Proceedings of 7th RWSN Forum published

We are delighted that the Proceedings of the 7th RWSN Forum are now available to download and to cite. We hope that this huge body of knowledge and experience will be used to help improve rural water services all over the world.

Suggested citation: RWSN (2017) Proceedings of the 7th RWSN Forum “Water for All”, 29 Nov – 02 Dec 2016, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Rural Water Supply Network, Skat Foundation, St. Gallen Switzerland.  DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.23154.50880

When numbers are inconvenient

Muthi Nhlema, Water for People – Malawi (photo courtesy of Water for People)

Standard deviations, averages, percentiles and decimal points – numbers are an indispensable part of our everyday life. They help us know what time zone we are in while recuperating from a migraine-inducing jet-lag. They help us decipher the mysteries of the cosmos, bringing us ever closer to understanding the priceless value of the only life we have on this blue planet we call home. But, and most importantly, numbers help unravel the secrets of the world, painting a picture and telling a story. Numbers, in a sense, belong to the realm of the artistic rather than the scientific that has long had a monopoly over their utility.

I have to get up from behind the safety of my desk and that ever trustworthy companion, Microsoft Excel, and keep fiercely telling the inconvenient stories the numbers are telling me and hope, even beyond hope, that someone, someday will listen and take real action.

Because, in and of themselves, numbers are meaningless – it is the story they tell, the picture they paint, that matters. As shameless number cruncher, I have learnt it is very easy to fall into the “nerd-zone” and obsess over accuracy, variances and validations, all of which are important, but they are never the point. I have had to learn to listen to the numbers and the story they are trying to communicate, no matter how uncomfortable that story may be. In the times I have shared these numbers, in their various shapes and sizes and dimensions, I have seen almost the full spectrum of human reactions: surprise, denial, indifference, skepticism, hope, vindication and intense reflection. “Almost” is quite apt in this case because of all the reactions I have yet seen, powerlessness is the most uncommon.

As I reflect on this, sitting in an uncomfortable seat in an uncomfortable airport (which shall not be named), surrounded by frustrated fellow travelers all daydreaming about their return home, the memories of the Rural Water Supply Network Conference in Abidjan are still fresh in my mind. Besides presenting my paper “Bigger Data” (originally titled “Data Porn” to the disapproval of the review panel) which shared my experience collecting, analyzing and sharing water supply data in Malawi, I managed to session-hop from one topic to next, darting from room to room like a ball in an arcade game, maximizing the time availed to me. After 4 days of talk-shopping, branded conference bags, scrumptious tea-breaks and the unrelenting Ivorian humidity all in the name of “saving the world”, one is left with obvious questions: what have I learnt? What stood out for me? What is my take-home?

Why isn’t this plane taking off?

There were several things I could have easily “taken-home” from the conference this year: technological innovations that are solving age-old problems (for a fee), new professional relationships that I hope won’t become professional one-night stands the moment we change time-zones; and promises of collaboration that I hope won’t be forgotten. Either of these would have been a worthy “take-home” candidate, but what stood out for me was something different, something that peppered many of the sessions I attended, often getting lost in the haze of programmatic ambiguity and scientific rigor. That something was special interests and their influence on the flow of information required to administer development aid.

As the plane finally jolts to life, swerving homeward bound, I reflect back to a moment during my presentation: I highlighted some key lessons from the Malawian experience, among them being: don’t underestimate special interests; a lesson I deliberately left to the end for dramatic effect. To illustrate what I meant by this point, I gave an anecdote of a rural district, where I facilitated a mapping exercise, which, based on district records, had a little over 1000 water supply points catering for the entire population. Following completion of the mapping exercise, it turned out the district had well over 3000 water supply points, which was more than what was needed, even with a 35% non-functionality rate. Excited by this discovery, I reached out to my peers from other NGOs to share the data as a way of triggering discussion around how we could improve the district council’s investment planning and resource allocation processes.

