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Tigray is a fabulous region to visit. A great base for visiting some of the finest tourism sites in Ethiopia. We were looking for something else: databases. More specifically we went to Tigray to find out how the region is making efforts to monitor the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene services to its people. We were not disappointed.

Tigray is a pioneering region in the country with respect to monitoring in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH [i]) sectors, with many initiatives underway and some rich experiences to be had. In the regional capital Mekele, we met the people managing the databases in health, education and water. Visiting two out of the 47 woredas (districts) in Tigray we learned how data is being collected and used at the local level, and how data is being sent upwards to supply the regional capital with the numbers it needs. We talked to some of the international and national NGOs that are focusing on improving monitoring as a way to improve WaSH services delivery in the region.

The health and education sectors have relatively well established management information systems (the HMIS and the EMIS for health and education respectively). These systems generate a regular flow of up-to-date and relatively reliable data. Data from health extension workers and health posts is entered into the HMIS at health centres before being sent upwards, while data from schools and their supervisors goes on paper to the woreda capital and is then entered into the EMIS database. The challenges here are more related to the fact that WaSH is not the core focus of these ministries. There is room for indicators to be improved to meet the requirements of wider WaSH reporting, and there is a need to support and train staff whose main focus is thinking about education quality or health care.

The data situation in water is much more complicated and evolving. Without a single system having been established in the same way as in health, education or finance, there is a lot of innovation going on.

The Tigray Water Resources Bureau (TWRB) is the critical regional institution in the water sector and it has several departments (processes) involved in monitoring and use of data[ii]. The Water Resources Management & Regulatory Process (WRM&R) is officially recognised as the ‘home’ of data and databases in TWRB. This step taken to professionalise data management is an important achievement. Also critical are the Water Supply process[iii] and the Planning sub-process.

The WRM&R team look after one of the most interesting water databases in the country. It is the only example we are yet aware of in the country of a region-wide IT-based system used for ongoing monitoring of water points.  This database includes almost 13000 water points or an estimated 92% water points in the region. It is used by TWRB to produce the official coverage calculations that have a vital role in planning and decision-making. However, despite this apparent success, the system is not widely used within the TWRB and is, in fact, largely duplicated by parallel monitoring and reporting processes in other departments.

The system, called the Water Infrastructure Management Platform (WIMP)[iv], was developed with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It has been rolled out to all woredas although according to a recent review, five woredas do not use it at all and perhaps only 5 woredas use it very well. The cloud-based system requires internet access to enable woredas to enter data about their new and existing water schemes. This is a challenge, and the considerable efforts made to improve connectivity through the use of the woreda-net system and mobile internet services have only been partially successful. This may get easier to solve as internet connectivity gradually improves. More worrying is that where considerable volumes of data have been collected and updated, the data is not used at anything like the potential possible. That is a problem that will just not go away, and one that is surprisingly common for most of the databases we encountered.

In fact, all the same data that flows from woredas to regions over the hard to establish internet access, also flows through a parallel and monthly paper trail. This is a system that works everywhere and does not fail. There are also additional indicators in the paper-based reporting that match the requirements of different sub-processes and projects in the TWRB. Rural water reporting for example involves regular monthly data collection on all existing schemes by the Tabia[v] water resources experts, as well as reporting on the new progress of development of new schemes and activity reporting (capacity building activities, financial status of schemes etc.). This information is widely used within the TWRB, but not all that information finds its way into any database.

A federal initiative has been taken to develop the WaSH M&E MIS system[vi]. We found news of this database in the region but not yet, apparently, any use of the system. Training for woredas (in batches of 12) is said to be planned in the coming weeks. While there does not appear to be a plan for how the WASH M&E MIS will sit alongside existing reporting processes and database systems, a good initiative is that the bureau has placed responsibility for the WASH M&E MIS system within the WRM&R process that manages the main current database (WIMP).

Several other databases can be found. Last year, training was provided by SNV in the use of the National WASH Inventory (access) database as a tool for maintaining up to date inventories of water points in the 7 UNICEF supported woredas in the region. In one of the woredas we visited, we saw data being entered into this database but without any apparent use of data stored. The database is not being used to generate the reports that the woreda has to produce.

