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Water is just an SMS away

Roselyne Sachiti Features Editor
Sukoluhle Ndlela (32) of Vusisizwe Village under Chief Ndube in Insiza South is a registered Key Informant (KI), for the Mahole water point. An important role she passionately performs under the Rural Wash Information Management System SMS Notification Response (RWIMS.SNR) pilot programme in Matabeleland South Province, Ndlela, a mother of two, knows too well the power her mobile phone carries and its importance in improving water and sanitation.

Her duties as a KI include ensuring that information on all broken down water infrastructure under her watch, pump functionality of boreholes, monitoring water yields and quality of water reaches Tecla Dube, the area enumerator, in real time.

She has done this many times in the comfort of her home each time the need arose and also on a monthly basis.

As a KI, Ndela, is linked to RWIMs fieldforce through a free SMS platform which permits her to constantly communicate with the ward database.

“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,” she says.

Before RWIMS.SNR, life was hard in this dry part of Zimbabwe, which falls under Ecological Region 5. It was tougher for women who mainly carry the burden of looking for water. It would take between four and five months for a water point to be repaired as information moved at a snail’s pace.

She recalls how when boreholes were non-functional, women and children would walk between two and three kilometres in search of clean and safe drinking water.

But, with the RWIMS.SNR, she brags, all these problems are bygones as repairs now only take between three to four days a massive improvement from the past.

They have found the solution to the nagging challenge of water shortages.

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, 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.”

The SMS technology has also improved food security and livelihoods in the area.

Tecla Dube is the Ward 2 extension worker/ enumerator equipped with RWIMS FieldForce app 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 Online.

She also solicits responses from the village pump mechanics and 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 repaired in a short space of time.

“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.

Dube works with three different sets of informants. These include those monitoring communal water points, institutional level (e.g. schools) and village sanitation.

“For response servicing, all water points are also linked to village pump mechanists (VPMs) and district water technicians whilst all sanitation and hygiene enabling facilities are linked to EHPs,” she reveals.

As she shares their success story, her eyes suddenly sparkle with excitement.

An SMS from a KI at Msithi Primary School has just sent an update on sanitation. Dube immediately shifts her attention to her mobile phone as she reads through the text message.

“The KI is telling me that the school which did not have an incinerator now has one. The school now also has six new handwashing facilities, two pot racks and one refuse pit. I will phone and first verify the new information with the KI who sent it,” she says. Upon making the phone call she immediately accepts and updates the RWIMS database.

Information sent by KI varies, she says, some can be incorrect.

“After verifying I sometimes I reject information that is incorrect,” she says.

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 (SMSes) to georeferenced data of facilities and villages in RWIMS. The SMS-based RWIMS interface enables communities to report changes in the infrastructure functionality through SMS directly to Government functionaries.

In 2011, the Government of Zimbabwe, through the rebranded National Action Committee (NAC) developed a comprehensive roadmap for the WASH sector to guide sector recovery, transition and development efforts. One of its key priorities going forward was the resuscitation and strengthening of WASH governance structures from national through to village level. This gave birth to the development of RWIMS under the Rural WASH Sub-Sector.

Currently, RWIMS.SNR is being undertaken by the Government of Zimbabwe with UNICEF support and funding. Other funding partners include DFID, Government of Switzerland through SDC and the government of Sweden.

Insiza Rural District Council focal person for WASH and RWIMS, Messie Msindo-Mpofu says RWIMs.SNR recognises 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 councillors.

“This motivates them to work with their communities and support KIs. During ward meetings, they also share information we would have given them. At council level, we have a five-year plan, the RWIMS Sustainability Strategy drafted in 2016,” she says.

Insiza has a population of 100 333 people, 967 communal water points, 199 schools, 14 health institutions and 304 villages.

RWIMS.SNR, she notes, has come with benefits that include enhanced real timeliness of data with the coming in of community and facility level KIs who are being regularly probed for updates by the system.

“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 Matabeleland 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 at district, 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. When targeting where interventions are needed, we utilise the data on RWIMS for task targeting. We can easily identify where there is low water and sanitation coverage,” 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.

Source:The Herald

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