The data, surprisingly, didn’t surprise my peers; later revealing that another consultant had been flown in several years ago to conduct a similar study, finding the same results. Sadly, however, the political establishment of the time made sure the report never saw the light of day, burying it from scrutiny. Why? Because water is a political asset that captures votes; and mapping results, such as these, could potentially re-direct development aid and/or foreign investment away from the district. Less money – less votes!

The data was considered, as one of my peers put it, “inconvenient”.

After sharing this anecdote with the session participants at the conference, I had expected a heated discussion during Q&A around how to delink political influence from the administration of development aid.

No questions were asked and no such discussion was had. Not even a quiver of warmth to accompany the Ivorian swelter, just the bone-biting chill of passing acknowledgement. Hopping from one session to the next, hearing one story after another, the familiar phenomenon of political self-interest, and its control on the flow of information and resources, received a mere passing acknowledgement without a concerted focus to explore even an inkling of a solution, even if it was to suggest there weren’t any. The few who spared me their attention, away from the intrigue of business models and the pure bliss of electrical resistivity, to talk about special interests, only later gave me a look I had seen many times back home, but mistook for indifference instead of what it truly was: powerlessness.

Powerlessness: a deep sense that, even with all our post-grad education, with all our fancy advocacy campaigns and convoluted theories of change, special interests remained the one problem that left everyone stumped, making powerless even the most vocal of activists.

One wonders if the resolve of special interests, be they political or otherwise, to cling to power at any cost is stronger than all our impassioned calls to action put together. Though, it goes without saying, the levels of influence are contextually different, but the impact of special interests, if left unchecked, is undeniable. It’s powerful enough to have a rare breed of committed government officers transferred to the middle of nowhere; their crime: doing their jobs. It’s powerful enough to capture and re-direct development aid to deepen the roots of political strongholds without fear of repercussions. It’s even powerful enough to block the flow of inconvenient information from getting to where it is needed most.

Now what was I, a number cruncher standing on his soapbox, going to do about it?
The whirring of the landing gear distracts me from my thoughts, only briefly. I stare down at the Malawian landscape that is fast approaching; there are sprouts of green broken by the sheens of water-washed corrugated iron sheets. The people are ants from this vantage point, and soon I shall be one with those ants. My mild wonder at the magic of flight is brushed away by that nagging question: what was I going to do about it?

How was I, with only numbers as my allies, going to make sure information gets to where it needed and is used to effect better decisions in Malawi’s water sector?

Frankly, my dears, I haven’t the foggiest.

However, that said, as a number cruncher, it is clearer in my mind, now more than ever, that I shouldn’t give in to this blanket of powerlessness no matter how comforting an excuse it gives me. I have to get up from behind the safety of my desk and that ever trustworthy companion, Microsoft Excel, and keep fiercely telling the inconvenient stories the numbers are telling me and hope, even beyond hope, that someone, someday will listen and take real action.

Judging from the scale of the challenge, it’s a shot in the dark, but someone has to try, dammit!

Reaching the last mile in Latin America and the Caribbean: How to provide sustainable water supply and sanitation to Indigenous Peoples

reposted from:


Extending the human right of access to water supply and sanitation (WSS) services to Indigenous Peoples represents the final step for many countries to reach universal coverage in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). As the 7th Rural Water Supply Network Forum is underway in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, we must remind ourselves what “inclusion” means in the WSS sector. Poverty levels among Indigenous Peoples are more than twice those found among other Latin Americans, and they are 10 to 25 percent less likely to have access to piped water and 26 percent less likely to have access to improved sanitation.

With dire consequences on health, productivity, and well-being, these access gaps also exemplify two shortcomings of past engagement with Indigenous Peoples in the WSS sector: Indigenous territories have often been overlooked, and, even where investments specifically target Indigenous Peoples, WSS service sustainability remains a large issue. Several barriers explain this: investors’ and service providers’ lack of understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ unique social and cultural characteristics, limited engagement with Indigenous authorities and attention to their priorities and aspirations, and the remoteness and difficult access to many Indigenous communities, to name a few. More generally, we need a tailored approach that responds to these challenges through institutional development, partnership with Indigenous authorities, and local capacity building for WSS services management in order to overcome the existing system that incentivizes physical interventions in easily accessible areas with limited social accompaniment.

