Tanzania Water Project - MSABI - Safe Water for Better Health Ifakara
A water, sanitation and hygiene project aimed at educating and empowering Tanzanian communities. The locally employed MSABI team, in collaboration with the community, have the capacity to install their own new safe water points and environmentally safe compost pit latrines. Using local materials, local skills and adapted low cost technologies we are able to install this infrastructure at 1/15th of the cost compared to other NGOs working in the region.
Queensland’s 2010 Young Professional Engineer of the Year talks about his experiences developing a water sanitation project in Tanzania
‘This system empowers the community to take responsibility for meeting their water needs, something that the government and other NGOs in the area are largely not providing’ Dale Young CPEng
For the last three years, wastewater engineer Dale Young has been living in rural Tanzania, working on the development of a water, sanitation and hygiene project. Dale relocated to the Ifakara region of south-west Tanzania in 2007 to support his partner, Dr Tanya Russell, who was working on malaria research.
‘In 2008 I became aware of a prolonged cholera outbreak in two neighbouring villages of Idete and Namawala and, seeing the lack of clean and safe water, I decided I could use my water engineering background to help,’ Dale explained.
‘These villages have a combined population of 12,000 people spread over a 20km radius and only had one safe, deep water well in each village. Other shallow hand-dug wells suffered contamination from surface run-off and nearby pit latrines, rubbish pits and animal pens.’
‘There are many reasons why nothing has been done about this problem,’ Dale said. ‘The villages have a very small voice to the government, no money, poor education, limited access to health services and low expectations of living standards.’
After consulting with local communities on a fact-finding mission, Dale approached the Tanzanian government and local NGOs offering his services for free. However, he soon became frustrated with the promises of support but lack of action and decided that if anything was to be done, he would organise it himself.
Dale spent six months researching water projects and developed a proposal for a water, sanitation and hygiene project. Upon receiving seed funding from GHD to kick start the project, Dale’s project was finally underway. The project is named MSABI - Maji Safi kwa Afya Bora - which translates to ‘Safe water for better health’.
MSABI delivers the following interventions:
- creation of new safe and clean water points
- safe water education
- introduction to home based water treatments
- introduction of new latrine pit designs and practices.
When asked about local involvement, Dale responded, ‘Our MSABI team is focussed on improving community health. We are introducing new knowledge and technologies with the aim to educate, capacitate and empower the local community’.
‘We have recently expanded our education program to five teams and we estimate we are reaching upwards of 500 people each day over five village districts. The objective is to talk about safe water at local water points, and form a discussion on why their water is polluted and what measures they can do themselves to improve their situation,’ Dale continued. ‘To actually see village people relocating their latrines and adopting our recommendations is extremely gratifying.’
Dale is also working with a local women’s pottery group to produce handmade ceramic water filters which have the capacity to remove 95%-99.9% of bacteria from water. ‘We are moving from field trial stages to laboratory testing and hope for commercial release next year. The cost of production is very low, and we will aim to sell these filters for around $3 each. Already they are very popular. I am regularly asked by villagers when they will be ready,’ Dale said.
The creation of new safe boreholes and installation of rope pumps is proving to be a very popular initiative. Since commencing operations in 2009, MSABI has completed 96 new rope pump installations.
‘There are over 50,000 abandoned water points in Africa today because they can’t be maintained. They rely on foreign technology, expensive parts and poorly thought-out management structures’
New boreholes are positioned a safe distance from pollutants and drilling is done to depths of between 15- 30m. A concrete sanitary seal is used to separate the top aquifers from the safer aquifers below.
The drilling equipment and rope pumps are manufactured locally using locally available materials. For example, truck leaf springs are used as drill bit teeth. The ‘rota sludge’ percussion drilling technology requires two persons using a lever to drop the drill, another to rotate it by hand, while a fourth person controls the pressure of the drill pipe to assist in removal of cuttings from the borehole.
The pump consists of nylon rope fitted with small rubber pistons made from recycled car tyres. The rope runs around a wheel, also made from a modified car tyre, down the borehole and returns up a ½” or ¾” PVC rising main. A handle is use to rotate the wheel which with the pressure seal created by the rubber pistons delivers water up the rising main to the surface. The drilling and rope pump technology was extensively developed in Central America, and has recently been introduced to Africa.
‘I spent a lot of time researching other water projects in Africa, many which in my view are failing,’ Dale explained. ‘A study in 2008 showed there are over 50,000 abandoned water points in Africa today because they can’t be maintained. They rely on foreign technology, expensive parts and poorly thought-out management structures. This represents a waste of between $215m and $360m,’ Dale continued.
The cost of this simple technology inclusive of drilling, and installation of a rope pump is around $800, compared to an average budget of $12,000 per installation by other NGOs in the region. MSABI asks the community to help pay for their wells as Dale believes that by the communities contributing money (around $200), labour and some materials, they develop a sense of ownership.
MSABI also promotes the selling of water as a business, which provides funds to repay and maintain their asset. ‘This system empowers the community to take responsibility for meeting their water needs, something that the government and other NGOs in the area are largely not providing,’ Dale said. ‘We are seeing great demand for our new safe water points. Currently, all five of our drill teams are booked-out for the next three months’.
MSABI has a local team of 30 staff, all who have been trained within the project. The program is also expanding to include irrigation schemes and introducing a micro finance program to assist villages purchase safe water points. ‘The support from the community is motivating me to try my best to keep this project rolling,’ Dale revealed. ‘We are finding the project drives itself when the community is invested, empowered and sees an immediate improvement to their lives.’
Dale is currently working on a three-year plan thanks to recent sponsorship commitments from GHD, Swiss Tropical Public Health Institute and Tanzanian Breweries Limited. When asked what drives him to continue providing his time for free, Dale responds ‘While it has been hard work, with lots of ups and downs, I really enjoy the challenges and seeing the growth of our staff and the improvements in the community. For sure, in terms of personal satisfaction and achievement, MSABI is giving me more than money could ever give’.
Added by Bronte Strout 2:04pm 9/05/11
Dale, I commend you for your initiative, you did not wait for someone else to tell you what to do, you used your knowledge to do a valuable thing with your knowledge. More engineers need that faith in their own ability. Your story ills me with emotion. You provide a lesson for some international aid organisations who only see the big dollar solutions that cannot be maintained by the people they are intended to assist.
Added by Tushar Ghamandi 8:27am 28/04/11
Very well done Dale.We need more & more engineers to be involved in this kind of projects and you set up an example.
Added by Paul Edwards 5:21pm 16/03/11
Great effort Dale. I was in Tanzania recently around the north east of the country near Kilimanjaro. I was surprised by the wastage of the scheme water provided in the area having seen the scarcity in other areas. I am currently working for a Perth based company specialising in water and waste water technology design. Perhaps there could be an opportunity to collaborate on future projects of this nature. I would like my engineers to understand the broader context to their skills mix.
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