Recently I travelled 1600 km by road through Mali to give training on Akvo FLOW and Akvo RSR in Mopti and Koulikoro. This was for an SNV and UNICEF project in which two local non-government organisations (NGOs), CEEA et CR-ONG, together with the DNH (Direction Nationale de l’Hydrauliqe du Mali), are working on mapping water points and reporting their activities in the regions of Mopti, Koulikoro and Sikasso.
Above: We travelled by road through Mali to give Akvo FLOW and RSR training to the regional office of UNICEF in Mopti. 27 July 2015. Photo by Lars Heemskerk. Below: Water points mapped using Akvo FLOW in the regions of Mopti, Koulikoro and Sikasso.
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Travelling by car from south to north-east revealed gradual changes in both landscape and people. It was great to drive with Kunta, a former tourist guide who changed his profession due to the fragile security situation in the country. He was the best company I could wish for because, during the 25 hours we spent together in his car, he explained to me a lot about the history of the country, the different cultures and the challenges for development. It made me understand better the scale of the issues in Mali and that it is not easy to change things because of corruption, an unstable political situation, climate change and the threat of Islamic terrorism.

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Understanding these issues a little better now, I realise how big their impact is and how tiny the work I do is. However, doing the training in Mopti and Koulikoro on Akvo tools, I felt as if I was contributing to the development of the country, in a small way. Akvo’s tools will help the DNH to see on an online dashboard where water infrastructure is located and whether it is functional or not. If it breaks down, they will contact a local workman to fix it. They will survey all the region’s water points every six months for the next ten year to make sure clean water remains accessible. Doing this will ensure sustainable access to safe drinking water for 170,000 people in these rural areas.  Akvo’s other role in this project is to test an alert system connected to the dashboard, which will enable people in the villages to report any water point issues via SMS.

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Above: Meeting with DRH and UNICEF in Mopti. 27 July 2015. Photo by Omar Soumounou
During the training workshops, I noticed a lot of smaller problems too. Mostly the internet connection was very bad. However, by changing locations or working with 3G USB sticks, we found ways to get connected. In Koulikoro, we didn’t have electricity, but with a battery for the projector and WakaWaka lights to charge the phones, we overcame this challenge too. I noticed people here in Mali are very clever in finding solutions to these kinds of small problems. Getting a clear sense of the status of basic water infrastructure, and acting on that data, will I hope help solve the much larger problem of providing good water access here.

Lars Heemskerk is project officer in Akvo’s Mali office. You can follow him on Twitter @larsheemskerk.