To effectively and permanently close this coverage gap, Indigenous communities in LAC must be reached in ways that respect their structures and world views, foster their ownership over their systems, and in doing this, enhance WSS services sustainability.

The Toolkit “Water and Sanitation Services: Achieving Sustainable Outcomes with Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean” draws from field visits to 37 Indigenous communities and diverse voices in seven countries of Latin America. It provides concrete guidance, good practice examples and operational tools to guide stakeholder engagement processes, participatory strategies, and the selection and implementation of investments to promote sustainable outcomes with Indigenous Peoples along three guiding principles:

  • Respect of Indigenous Peoples’ unique and valuable world views and forms of organization through their active involvement throughout the project cycle.
  • Ownership by Indigenous Peoples over their WSS services developed through a demand-responsive approach to reflect a community’s commitment to define, implement, use and look after their WSS solutions.
  • Sustainability in the provision of WSS services through specific, institutionalized mechanisms for operation and maintenance that reflect Indigenous Peoples’ customs and norms, including tailored technical assistance and active beneficiary involvement.

Changing the mindset of political leaders in order to prioritize investments and institutional efforts towards the most vulnerable, traditionally excluded, and poor communities is a long-term transformational process that requires strong leadership and targeted knowledge. We have the experiences and tools at our disposal to push for this dialogue and to make sure that, when we do engage Indigenous Peoples for WSS service provision, we work with them as partners and leverage their traditional knowledge and cultural norms as assets. In the light of this global forum, which brings together practitioners from all over the globe, we call on fellow practitioners to join us in the fight to reach this last mile.

For more practical guidance and operational tools to promote the inclusive delivery of sustainable WSS services to Indigenous Peoples in LAC, please refer the full publication of the Toolkit “Water and Sanitation Services: Achieving Sustainable Outcomes with Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Also available in Spanish here.

Making rights real by supporting local government heroes

re-posted from:

Louisa Gosling, WaterAid’s Quality Programmes Manager, introduces a guide to using the status of water and sanitation as human rights to drive progress on the ground, and explains how marketing strategies can help us reach our target audiences.

The UN officially recognised the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation in 2010. But what does this actually mean for work on the ground?

For people living in rich countries, where heavily regulated utilities supply the population with water and collect and treat wastewater, rights to water and sanitation are mainly covered by enforceable domestic laws and regulations.

Independent inspectorates and complaints mechanisms ensure service providers can be held accountable to service users.

But for people living in countries with very poor access to water and sanitation services, it is a different picture. For the nearly 2.4 billion people without access to adequate sanitation, and 663 million without access to clean water, these systems are often not in place. The lack of access is due to lack of capacity and resources in the sector, weak demand by service users, and poor accountability of service providers to users – their rights are neither demanded nor fulfilled.

The human rights framework clearly assigns responsibilities – people have the rights to water and sanitation services, and governments are duty bound to realise them. But what does that mean in practical terms for government, especially local government officials, who are closest to the people? How can the human rights actually help local officials to reach everyone, even when they have very limited resources and capacities?

With more countries integrating human rights to water and sanitation into national systems there is an opportunity to explore the difference this can make to both providers and users of water and sanitation services.

Making rights real – a guide

The UN Special Rapporteur’s handbook on realising the human rights to water and sanitation sets out the practical implications in considerable detail, which is helpful. But it is too long and detailed for many practitioners to use. So, WaterAid, WASH United, End Water Poverty, University of Technology Sydney, UNICEF, and the Rural Water Supply Network joined forces to develop guidance specifically aimed at local government officials. We worked with a content marketing agency, C3, to help make a really user-friendly guide.

Content marketing is customer centric communication. Understand your audience and their needs, and to be serious about it. What can we sell "them" today? What are you interested in right now?

Image 1: Finding out what the user wants to know.

