Published on: 25/11/2011
“I love what I do as an area mechanic because in my own small way I ensure that community boreholes are constantly working, providing regular supply of water to the people to improve their standards of living and their health.”
Mr Kune Banahene’s face beams with a smile of satisfaction. His work is not just a job to him, but an activity that gives him joy. The area mechanic for the Bosomtwe district in the Ashanti Region of Ghana has a sense of purpose.
The successes and sustainability of water service systems is threatened by a poor maintenance culture leading to high levels of sub-standard service and hardware failure, resulting in situations where facilities are abandoned, wasting the effort spent on their construction.
Area mechanics are trained pump attendants who go to villages to repair faulty or broken-down systems. They normally work in close collaboration with the District Water and Sanitation Engineers (DWSE) and the WATSANS (water and sanitation committees) in the communities.
Area Mechanics have become key players in the achievements of sustainability of water service delivery.
Their technical expertise is needed along with funds to maintain the systems and restore services after breakdowns. They form an integral part of the value chain for ensuring the sustainability of water systems (boreholes) provided in communities.
Mr Banahene welcomes one recent change. In Bosomtwe District, WATSAN committees are now expected to call in the area mechanic every eight months to examine their pumps, even if there is no obvious fault. This preventative maintenance is designed to prevent systems breaking down suddenly, leaving people without water.
“To ensure that the systems do not break down frequently, there is the need for regular monitoring and preventive maintenance of systems to ensure sustainability. Thankfully, the District Assembly has started implementing a routine scheduled maintenance programme to assess and maintain systems to avoid complete breakdowns and from the current maintenance schedules. It will cost approximately GH¢200-GH¢400 ($125 - $250) per year to maintain a system and put it in good order, including routine maintenances and charges” Mr Kune said.
Mr Banahene shared some perspectives on his work and experience. He has been working as the area mechanic for the district for the past 12 years.
He explains “my main duty is to repair systems which have broken down by fixing or replacing the broken down parts to ensure that water continue to flow again for the community”. He used to work with the Ghana Water Company Limited Regional office in Kumasi, the regional capital before he was assigned to his present station by the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA).
“When I first came here around 1999, I was the only area mechanic and had to travel very long distances to communities to do my work, but two more persons have been brought in to help me so we are now three mechanics for the district,” Mr Kune tells me.
He identifies the most common problem with systems in the area as cylinder, pump, bucket and piston valve failures. These problems, he said can’t be fixed by the caretakers in the communities because they may not have the technical know-how to work on parts beyond the ground level. “Sometimes because there are no funds available to the WATSAN to carry out minor repairs for faults detected on a system, they tell me to find some other way to manage it. They continue using it till it sometimes leads to a total breakdown of the facility before a complete repair work is undertaken. ” This, he said may lead to a major damage with resulting high parts and repair costs. He advises communities to stop this practice, as it costs more in the long run.
The 44 year-old father of five explained, “Any time there is a problem with any of the systems in a community, a member of the WASTSAN committee will call me to go and service it for them. I normally do not take very long to respond to their calls. The difficulty however is that because I do not have any personal means of transport I am only able to move when there is public transport available. If there is difficulty in getting a public transport, the work tends to delay”.
The community pays for his services, on a pay-per-work basis. “I cannot overcharge them because there have been agreed charge rates between the mechanics, the District Assemblies and the Communities depending on the nature of the fault.(what is the agreed charge?) I cannot go out of my way to charge something different from that. It will even be illegal because the community already knows about these charge rates so they pay just accordingly. The community also buys the parts to be replaced. If there are damaged parts to be bought, I normally go to the nearest spare parts shop with a WATSAN member to buy them to fix the facility. This often means a visit to Kumasi to the CWSA shop which keeps supplies. ”
Mr. Banahene also does some farming to supplement his income to support his wife, five children and two other dependants.
He appealed for a means of transport, preferably a motor bike to facilitate his movement to the communities. Sometimes he has to walk long distances simply because there is no public transport available.
Despite the difficulties, Mr Banahene sums up the work he does by saying “I feel very proud of my job because I love what I do and the fact that I am helping people to get water makes me happy.”