Aquaya has received a $2.5 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to strengthen regulated water quality monitoring systems in targeted Districts of Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Uganda. The grant activities will build upon Aquaya’s previous Monitoring for Safe Water (MfSW) research program, which was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2012-2016.

Dubbed Monitoring for Safe Water II (MfSW II), this five-year initiative will leverage findings from Aquaya’s research on regulated water quality testing, conducted in collaboration with 26 water suppliers and surveillance agencies in six African countries (Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia). The findings include evidence that when enforcement is weak, providing equipment and training is not sufficient for achieving better testing: motivation levels within institutions for collecting and using data are also critical.

As a result, MfSW II will evaluate incentive strategies that increase institutional motivation to collect and use water quality. The program will also explore options for driving greater resources towards data collection. Finally, MFSW II will promote risk-based water safety management that applies water quality data to verify risk mitigation activities.

MfSW II will proceed in collaboration with the local government agencies responsible for ensuring drinking water safety and other Hilton Foundation grantees that are contributing towards sustainable District-level water services. The results will provide a basis for scaling-up water quality testing programs across Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Uganda.

Mr. Buliva Amugune and Ms. Joan Kones are the latest Research Fellows participating in the AquayaLEARN (Leading an Empowered African Research Network) program. AquayaLEARN enables top African graduate students to participate in cutting edge science that strengthens local evidence-based decision-making capacity. AquayaLEARN fellows benefit from a unique opportunity to learn from and collaborate with leading researchers dedicated to safe drinking water and better sanitation in Africa.  After a competitive recruiting process with over 35 qualified candidates, Mr. Amugune and Ms. Kones were selected based on their background, skills, and performance potential.

“Buliva and Joan have shown intense interest in the AquayaLEARN fellowship program,” shares Joyce Kisiangani, Research Associate at Aquaya and 2014 AquayaLEARN fellow. “They have thrown themselves into the program and are always willing to take risks in terms of seizing learning opportunities to gain new skills in WASH research.”

The 2017 fellows are focusing on efficiency improvements at water utilities in collaboration with the Kenyan Water Service Regulatory Board (WASREB). Ms. Kones’ research focus is to develop and conduct audits for measuring piped water leaks. She will collaborate with local utilities to develop leak management strategies. Mr. Amugune is studying cloud-based control systems for water utilities, which remotely manage and report water flows and treatment processes. He will evaluate options for integrating these new technologies into existing management procedures.

“I am impressed by how quickly Joan and Buliva have immersed themselves in fields that were completely new to them. Both public health scientists by training, they are currently working on ways to bring innovation to the Kenyan water utility sector,” said Caroline Delaire, Research Program Manager at Aquaya. “It is truly a privilege to work with such passionate young professionals driven by their desire for impact.”

By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.  Not many will argue against the importance of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal target 6.1.  But there is an irony underlying this target: market trends indicate that even as public drinking water supplies improve in the developing world, consumers will spend more on bottled water and private water treatment because they don’t trust the water that does come out of their taps.

A commentary last year in Global Water Intelligence claimed that, “total spending on water utilities is growing at 3.5% per year, while total spending on bottled water, point-of-use water systems and tanker supply is growing at 9%.  Spending on private domestic solutions to water is likely to exceed total utility spending by 2030.”

This lack of public trust has important consequences:

  • -It decreases support for water tariffs and taxes, which are required to achieve target 6.1.
  • -It increases the amount that families spend to obtain water that they believe is safe.

 

Clearly, collecting and sharing water quality information is critical for building consumer trust and for promoting public services.  Information is also essential for holding water suppliers accountable.  In most countries, water quality testing is the law: suppliers (public and private) are required to monitor parameters, generally specified in national standards, and report their results to the government.

But water suppliers often don’t do enough testing because:

  • -Supplying water is a marginal business – most providers require government and/or donor inputs, particularly to serve low-income areas.
  • -Resource constrained suppliers will not spend money on regular testing because they are not penalized for breaking the law – poor enforcement contributes to low motivation.

 

These are systemic barriers to better testing: Aquaya’s Monitoring for Safe Water research shows that until these barriers are removed, new programs and innovations, including those listed below, will only have short-term impacts:

  • -Project-based funding for laboratories, supplies, and training
  • -New technologies (water testing kits, mobile phones, data platforms)
  • -New water testing business models including private services

 

To address the systemic barriers to water quality data collection, Aquaya’s next goals for Monitoring for Safe Water are to design and evaluate interventions that are focused on increasing both resources and motivation for testing.

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