A marketing approach

To find out more about our target audience the ‘Making Rights Real’ project partners, funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, carried out an audience analysis. First, we interviewed local government officials in low-income settings to learn what they thought about their responsibilities for reaching everyone everywhere with water and sanitation. We wanted to know what helps them, what makes their work difficult, and what can help to inspire them. We presented the resulting paper – ‘Achieving universal and equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for all – practitioner perspectives and perceptions [191]’1 at the Rural Water Supply Network forum in Abidjan.

Findings slide from C3

Image 2: Some of the challenges local government officials face, according to audience analysis.


The report clearly showed the many challenges that local government officials face, and their low understanding of human rights as something relevant to their work.

So, working with C3, we used these interviews to develop user ‘personas’ to help us better target the content of human rights to our audience.

Local government official personas

Image 3: Local government user personas adapted from C3.

Would-be heroes

We decided to target our materials towards the would-be heroes. The analysis defined this audience segment as a large group of people working in local government, who feel personally committed to providing services to local people but are constrained and thwarted by lack of resources and political support.

We agreed that if this group were empowered and supported some of them could become superheroes and really help progress. Champions within institutions can have a huge impact. For example, the WaterAid-commissioned research ‘A tale of clean cities’ found that one of the main drivers for improving urban sanitation was committed champions at the municipal level.

The would-be heroes have many misconceptions about human rights. For example, they often believe that if water is a human right it should be provided to everyone free of charge, which is clearly incompatible with governments needing to raise revenue to help run sustainable services. However, the human rights standards state that it is fine to ask people to pay for services, as long as the tariffs are affordable.

We also discovered the many different groups that influence the would-be heroes’ actions and decisions (see image 4). We learned how important it is to recognise these influencers, to galvanise as much support, advocacy, and collaboration as possible from them in order to achieve adequate and sustainable services for all.

Who influences the would-be hero?

Image 4: Influencers of local government officials. Adapted from a C3 slide.

We wanted to create a guide to help support and nurture sector champions. To clarify to local government officials the usefulness of human rights thinking, we used the analysis to design a colourful three-piece guide – ‘Making Rights Real’. The idea is for sector partners (like WaterAid) to use the materials in conversations with government partners.

The guide comprises: the pocket guide, containing basic thoughts and principles; the manual, with each step explained; and the journey, which shows the process at a glance.

You can download the guide (currently in English, French, and Portuguese) and instructions, from the Rights to Water and Sanitation website, and use them in your working relationships with governments.

Rights at the RWSN Forum

We launched the materials at the Rural Water Supply Network Forum (RWSN) in Cote d’Ivoire, using presentations, discussions, and role play. The response from participants was very promising. There is a strong desire among people in the sector to know more about human rights and how they can use them to clarify responsibilities of governments, communities, service providers, and service users, and make everyone more accountable to provide adequate and sustainable services for all.

If we are to reach everyone everywhere with access to water and sanitation by 2030, as promised in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a change in approach is needed. These essential human rights can only be delivered if those with the duty to deliver them are empowered and inspired to do so.

1Keatman T, Carrard N, Neumeyer H, Murta J, Roaf V, Gosling L (2016). Achieving universal and equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for all – practitioner perspectives and perceptions [191]. Making Rights Real project team. See the presentation here.

Louisa Gosling is Quality Programmes Manager at WaterAid. She tweets as @louisagosling1 and you can read more of her blogs here.

Can Self-Supply Save the World?

Some highlights from the RWSN Forum and thoughts on 12 years of a learning journey, by Matthias Saladin, Skat

Of course the title is a rhetorical question – no one really expects one specific approach to transform the whole water sector, let alone save the world. Nevertheless, Self-supply as a concept is gaining traction and prominence in the sector as I witnessed during the 7th RWSN Forum, which took place from November 29 to December 02 in Abidjan. Just a couple of years ago, the term “Self-supply” did not even exist. In fact, it was coined within RWSN as part of a strategic planning exercise in 2004, where Self-supply was defined as one of the flagships of RWSN. Of course, people providing water for themselves (“Self-supply”) is a process which has been going on for millennia and all over the planet (for example, some 44 million people in the US today rely on Self-supply for their drinking water), but Self-supply as a term was born in 2004, and the idea that this approach can (and should) be fostered by specific activities and frameworks both by government and other actors still is relatively new to many people, even within the water sector.