REST[vii] is a large regional NGO operating throughout Tigray with its roots in relief to the liberated parts of the region during the civil war. A rapidly expanding US NGO, Charity: Water, is REST’s main funder in water, and this is Charity: Water’s largest programme. There is a major monitoring initiative to match.

With a strong commitment to ensure that the schemes they developed keep working, Charity: Water have developed the ‘Despatch monitor’ system. This system receives calls (using short codes dialled to a free number) from WASHCOs that have a breakdown or issue with their water supply. REST maintain staffing in 5 clusters (each with 3 staff) to then coordinate the response. This is done by trying to help mobilise government staff from the tabia or woreda in the first instance, but then stepping-in if the problem is not solved. The cluster team are highly equipped with vehicles, spares, equipment etc. There are currently over 2500 water points in the database, but these are only REST/Charity: Water schemes.

There is also a new initiative by SNV to support the setting up of Private Local Service Providers (PLSPs) in 4 woredas that are intended to provide maintenance for some 560 WaSHCOs[viii]. All these WaSHCOs have recently received training and the PLSPs too. A critical aspect of the initiative is that SMS messages are used to trigger the response by the PLSPs, with messages sent to the PLSP and copied to the Woreda Water Office. If there is no response within 3 days a repeat message should be sent and the Woreda Water Office will follow up. The database has not yet been developed for this system, but there will soon be one (probably excel based) to add to the count of databases in the region.

We went to Tigray as part of the design process for improved national monitoring systems to meet the needs of the One WASH National Programme (OWNP). We were pleasantly surprised about the numbers of staff we found engaged in monitoring tasks, and the amount of monitoring underway. But skill levels are low and there is a lot of turnover in staffing, so establishing and maintaining a core water MIS system that runs as well as those in education or health will be a long-term effort. There is clearly a great deal to learn from this fascinating region, and it is a frontrunner in establishing data management systems across all elements of the OWNP (water as well as education, health and finance). Big gains in efficiency and quality look possible by removing some of the duplication in the water-sector reporting processes, and across the board, doing much more to make sure that when databases are developed they are used to the fullest extent possible.

This blog is based upon a regional visit undertaken by IRC and the National WaSH Coordination Office as part of the Technical and Managerial Support for One WaSH National Programme M&E. It represents the views of the author alone and does not reflect the opinions of the National WaSH Coordination Office, of Coffey International which is evaluating and providing monitoring support to the One WaSH National Programme or of the UK Department for International Development which is providing financial support

[i] We combine the elements of WaSH because of the expected health benefits derived from improving water supplies, sanitation facilities and hygiene behaviours at the same time. It is a new construct in Ethiopia. That new endeavour is called the One WaSH National Programme and new implementation modalities (particularly those linked to the Consolidated WaSH Account funding which pools money from some of the biggest international donors) are driving efforts to further integrate activities across the water, health (with responsibility for sanitation and institutional WaSH at health posts and clinics) and education (with responsibility for WaSH in schools) sectors. Necessarily an investigation of WaSH monitoring means visiting many different offices at each level of administration.

[ii] These structures are also mirrored at the woreda level with Woreda Water Offices including Water Supply and Water Resources Management & Regulatory processes.

[iii] The Water Supply process includes relevant sub-processes on Monitoring and Support and the ‘One WaSH/CWA’ Project Management Unit involved mainly in new scheme development

[iv] The system is variously called the Water Infrastructure Management Platform (WIMP), the Majella or MGCA Global Cloud Application after the software used, the GIS project or the ICRC system after the agency (the International Committee of the Red Cross) that has been instrumental in its development and support

[v] A tabia (equivalent to kebele) is a sub-woreda unit. Tigray is unique amongst Ethiopian regions in having tabia/kebele level water resources technicians. This level of staffing is heavily involved in monitoring and supervision tasks. In health and education there is staffing at or near this level in all regions, such as health extension workers and school supervisors.

[vi] A proprietary database system developed by consultants PUT

[vii] Relief Society of Tigray

[viii] The elected committees that operate and maintain community water-supply systems


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