Database Supports Water Authorities in Addressing Bottlenecks in Rural Water Supply

Database Supports Water Authorities in Addressing Bottlenecks in Rural Water Supply
Improved rural water systems management through data management aims at enhancing water governance and living standards.

The Millennium Development Goal Target 7C (MDG 7C) aims to halve the population that does not have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and falls under MDG 7, ‘Ensuring Environmental Sustainability’. Belize has set its own target of universal access to water and sanitation, becoming in this area an ‘MDG plus’ country. Even though Belize has made remarkable progress towards this ambitious target, the country may fall short of sustaining further progress if current governance bottlenecks are not addressed.

To maintain the gains made in this sector, all communities must have the requisite capacity to ensure that existing systems are fully operational and can respond to the increased demand for water supply from growing populations. Efforts must be made to keep the present Rudimentary Water System (RWS) — which distributes water originating from an underground well — and hand pumps in rural areas, fully functional according to established standards. However, achieving full coverage by 2015 requires implementing geographical targeting, especially for rural communities in the Belize and Toledo districts that are currently underserved.

Highlights

  • Community level and service providers' inputs are integrated in the database design
  • State of the art technology is being integrated into proposals for service providers to maintain live updated data

Data may help in overcoming some of these governance bottlenecks. Information about the location and functional status of rural water systems and hand pumps may make it easier to respond to failures, to conduct repairs, and to prioritize areas for new development.

Efforts are under way to construct a database that will combine cell phone and geographic information technology that allow field workers, partners and others to record data from hundreds of water points in Belize. The information will then be displayed on an online map to signal whether a water system or hand pump is up and running, broken, or on the verge of disrepair which needs quick action.

Data may also help rural water authorities manage their water systems better, and a set of benchmarks have been adapted to the Belizean context. Benchmarking assists with providing a set of key performance indicators relating to the water authorities’ managerial, financial and operational activities that can be used to measure internal performance and inform decisions of the Water Boards and of the Ministry of Labour, Local Government and Rural Development which regulates the rural water sector.  Potential benefits of benchmarking are enhancement of transparency and accountability, and improved ability to compare between Water Boards’ performance, which in turn may strengthen competition.

Finally, data mechanisms may also channel a citizen’s perspective on services. Feedback on the quality of services may put political pressure on people in charge, enhance performance and accountability, and make services more responsive to citizens’ needs. An SMS complaint mechanism has been suggested, as well as surveys and other tools to secure these important inputs into the governance process.

The database and related consultation and training activities form part of the UNDP supported project “Applying MDG Acceleration Framework: Addressing Governance Bottlenecks to Achieve Water and Sanitation Coverage in Belize”, funded by the Democratic Governance Thematic Trust Fund (DGTTF) and the Government of Belize.