In this blog entry, I would like to reflect on some aspects of this learning journey of the past 12 years, and I invite you to reply, discuss, disagree, criticize or support, whatever suits you best.

Flashlights on Self-supply at the 7th RWSN Forum

But first things first: The 7th RWSN Forum was a massive success, both in terms of participation and outreach, but also specifically for the Theme of Self-supply: I identified at least 7 sessions where papers related to Self-supply were presented, some of which I was not even aware of before the Forum. For example, Sara Marks of Eawag (Switzerland) presented some results of a study from Burkina Faso (feel free to read the respective paper and presentation) where they looked into the various benefits of a project implementing a (subsidized) Self-supply approach to facilitate multiple-use water services (MUS). Among other things, they found that the water of households who had invested in an upgraded private well and equipped it with a Rope Pump was of better quality than that of unimproved wells.

Meanwhile, session 6A was designed to provide an update on the “state of the art” in Self-supply, including an overview paper of André Olschewski, a case study from Sally Sutton on Self-supply in some African countries, an overview of how Self-supply can be accelerated in Ethiopia, and an example of how capacities in the private sector can be strengthened through SMART Centres (or watch the movie on the SMART Centre in Zambia here).

In several other sessions, specific aspects of Self-supply were analyzed in more detail, for example by Patrick Alubbe of, who made a case for micro-credit as a scalable intervention who can help more people gaining access to higher level of drinking water services (see the paper of Gupta and Labh and Patrick’s presentation).

Making a Splash – and causing allergic reactions

Apart from this wide and deep presence of Self-supply in the thematic sessions, the concept also made a splash at key moments of the RWSN Forum: For example, it was prominently mentioned by the final remarks of Mr. Jonathan Kamkwalala, a senior manager of the World Bank, during the closing ceremony. Moreover, more than 150 people signed an informal “Call to action”, which suggests that Self-supply deserves more attention on behalf of governments, donors, civil society organizations, researchers, and other key players. The undersigned expressed a “strong interest in developing support for Self-supply within our own spheres of activity and urge all development partners to explore this approach and reach its considerable potential”. Given this strong support by a large number of people, I hope that we will see a lot of action in this field in the weeks and months to come – for example by starting to monitor and report on Self-supply within organizations, regions,  and eventually countries and globally. As we know, we do not manage what we do not measure, so measuring definitively would be a good start.

In spite of these highlights and an overall strong presence of Self-supply during the Forum, not everything is rosy in regard to Self-supply. On one hand, I observed that while many people recognize the important role Self-supply already plays and will have to play to reach the SDGs, with another group of people it creates almost allergic reactions. Having listened to some of these people, I think I identified three areas of conflict, which are related to three misconceptions around Self-supply:

1.       Self-supply means abandoning the poor.

2.       Self-supply means that government has no role to play.

3.       Self-supply is incompatible with the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation.

For the moment, I will only respond to the third misconception.  It can readily be clarified, simply by listening of the presentation of the UN Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation during a webinar hosted by RWSN last year (e.g., read this summary), where he makes it clear that Self-supply is in line with the progressive realization of these Human Rights. And this hint also helps clarifying the first misconception: Self-supply does not imply abandoning the poor, but supporting them in a different way – rather than the government itself providing services, it facilitates and strengthens the private sector (and civil society organizations) to provide them. Thus, rather than abandoning the poor, what Supported Self-supply does is actually empower them and enable them to take on a more active role in moving up the ladder of water services.

Importantly, the Government has to play a role in Supported Self-supply – in fact, it is a crucial role consisting of several functions (adequate policy framework, building up capacities, oversight of the private sector, etc.), but this will be the topic of my next blog. So for the moment, I leave it there, confirming that the Government is a key actor in Supported Self-supply.

