• Written by Josje Spierings
    29 March 2016
Testing the waters in Mali

One ferry and ten hours in a car brought my colleague
Banzoumana and I from Bamako to Kayes, a region in the western part of Mali. With rain only a few months per year and an average temperature of 37 degrees you can understand the challenges around securing sufficient and safe drinking water here.

Since November 2015, the Direction Nationale de l’Hydraulique du Mali (DNH) has been using Akvo FLOW to map all the water points in Mali. The objective is to have a better understanding of the location and status of existing water infrastructure. Yet, it’s not enough to know where  water is available., you also need to know if it’s safe to drink. Worldwide, over 1.8 million people die every year of diarrhea diseases like cholera. Tens of millions of others are made seriously ill by a host of water-related ailments – many of which are easily preventable.

This was the reason for our journey to Kayes; to train local DNH staff in the use of Akvo’s smartphone-based water quality testing tools, Akvo Caddisfly. So when they go out into the field to map water points using Akvo FLOW they can also conduct water quality screening tests to get an indication of the local water quality, on the spot.

Above: Field testing Akvo Caddisfly in Kayes, Mali. Photo by Josje Spierings.
Below: Short video of the first day of Akvo Caddisfly training in Kayes, Mali. Video by Josje Spierings.

The water testing in Kayes is a pilot project that is a collaboration between, DNH, SNV, the Kayes regional water authority (Direction Nationale de l’Hydraulique) and Mali’s national water laboratory. It is supported financially by KfW, the Swedish Embassy in Mali and UNICEF Mali.

An important element of this data collection pilot is the collaboration with the national lab of Mali. The data collected with Akvo Caddisfly provides an indication of the water quality. Although quite accurate, the mobile test tools are still screening tests. In terms of precision and accuracy they do not replace lab tests. When testing water quality in the field there are various factors at play, like software design and hardware accuracy of the smartphone, the skills of the enumerator, and weather conditions, for example. These tests are designed to provide a good indication of water quality so that the laboratorium, government or other organisations can target specific risk areas and do additional testing with trained people and proper lab equipment.

Having real time test results that are low cost will greatly improve the effectiveness of any monitoring campaign.

Water Quality Testing pilot in Kayes, Mali
For the pilot in Kayes, it was decided that the EC sensor would be used to detect electrical conductivity and also test three additional parameters, with the use of strip tests: pH, iron and nitrate/nitrite.

The twenty enumerators trained in Kayes were already Akvo FLOW experts as they had already used it to collect information on 8,000 improved water points in Kayes.

The water quality testing training took two days; one day in the office where we explained the importance of water quality testing and the parameters they were going to test in the field, and a day  of  practical experience with the tools  in some villages near Kayes.


Above: Nitrate values in Kayes visualised on a map collected using Akvo FLOW and Caddisfly.

We visited four water points and tested the water quality of all four parameters. It was a great group that picked up using the tools very quickly. Everybody got their own water quality testing set.

As I write this blog, twenty enumerators are travelling around the region of Kayes to test the water quality of about 1,000 water points. This is the biggest Akvo Caddisfly EC and test strips pilot so far,

Interested in knowing more?
The developments of Akvo Caddisfly are ongoing and we are currently in a test and pilot phase and have not officially rolled it out yet. If you are interested in becoming one of our pilot partners please contact Hans[at]akvo.org or Josje[at]akvo.org.

Check out my photo set in Flickr and follow this project developments online in Akvo RSR.

Josje Spierings is Project Manager at Akvo in Amsterdam. Follow her on Twitter @JosjeSpierings.