How Can SMS Texting Increase the Impact of good governance in water supply?

In Uganda due to the very many phones springing up every year, voice calls and SMS texts are the most common means of communication. This is evidenced by the different telecommunications companies like MTN, UTL, WARID and others which have penetrated the market. In Uganda, approximately half of the country‘s districts are still below the national coverage of 64% which implies that very many people still don’t have access to improved water and sanitation.(SPR,2012).  Surprisingly, these vulnerable people are more likely to have a mobile phone instead of access to a clean toilet.

Year after year, the government struggles to provide growing populations with basic water and sanitation needs while mobile phones have become ambiguous in the developing world. Global statistics also indicate that most of the water problems today are as a result of poor governance in WASH. The low levels of accountability and transparency in the WASH sector have led to increase in number of broken pumps, contaminated water sources, unsafe water chains and so on.

Coordination of users with the service provider is vital to the success of ensuring sustainable service delivery. This document presents SMS as an effective channel of communication for water users and providers and how it can help in ensuring long term planning, monitoring, policy-making, and governance.

Getting high quality and useful information and knowledge to the community members has also been a problem. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of access to sources and channels of knowledge and information. But with the availability of mobile phones, radio spot messages within and availed to the communities, this process will allow increased dissemination of knowledge and information on WASH accountability.

3.0 Purpose of this Channel

The purpose of using this SMS channels is to introduce the rapidly growing use of mobile technology into activities that promote enhanced accountability in  WASH services provision, in particular by providing service users (e.g. citizens in general)  a greater voice in providing feedback on quality and quantity of services and support provided.

The issues to be addressed include among others: increased and facilitated communication, involve citizens that cannot afford expensive travel to offices to complain or ask for support, increased efficiency and effectiveness of services rendered, enhanced customer satisfaction among others.

Why an SMS?

During a household listing exercise and baseline survey, it was realized that most water users have access to mobile phones at their disposal than toilets.

The impact of SMS can be seen in almost every aspect of life, from teenagers’ fragmented attention spans, to presidential campaigns, to the ways victims of natural disasters seek relief.

SMS and mobile phones in general, get that one-to-one contact and engage rural, remote communities. Though it doesn’t have the best reach compared to the radio, thus there is need to combine the two, if we can reach out to the community and figure out what they’re thinking, what they’re saying, and put that on the radio so that it’s communities talking to communities in a localized manner to start more discussion, then it sparks more feedback through mobile phones. By using real voices and reports from communities, the service provider  is able to address the concerns and wants of the community and advocate for beneficiaries with a clearer idea of goals and need. SMS are effective and open channel of communication.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Enhanced efficiency and effectiveness of WASH services provided under governance of local government
  • Enhanced Town council level capacity to manage citizen’s involvement through mobile channels.
  • A rapidly increase in citizens involvement in providing feedback and monitoring of WASH services

The inevitable mark in WASH governance

Time vs priority

Ensuring good practices in WASH governance can sometimes be challenging, especially if there isn’t a good strategy and guidance to ensure that services reach those people that need them. I recently conducted an action learning exercise in lomule, a village parish in Bombo town council. This was aimed at monitoring the promises made by the service providers, water user committees and the community during a citizen report card exercise that was conducted three month ago.

Just like most learning meetings, your expectations are on the big picture where people strike on the head and leave no stone unturned. The other question that probably strikes is where  should we focus our priorities?   The action learning meeting tasked people (service providers, water users and the committees)  to report on progress with regards to commitments made. These will  further trigger action on the priority areas which would invoke immediate response.

During the two day learning sessions, two things kept on springing up; repairing of a spring and buying more pipes for the borehole. I guess like many of the WASH projects its quite hard to tell where a priority should be put unless invoked by community voices. People asked for immediate repair of the spring at lomule south  which according to the water quality test report  contained a lot of Ecoli and other things but seemed cheaper to use. Other few members of the community felt it was necessary to start with the borehole since it was clean and had easy access. At the end of it all they agreed to start with the lomule spring.

The inevitable mark in all this is having proper WASH governance structures where community members are aware of their roles and responsibilities and community voices are of impact in WASH governance.