Striking a balance

Overall, the concept of Self-supply clearly has an important role to play if we want to provide some (even if it’s just basic) level of services to everyone – there simply is no alternative in reaching specific target groups, especially in the remote rural areas. However, we also have to be aware that Self-supply has its limitations, and that there are aspects related to Self-supply which have to be addressed with a lot of care (e.g., quality of the services installed, potential over-exploitation of water resources by private households). I also perceived that several people and organizations are looking for shiny examples of countries where Supported Self-supply was implemented at scale, which then could be replicated elsewhere (the “Blueprint Fallacy” which unfortunately is quite common in the water sector, particularly among global players).

However, at the moment there are only a few such examples (e.g. manual drilling in Nigeria/Lagos, Domestic Rainwater Harvesting in Thailand, the Upgraded Family Wells in Zimbabwe), and many of these cases refer to contexts where government services were weak or collapsing – which do not make for a good example for promotion, particularly with government agencies. With all due respect, but which government agency would like to copy the experience of Zimbabwe in the 1990s? Thus, the examples are not as shiny as we wish.

Nevertheless, the fact is that Self-supply actually took off in some places while government services, institutions and the whole economy was collapsing – a clear hint to the power of this approach, even under difficult conditions. But we also need to figure out how governments can foster the approach – that is, how to better Support Self-supply.

The way forward

In spite of all the progress made I think there still is a lot of work to be done both within RWSN and beyond. Here are just a few areas of work a group of “Self-Suppliers” identified during an informal conversation at the Forum:

  • Revisit the basic terms, definitions and concepts and make them more intuitive to understand.
  • Help people, particularly within government and funding agencies, understand better the key role government has to play to support Self-supply
  • In cooperation with research institutions, improve our understanding of the potential and limits of Self-supply, and the variety of benefits it can generate (not only in health, but also in productivity, income-generation, equality and non-discrimination, inclusiveness, well-being, cost-savings to government agencies, etc.).
  • Keep up the dialogue with people and organizations who think that Self-supply is a nightmare and should be hindered wherever possible. Their arguments will help us guide future research and for making a better case where and why Self-supply has a role to play.
  • Engage with actors (particularly non-profit organizations) who undermine existing and flourishing markets by giving away stuff for free. Giving away products and services for free is not Self-supply, does not build up capacity with anyone and damages existing supply chains.

Thus, looking back to the first 12 years of promoting Self-supply, I think we have come a long way. Given that before 2004 the term did not even exist, the change is truly remarkable – and RWSN was the lead agency of making this sea change in public awareness possible. At the same time, we still need to work on the fundaments, the walls and the windows of the Self-supply house, and we need to make them strong enough to keep growing in the coming 12 years and beyond. I hope that many of you will be part of this journey, and I invite you – as a small first step – to subscribe to the Dgroup on Accelerating Self-supply, which is a platform for discussion, exchange and mutual learning, and to contribute to the dialogue on that platform. I look forward to hearing from many of you there!

Onwards and Upwards,


From Tyneside to Abidjan: UPGro @ 7th RWSN Forum

re-blogged from

I had the pleasure of recently attending the 7th RWSN Forum, held from 29th November to 2nd December 2016 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.  The conference is only every five years so I am fortunate that it fell during the third year of my PhD giving me not only the opportunity to attend, but also the chance to contribute some of my own research completed thus far.

The conference delegates came from a mixture of backgrounds, from both local and global scale NGOs to government ministries, and from financiers like the World Bank to pump manufacturers.  It was a great opportunity to share experiences and create connections with people outside of the world of academia and consultancies, which dominated many other conferences that I have attended.

The 7th RWSN Forum was a chance for water infrastructure installers and financiers to learn more about the water resources which they are hoping to exploit.  The conference also allowed water resource researchers to find out what kind of information NGOs and ministries require in order to plan and manage interventions.

There were a number of oral and poster presentations and company stands at the RWSN Forum expounding solutions to WASH shortfalls and food insecurity, such as manual drilling technologies, solar and foot powered pumps, and smart technology to transmit water point equipment performance.  While all of these technologies undeniably have much to offer, without a reliable and renewable water resource their usefulness dwindles.  Therefore, the relevance of the UPGro projects in emphasising sustainable management of groundwater is clear.

