to the end of the two and a half day University of Oklahoma 4th biennial WaTER Conference.  I had the honour of being one of the keynote speakers at this event, which was attended by over 170 people from 27 countries. It has been an extremely worthwhile experience on many fronts.

There is a growing interest in water supply and sanitation in “developing nations” in the USA.  The Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act 2005 seems be one of the catalysts for this change.  Over the past week I have engaged with numerous undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Oklahoma, Emory University, Mercer University and other US institutions. They are learning about the realities of millions without adequate water supply or sanitation as well as undertaking research. These students want to make a difference.

I was particularly touched by the opening speech of Dr Jim Chamberlain who reflected on the realities today in the USA, where there are people without adequate water supply.”your challenges are our challenges” he observed. He went on to mention common water quality and resource issues between here and other parts of the world.   And he was talking about Oklahoma today – a city that is expanding beyond the reach of its piped water supply network. I have learned about people in this State and more widely in the USA who are not connected to a piped water supply or sewerage system. They mostly rely on their own private boreholes, some hand dug wells, and septic tanks. What was particularly surprising though is that as in Lagos, Lusaka or Kampala, up-to-date statistics on the numbers of wells and population depending on them are lacking.  And private well regulation, including water quality testing falls between the cracks and is beyond the current remit of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

My keynote was entitled Sustainable Groundwater Development in Africa: More than Engineering. I tried to present an overview of some of the groundwater development opportunities and challenges of the African continent. The presentation was well received, in particular reflections on the diversity of the African continent, both above and below ground, as well as the size of Africa. Few people are aware that Africa is larger than the USA and China and a considerable part of Europe put together.

Dr David Sabatini of the Water and Technologies for Emerging Regions (WaTER) Centre asked all presenters to be mindful of a very broad audience, from anthropologists to engineers, from first year undergraduates to seasoned experts.  I tried my best, also aware that there would be people in the audience who had never been to Africa in their lives, alongside scholars and professionals from the continent.  And so we journeyed together from the phenomenal expansion of manual drilling in Nigeria and elsewhere, to the challenges of trying to escape poverty with irrigated agriculture to geology (including the continent’s mineral resources and resource curse), then onto hydrogeology, urban groundwater and finally a vision for future policy and implementation.

As a keynote speaker it was rather humbling to present the fact that the first continental estimates of the quantity of groundwater resources in African were only published three years ago; and to explain that very few African countries have good quality hydrogeological maps and studies. Having worked in rural water supply for seventeen years now, I scratch my head to find defendable reasons for the lack of organised and reliable drilling logs and groundwater data despite decades of development projects from the water decade through the MDGs.

However, I was relieved to present the work supported by UNICEF, WSP, UKAid and USAID over the past ten years to provide guidance for drilling in the form of documents and films; to share that UNICEF, together with WaterAid and Skat has an ongoing collaboration to try and raise the professionalism of both manual and mechanised drilling. And of course to recommend the ongoing UK-funded research to enable sustainable use of groundwater for the benefit of the poor – UPGro.

Undergraduate students ask very pertinent questions. The frankness of potential newcomers to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Water Resources sector is very refreshing and I hope that they will join in solving some of the problems that those of us who have been around a bit longer are struggling with. But to do that, they need to be able to work in this field. Care’s Peter Lochery and winner of the 2015 University of Oklahoma Water Prize, talked of the importance of being a connector, rather than a leader. And so I close this blog with some questions.

How can better connections be made? What can we all do to enable new talent, whether from the USA, Nigeria, or anywhere else, to flow into the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Water Resources sector? Who can offer internships? What about apprenticeships or first jobs?  Where are the jobs? If we are to reach the Sustainable Development Goal targets for water supply we need an awful lot more skilled people – whether entrepreneurs, field staff, project managers or academics.  And we have to find ways of bringing them in to join us!  Do you have any tangible ideas? Or any offers for that matter?