Maji Matone: Using Mobiles For Local Accountability (and Flowing Water)

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Jun 15, 2011

When it comes to water, every drop counts. When a local waterpoint malfunctions or dries up, it’s important to get the problem resolved as quickly as possible. That’s where Maji Matone, a water monitoring and civic participation project in Tanzania, comes in.

Run by Daraja, a Tanzania-based NGO, Maji Matone asks villagers to report outages in their water systems via SMS. Daraja employees read through the SMSs, then pass along the information to the local district engineer. The project is currently being piloted in three different districts. Each district has a local engineer responsible for the water infrastructure. If reports continue to come in and no action has been taken, Maji Matone turns to its media partners in order to publicize the lack of action.

Thanks to partnerships with a local radio station in each district, the organization is able to draw attention to repeated water problems through radio broadcasts that report on water supply outages and government inaction. Launched in November of 2010, the pilot will run until September 2011 at which point the organization plans to expand Maji Matone nationwide.

Richard Lucas, project manager of Maji Matone, explains that the project has multiple benefits for participants. Not only do citizens have a reliable means of reporting water problems, but it also gives citizens an easy way to have their voices heard by the local government. He says, “We want to bring people and the government close. We want people to monitor and report on the water quality in the areas, to inform the local government so they can be aware."

Daraja chose to focus the Maji Mantone project in rural districts because he found that there is inequity in water access between rural and urban areas; Lucas explains that money for new water projects is allocated to more developed areas that have more money, while rural areas often do not receive sustained attention.

The Background

In Tanzania, access to water is a regular concern for citizens; a June 2010 report by the African Development Bank Group found that “…the population of Tanzania is estimated at about 37 million of which 20 % live in urban areas and 80 % in rural areas. The water supply coverage is estimated at 73 % for urban areas and 53 % for rural areas and sustained sanitation coverage is estimated at around 50 %.” (However, the Tanzanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation puts the number of rural water coverage at 58% for 2008, the latest available year for data) For villagers in the rural areas, the lack of sustained water supply means that its important to monitor all water and sanitation points, as there may not be a backup system in place.

A 2008 Afrobarometer survey found that water supply access and upkeep was the top concern of rural Tanzanians, with 44% of surveyed respondents saying that water supply was their highest priority for government action. That’s where Daraja and the Maji Matone project comes in. Although Daraja does not make improvements in water management itself, the goal is to encourage citizens to engage with the government through mobile technology and media relations.

Why Mobiles?

Contacting Daraja with a regular SMS is low-cost, even if each report must include the village, the specific water point, and the problem. The ubiquity of mobile phones in the target districts and the fact that SMS can function on basic mobile handsets made the use of mobile technology an easy choice for the organization. Says Lucas, "We found this is easier for people wanting to report water issues. Instead of traveling from out of the town, they can send a message."

Since Daraja acts as a "middle man", it also allows people to anonymously report their problems – Daraja only passes along the message, not names or numbers. Lucas reports that the organization has received 800 messages so far, 200 of which have been passed on to the local government.  Lucas says that many of the messages have incomplete information, a challenge the organization is working to resolve through more outreach among the target audience.

Lucas reports that another big challenge the organization has faced is keeping people engaged over time. He notes that although awareness of the program is high, many villagers are used to government inaction and thus reluctant to participate. He says that a main focus of the program is changing attitudes in order to create an environment in which people do not idly accept infrastructure problems, but take a proactive approach instead. He explains, "We have learned that giving people information is not enough. The issue is how people can use this information to bring about changes – how can people use this information to take action?"

The program is set to run for three and half years as part of a larger Daraja initiative that focuses on government accountability and citizen participation.

For more background information on other water monitoring projects, check out our case studies on FLOW, an open-source, Android application that allows field workers to use mobile phones to document water pumps and sanitation points in the developing world, or NextDrop, a crowdsourcing project in urban India that uses mobile technology to track and map water flow.

Image via Daraja blog

Maji Matone: Using Mobiles For Local Accountability (and Flowing Water) data sheet 3609 Views
Countries: Tanzania

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