An UPGro catalyst grant initiated the AMGRAF (Adaptive management of shallow groundwater for small-scale irrigation and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa) project in 2013.  The catalyst grant funded hydrogeological investigations, the setting up of a community‑based hydrometeorological monitoring programme, and gender separated focus groups in Dangila woreda, northwest Ethiopia.  My own research has developed from the AMGRAF project and concerns the potential for shallow groundwater resources to be used for irrigation by poor rural communities, lessening the reliance on increasingly inconsistent rains.  Research principally focuses on two field sites; Dangila in Ethiopia and in Limpopo province in South Africa.  The resilience of the shallow groundwater resources to climate variability and increasing abstraction is being assessed through modelling.  To construct the models, it is vital to have data on aquifer parameters as well as time series of rainfall, river flow and groundwater levels for model calibration.  The presentation I gave at the forum concerned the computation of these aquifer parameters from pumping tests of hand dug wells and the collection of the aforementioned time series via the community‑based monitoring program.

I enjoyed the week I spent in Côte d’Ivoire, a country that I may never have had the chance to visit without the RWSN Forum.  I believe the connections made with groundwater specialists from around sub-Saharan Africa will greatly benefit my PhD in terms of testing the transferability of the research with data from their countries.  Leaving Abidjan, I had the same feeling as everyone else I spoke to at the conference: “Please RWSN, why does this only happen every five years!”

David Walker, PhD Candidate, Newcastle University, UK – read his RWSN Forum Paper: “Properties of shallow thin regolith aquifers in sub-Saharan Africa: a case study from northwest Ethiopia [061]

Thank you! Merci!

Thank you to everyone who made the 7th RWSN Forum such an astonishing success. The feedback from all of the participants we spoke to was over-whelming positive. In the end 444 delegates from 65 countries across 6 continents attended.

The core organising team (Kerstin, Sean, Meleesa & Victor) would like to thank the hundreds of people who made this event possible : the authors, the reviewers, the international Task Force, the Government of Cote d’Ivoire, the sponsors, the participants, the translators, the staff at the Radisson Blu and the many sub-contractors and suppliers, particularly AdVision and MasterClays. Also a huge thanks the RWSN Executive Steering Committee and colleagues at Skat Consulting – most particularly our Director, Jürg Christen, who gave us the space and support to take risks and make it happen.

We will be going at a slower pace over the coming days and weeks, however, we will be updating this website to add the presentations, films, photos, media coverage and correct wrong or missing links to papers.

The 7th RWSN Forum is not the end, it is just milestone on the long road to universal access to water.  You can join RWSN now and be part of this vision:


Tips for Groundwater Success: A Sponsored Seminar at the 7th RWSN Forum, Abidjan

Are you involved in groundwater development for rural water services? Come along to this one day seminar to learn more about how to develop groundwater for safe and sustainable water supplies. We will be discussing many aspects of groundwater development, from data and information that can help us understand groundwater resources, to technologies in borehole construction and solar pumping for the delivery of effective water supplies.

Why should I come to this seminar?

This one day seminar – An Understandable Approach to the Development and Use of Groundwater – aims to take some of the mystery out of groundwater development and provide useful, practical information to help you develop effective groundwater supplies.

Groundwater makes up almost 30% of the world’s freshwater reserves, and more than 95% of the available, unfrozen fresh water. Given its broad geographical distribution, general good quality, and resilience to seasonal fluctuations (as compared to surface water), groundwater holds the promise to ensure many communities an affordable, safe and sustainable water supply.

Groundwater is sometimes referred to as a hidden asset – it occurs underground therefore can’t be easily seen or visualised, and is often difficult to understand due to the many varying factors influencing its behaviour, from geology, topography, and climate to land use, soil type and human activities.

What will I learn?

To develop groundwater in a safe and sustainable way we need to understand it. And to understand groundwater we need good data and information, which is often hard to find. The first half of the seminar will seek to answer the questions:

What data and information is needed to understand groundwater and develop it sustainably?

