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Follow the projects we discuss in Akvo RSR:

> Training on Rope Pump Manufacture
> Development of a mechanical chlorination system
> Improvement of water filter production in Toamasina
> Construction of Ecosan latrines
> Rehabilitation of impluvias with PVC liner
> Training on low cost manual drilling

Akvo partner Practica is starting to use Akvo Really Simple Reporting (RSR) to provide project updates and I’ve been keen to speak to one of the key people driving this at a local community level. Last week, I got to speak with one of the key contributors Stéphan Abric, who coordinates programmes in Madagascar.

Stéphan’s managing three initial Akvo projects, and I hope these will be the first of many. The funds and projects are needed. Madagascar is going through huge political turmoil – the President was recently removed and political instability is impacting on the willingness of donors to fund local projects. “The population is in a really bad situation – in terms of food security, in terms of access to water.”

Madagascar suffers from appalling access to drinking water and sanitation. In normal conditions, just 35 per cent of people can access safe drinking water, in a country of 19.1 million. And things can get much worse, when cyclones and hurricanes hit. Another factor is varied climates – the country varies from tropical areas to deserts in the south, on which less than 100mm of rain falls per year.

You can watch the discussion in full in the video below.

Stéfan and his team have just completed a training workshop on the manufacture of rope pumps. The eight rope pumps that were built during the training are now being installed. Practica provide technical support to the local NGO, VSA. “They’ve completed about eight bore holes,” Stéfan explains. “The work has left everyone very impressed – and there’s now a lot of demand locally from other projects and partners. Practica’s now being asked to help them source more drilling tools.”He’s also excited about a water filter R&D project, that still needs funding. It could have a big impact in Madagascar. This research and development work would develop a gravity-flow chlorination system. The aim is to build out the capacity of local enterprise to research and develop this local gravity flow system.
“The R&D would develop several different gravity flow systems – each able to cover a population of between 2,000 to 15,000 people. The water comes from springs, but they need to find ways to purify it. The idea is to transfer this technology from France to Madagascar and make it work at a low enough cost. But people are very reluctant to fund this kind of research and development project – because at the end when you see the target they say ‘how many people will get water?’ I say no. But in the frame of the project none will, but in the future a lot of people will have access.” Stéfan even thinks he can now cut the budget because he has free access to a Dutch engineering student for a year and they’d like to give him this project. “If we work with this student, we can decrease the budget of this project to about €20,000.”Another project he’s excited about is a water filter production programme. There’s a team that needs work to ‘professionalise’ the production of water filters – they’ve tried to transfer the technology locally but need help. The team has been supported by ICCO to try and develop the business, but now needs technical support to improve quality control of the water filters. “When there is a severe hurricane season, Unicef has to order thousands of water filters from Europe or India. Yet yet we know we can produce these locally.” He’s talked to Unicef, who has told him that if he can guarantee the quality of locally produced filters, they’ll buy locally. In the interview, Stéphan also gives valuable insight on the potential adoption issues involved with Akvo RSR, such as photo and SMS-based updates.

“I like the idea of short reporting where everyone can see online. But the problem is that in the implementation our main financial partner, Aqua for All, has its own administrative regulations. They don’t say ‘it’s enough to see what’s on the Akvo website’. It looks nice, but for administrative purposes we need reporting.”

“This is why in our case, it’s a lot of work. I like this idea of pictures – most of the time there’s no need to write things on reports – it’s better to make pictures, to make drawings… I prefer this sort of thing.”

I also explain the new features in Akvo – how widgets will now spin his project updates out to other websites and also the automatic photo update sizing. We talk too about local phone and web infrastructure.

We talk here too about connectivity. Web connections in Madagascar right now are expensive. His high-speed full-time connection is 80 Euros per month. Low cost access is possible, but it couldn’t support Skype or the transfer of photos. On SMS updates, he explains that farmers will often now have mobile phones, but he’s not right now convinced that SMS will work for updates. A big concern is still the cost of doing SMS, but also he can’t yet see how it will fit into people’s communication patterns. I talk to him about Twitter, and how I think that’s pointing towards new ways that people might soon provide updates.

We also discuss language translation – he’s really keen to see a proper French translation of both the Akvo system (it’s now in English, Dutch and nearly German) and also knowledge contained in Akvopedia (which is all in English-only). He stresses how important the French language is in west Africa.

I spoke with Practica’s Stéphan Abric on Thursday 23 April, 2009.