Connecting people to safe drinking water in Liberia with Fulcrum
Having recently used Fulcrum to map over 15,000 potential new customers of the water utility in Liberia’s capital Monrovia, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program is now using the collected data to help connect more people to safe drinking water, and is working on using Fulcrum to improve the customer database of the Liberia Water and Sewerage Corporation (LWSC).
After ten years of fragile peace that followed a destructive two-decade civil war, Monrovia’s water infrastructure is still struggling to recover. The water service provider LWSC currently supplies only 9,000 connections – less than half the pre-war level of the 1980s and only about 5% of all households in Monrovia.
Fulcrum dashboard showing 15,000+ mapped potential customers in Paynesville
The remaining 95% of city dwellers have no running water and rely on open wells, hand-pumps, public standpipes and tankers. This is not only arduous for those who have to carry water every day (often children), but also a major health risk as recent studies have shown a contamination of the vast majority of tested wells in the city with dangerous E. coli bacteria. Improvements are on the way, however: in 2013 new pumps financed by the World Bank were installed at the main water treatment and pumping station, which have greatly increased the ability of the utility to deliver clean water to the city.
But who to connect? In neighbourhoods where no one has had piped water for decades, it is not clear whether potential customers are really interested to pay to connect their houses (the government lacks funds to subsidize connections). Many people have little money and little trust that public services will actually work; what is more, even though existing sources are laborious and dangerous, many have become used to them. Thus it was crucial for the water utility LWSC to get a clear picture of neighbourhoods to be targeted for a connection campaign — not just of the demand for piped water, but also the composition of the potential customer base (e.g. family houses vs. businesses vs. institutions such as schools) and their current water sources.
Fulcrum proved an ideal tool for a rapid assessment and household mapping. Using cheap Android phones costing less than $100 a piece (Huawei IDEOS 8150), we trained 25 mappers within just two days. The intuitive user interface of Fulcrum reduces any technical hurdles and means that the training of surveyors can focus on content and method – what questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to deal with difficult situations.
After the training, mappers were deployed in the Paynesville area of Liberia’s capital Monrovia. Paynesville is close to the main water transmission pipelines and thus relatively easy to connect in the near future. Within less than a month, we mapped over 15,000 households, businesses and institutions in the area, collecting not only information on potential customers’ interest in a piped water connection, but many other characteristics such as their current water supply, their contact details as well as photos of the buildings. Fulcrum convinced through not only its ease of use and reliability, but also some of its advanced functions e.g. the fact that it is possible to update previously made records. Thus, for instance, it is possible to systematically return to households that were “not at home” during a first visit.
Operating in an urban environment made battery issues less of a problem than it would otherwise be, because daily recharges at a central office were possible. Phones generally retained sufficient battery during intensive use for around 5-6 hours (though this was without internet connection as we worked offline and uploaded data through a fast wifi-network in the evening). Fulcrum’s ability to automatically generate KML files for Google Earth, or shapefiles for ArcGIS is extremely convenient, because it ensures that any collected data can be rapidly exported into external tools for advanced display and analysis beyond the convenient Fulcrum dashboard overview.
Data exported to a Google Earth Satellite View (water-pipeline in blue, interested customers as red dots)
Based on the data collected, we are currently working with LWSC to design a connections campaign targeted at those customers who expressed a clear interest in a piped-water connection and who are living close to existing transmission and branch-lines (i.e. those cheap to collect).
Going forward, a further role Fulcrum may play is to help ensure that the information on newly connected customers will be improved. So far, LWSC customer databases often lack critical details such as exact customer locations (as street addresses and house numbers barely exist) or contact details. This makes it extremely difficult to ensure e.g. a transparent meter reading and bill delivery. It is planned to use Fulcrum to take details of new customers when these are being connected, including GPS location of meter & meter number.