How can we effectively collect and store groundwater data to produce a high quality body of information that is accessible, convenient, affordable, manageable and useful for current and future groundwater development projects?

We will look at data at different scales – from international initiatives down to local, site-scale data – but will be focussing at the country-scale with an introduction to the Africa Groundwater Atlas and case studies of national groundwater data collection and storage from West Africa. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss some of the issues they have experienced with all aspects of groundwater data (collection, storage, management and use) and we will try to offer practical solutions for the future.

The second half of the seminar will focus on practical groundwater development, demonstrating how proper borehole construction, and solar pumping and distribution solutions can provide safe and accessible water that is cost-effective and sustainable for those most in need.

We will seek to show how borehole construction and maintenance can help protect groundwater sources, providing a drinking water supply that is free of e-coli and will last for generations. Participants will also receive tools and guidance for writing borehole specifications to help ensure that groundwater sources are safe and sustainable.

From borehole construction we will then move on to solar pumping and distribution technology, demonstrating that this is often a viable and smart option for potable water services in rural development, particularly where poor groundwater quality or high population density and growth limit the applicability of boreholes fitted with hand pumps. We will show several case studies, from single point supplies to full distribution networks, which highlight low failure rates and overall life-cycle costs, and discuss the key considerations for designing, constructing and implementing solar powered water supply systems.

Who should come to the seminar?

 The seminar is aimed at anyone with an interest in rural water services, and in particular groundwater resources and water supply. We hope to include a range of professionals from all types of organizations and at all levels – from government staff, NGOs, private sector practitioners and academia.

 Who is running the seminar?

The seminar is being sponsored by the UPGro research programme (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor) and Water Mission and will be run by a range of groundwater experts from across Africa, Europe and the USA.

Fabio Fussi (University Milano Bicocca)
Richard Carter (Richard Carter & Associates Ltd.)
Moustapha Diene (Universite Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar & AGW-Net)
Callist Tindimugaya (Ministry of Water and Environment, Uganda & AGW-Net)
Brighid O Dochartaigh & Kirsty Upton (British Geological Survey)
Steve Schneider (Schneider Water Services & NGWA)
Jeff Zapor & Doug Lawson (Water Mission)

Where and When?

Friday 2nd December, 7th RWSN Forum (Bamako Room), Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire,

Please note the seminar will be run predominantly in English with simultaneous translation into French

, however there will be Francophone and Anglophone facilitators present throughout the day.

RWSN delighted to welcome The Guardian as Forum media partner

We are delighted to confirm that the The Guardian global development professionals network will be the media partner for the RWSN Forum.  The Guardian, based in London, is a global news organisation that takes a strong interest in water and development issues, and will be helping us widen our knowledge exchange with like-minded professionals, and the general public, around the world.

The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network offers commentary and insight from development experts across the world. Whatever your professional interest in global development, you’ll find it an invaluable source of knowledge and contacts.

You can join the network, and follow it on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

RWSN Forum Programme Announced Today!

We are delighted to announce that the programme of the 7th RWSN Forum (29 Nov-2 Dec in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire) is now available.  As you can see, it is a very diverse programme, covering rural and small towns’ water access from policy, financial, practice and user perspectives – with contributions from over 42countries.  It is by bringing so much diversity, and many different players that this Forum is tackling the SDG challenge of Water for Everyone! The quality of contributions means that those attending will return home with new knowledge and new connections.

For more information see:

As our programme is just out now, we have also extended the deadline for regular registration to the 31st October 2016.  So those who have not yet managed to register and pay, please try to do so by the 31st October to benefit from the €600 fee.  Over 500 people have registered so far, with confirmations from over 130.  As with previous RWSN Forums, we expect a very diverse group to participate including government, private sector, NGO, donor, academia and civil society. You can register here.

Many people have been contacting us for sponsorship to attend the event.  Alas we have very limited funds as Forum organisers. However, we have prepared a help sheet for you to use within your organisation and with partners in trying to obtain assistance to attend.


Warm wishes et cordialement,


Dr. Kerstin Danert
Director – Secretariat