WASH in Mali
Above: Data collector Halidou Kamaté makes an inventory of a water points in the Bla Cercle of the Segou Region, Mali. Photo by Birama Sangaré.

With the launch of Mali’s online water atlas, anyone with Internet access can now find out the status of water supply facilities in Mali. For the first time, people can interact with and investigate water facilities in the country, including detailed background information on location, status and the local population. Featuring data collected between 2016 and 2018 by the Malian national inventory of water point data, the water portal combines different data sources into comprehensible indicators. This allows visitors to filter relevant tables, render real-time graphs and browse interactive maps. This water portal is a crucial step towards effective monitoring of water facilities in Mali, and provides the ministry and the public with useful insights for decision making on sustainable water infrastructure. In this blog, we describe the various steps required to go from raw data to insightful information sharing. 

From raw data to indicator


Gaining insights from data starts by figuring out what information is important to share, in this case concerning water point facilities in Mali. Together with the DNH (Direction Nationale Hydraulique Mali), SNV and UNICEF, we organised a session to determine the most important indicators to share online. We chose the following:

  • Taux de fonctionalité: The ratio between the number of functional water points and the total number of water points (a water point is considered functional if a water point provides water to the community for 9 out of 12 months).
  • Taux d’acces: The percentage of the population of a locality with access to drinking water.
  • Taux d’equipement: The ratio between the percentage of the population having access to an Equivalent of a Modern Water Point (EPEM).
  • Access par technique: The percentage of the population with access to the different water point systems, Borne Fontaine (BF), Point d’Eau Moderne PEM, or Système Alimentation en Eau Potable SAEP.

From indicator to visualisation


To calculate those indicators, we needed data from different sources. We used clean data from 
Akvo Flow which provided detailed information on 40,000 water supply facilities, Instat-Mali data for population and administrative units, and data from the database of the ministry itself. The next step was to combine these different data sources and create formulas to calculate each indicator. To be able to display these indicators online and update the data frequently, we decided to store them online in a Google spreadsheet.

Above: Data visualisation framework showing the process from datasource to visualisation, by Lars Heemskerk.

Sharing information online


Having the data indicators ready, the next step was to make a decision regarding the best way of displaying them on the website. We decided to display information on every indicator at four levels: per region, per sub-region, per community and per village. This way, the user themselves can decide the level of information that is useful for them. The data tables at community and village level allow users to filter the data and download it in excel or CSV format. The charts displayed below those tables automatically follow the filtering and visualise the data accordingly. We mainly used column charts to communicate the information clearly and efficiently. This type of chart is one of the more familiar options as it is easy to interpret when comparing data. We also created interactive maps that visualise the indicators at the exact location of the different water supply facilities. We have added data-rich layers to the maps like administrative borders supported by external datasets, which are available for download at the DNH Carto account.

water atlas mali
Above: A screenshot from Mali’s online water atlas showing the status of water facilities in the Kayes region.

The future of water point data in Mali

By selecting the main indicators and displaying them online, we managed to pack a large amount of information into a central online location. The establishment of the Malian Atlas of water point facilities in Mali is another step towards sustainable water and sanitation for all development goal six (SDG 6) because it helps the ministry effectively monitor WASH infrastructure and gain insights about the sustainability of water points in Mali. The more data we have available on this portal, and indeed other similar portals, the more progress we’ll be able to make to SDG 6. Since we’ve trained four members of the DNH, they are now able to update the website as soon as new data is available.

Are you interested in capturing, understanding and sharing data openly? Get in touch with us, we can help.

Lars Heemskerk is communications and project manager in West Africa, based in Bamako, Mali. You can follow him on Twitter @larsheemskerk.