Gertrude from Shinyanga in Tanzania used the latest technology to tackle an age old problem - and cut through months of delay and frustration. The familiar problem was that the well in her village was out of use – and villagers could not get any help to repair it. The new technology was her mobile phone that she used to send an SMS message to a number she had seen on a sticker. “What can I do … I am trying to convince others to repair it, but it is difficult”, she asked.
Nor did her plea go unanswered. The message was received by a pioneering “Uliza Ujibiwe”, service, which means “Ask a Question and Get an Answer” in Kiswahili.
The first answer was to direct her to the Community Based Research Centre (CBRC) or to the local Water and Environmental Development Company, (WEDECO).
And fortunately, when Gertrude approached CBRC, the Tanzanian not-for-profit organisation was facilitating a workshop on institutional mapping in Shinyanga.Participants decided to use her question as a case study for the prompt handling of requests. They assisted the village to reorganise its water user group, to buy spare parts and to start a new facility management scheme.
Pitio Ndyeshumba from the Water and Sanitation Network in Tanzania (WATSANET) said, “We understand from CBRC feedback that she was delighted to be assisted to restore the water they needed.”
Gertrude had seen a sticker in Kiswahili that is becoming familiar in and around Dar es Salaam. It urges people: “Send your question in the form of SMS, you will get an answer on spare parts, pumps, policy issues, Water User Groups and other water supply services. Use mobile number 0748 946393.”
This SMS Question and Answer facility is a pilot project under the Resource Centre Development network that started in August 2004 in Tanzania, supported by IRC. The resource network on water and sanitation requires the ability to assess information needs in the sector. The ability to respond to demands from the sector and the public depends on the capacity, strength and commitment of the players. Strengthening coordination and assuring the quality of responses are essential.
Gertrude’s is one example of 169 questions from the public that have been answered since the service started operating in Tanzania in early 2005. Answers are provided by one of the partners of the Water and Sanitation Network launched in late 2004 in Tanzania. The basic idea is to bridge the information gap that exists between grass-roots communities and individual consumers on one hand, and water service providers on the other. It also aims to improve the ability of community-based Water User Associations to access information, with the aim that this will lead to a better service and improved management.
IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre
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