Contributed by Selamawit Tiruneh, Mussie Tezazu, and Tamene Chaka with the Millennium Water Alliance
Ethiopia, with a population of 112 million people, faces significant challenges in providing adequate and sustainable water services, particularly in rural areas. According to a 2020 Joint Monitoring Program report, only 5% of rural areas have access to safely managed water services, while 35% have basic water service, and 30% have limited water service. The remaining population relies on unimproved or surface water sources, leading to time-consuming and arduous journeys to collect drinking water.
The evaluation of the first phase of the Ethiopia One WASH National Program (OWNP) from 2013 to 2017 shed light on the bottlenecks encountered by the water supply sector in the country. These challenges include the lack of an independent regulatory entity, inadequate involvement of the private sector, the absence of harmonization between water inventory and other sector data, and the lack of an operational Management Information System (MIS) for data.
Water point data in rural Ethiopia is currently housed in a fragmented and dispersed manner. Different entities, such as woreda governments, the national government, and numerous NGOs, maintain their own sets of data for specific geographic areas. This fragmentation makes it difficult to have a comprehensive understanding of the water point coverage, functionality, and maintenance needs across the country.
Recognizing the need for improved water data management and evidence-based decision-making, the Millennium Water Alliance (MWA) and its partners, in collaboration with the Sustainable WASH Program (SWP), have embarked on efforts to strengthen the government’s capacity in water supply data management and analysis.
The Introduction of WPdx in Ethiopia
One of the key initiatives that emerged from these discussions was the introduction of the Water Point Data Exchange (WPdx) platform in Ethiopia. WPdx, developed by the Global Water Challenge, serves as a standardized data platform that allows for the sharing, access, and utilization of water point data. It addresses the challenges associated with water point data management and provides decision-making support tools to improve water service delivery.
MWA led a series of training sessions which resulted in over 30 government and NGO officials receiving in-person training on uploading data to WPdx and the utilization of its decision-support tools and 9 additional NGO staff receiving virtual training. These training sessions have provided participants with a deeper understanding of the platform’s purpose and its value in enhancing data-driven decision-making.
Figure 1: WPdx training given to government stakeholders and Sustainable WASH Program implementation partners, March 28, 2023
The Power of WPdx in Water Point Data Management
WPdx offers numerous strengths that make it an asset in Ethiopia’s water sector. One of its key features is its ability to compile data from various sources, including government offices and NGOs, into a unified and standardized data set. This consolidation allows for better visualization, analysis, and decision-making, as stakeholders can gain comprehensive insights into water point coverage, functionality, and maintenance needs.
The decision-support tools provided by WPdx are also instrumental in guiding decision-making processes. These tools include the assessment of basic water access, prioritized locations for new water points, and predictions of functionality rates. By leveraging these tools, governments and implementing partners can prioritize their interventions, allocate resources effectively, and ensure targeted improvements in water service delivery.
Addressing Concerns and the Need for a Private Instance
Some officials perceived the WPdx platform as being similar to existing data collection platforms, which partners have already incorporated into their interventions. This common misperception leads to confusion among Woredas regarding the distinct advantages of WPdx. It is therefore essential to highlight that WPdx is not itself a data collection platform, but instead offers a unique ability to consolidate and harmonize information from various data collection platforms. Furthermore, its integrated decision support tools take factors like population density and existing water point locations into account. By leveraging these features, WPdx can algorithmically generate recommendations for the establishment of new water points and prioritize those in need of rehabilitation. This sets WPdx apart from traditional data collection platforms.
While WPdx has proven to be a valuable tool, concerns about data privacy have arisen among government officials and stakeholders. The open-source nature of the platform has raised questions about the reliability and accountability of the data, as anyone can make changes or updates without any sort of authorization. These concerns have highlighted the need for the adoption of a private instance of WPdx in Ethiopia.
A private instance would provide data protection mechanisms, ensuring that only authorized individuals or organizations can access and update the data. This approach would address the concerns regarding data security, reliability, and accountability, instilling confidence in decision-makers and enhancing the platform’s effectiveness in supporting evidence-based decision-making. Ideally, the government of Ethiopia would own and maintain the private instance and the data within.
Figure 2: Roundtable discussion with SWP implementing partner staff (Top) and discussion with regional government staff on data privacy (bottom)
The Benefits of a Private Instance of WPdx in Ethiopia
Implementing a private instance of WPdx tailored to the Ethiopian context would bring several benefits. Firstly, it would enable the government to have full control over the data and where it is stored, ensuring its accuracy, integrity, and privacy. This ownership would provide the government with a reliable and trusted data source for decision-making processes. It would also allow for consolidation of data, regardless of how it was collected, and inform on the current levels of basic water access in a given Woreda, region, or nationally.
Secondly, a private instance would allow for customization based on Ethiopia’s specific needs and parameters. This customization would enhance the platform’s usability and effectiveness in addressing Ethiopia’s water challenges, such as incorporating additional parameters like well depth.
Lastly, a private instance of WPdx would foster collaboration and partnership between the government, NGOs, and other stakeholders. It would create a platform where data can be securely shared, standardized, and utilized, facilitating evidence-based decision-making, and coordinated efforts to improve water service delivery.
Conclusion: A Promising Path Forward
The discussions and engagements between the MWA, government officials, and stakeholders have laid the foundation for the establishment of a private instance of WPdx in Ethiopia. This promising development signifies the growing recognition of the platform’s potential to revolutionize water data management and decision-making in the country.
The implementation of a private instance would empower Woreda and Regional governments to access and utilize reliable data, enabling them to make informed choices about water infrastructure development, operation, and maintenance. This enhanced decision-making process would contribute to bridging the water service delivery gaps in rural Ethiopia and improving the lives of millions of people.
A pilot private instance of WPdx using a selected customized dataset was launched and shared with partners for demonstration purposes. Moving forward, it is essential to continue supporting the development and implementation of the private instance of WPdx, collaborating with national and regional governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders. By harnessing the power of WPdx and its decision-support tools, Ethiopia can pave the way for evidence-based decision-making, sustainable water service delivery, and a brighter future for its rural communities.
Acknowledgement: Funding for the work discussed in the post was generously provided by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.