Water collection patterns in Maji communities in Ghana and Kenya

Rural drinking water practitioners typically believe they know at what times drinking water is collected from communal sources, and water kiosk caretakers or vendors might provide essential anecdotal information as well. Nevertheless, very limited research is undertaken to understand the water collection patterns in rural remote communities in Sub-Saharan Africa[1]. As such, we have analyzed a wide data range from our smart, e-payment systems installed in 13 communities in Ghana and Kenya from 2019 till mid 2021. The two countries show surprisingly different fetching routines, which spurred us to interview Project Maji caretakers to better understand the different needs.

The popular assumption in the rural water sector is that peaks can be expected in the early morning and the late afternoon (before sunset), demanding sufficient water supply capacity at those time intervals. In turn, the data can inform the design of water systems to ensure the daily community water needs are met efficiently, such as the sizing of the tank and the strength of the solar array and pump capacity. To strengthen the rural water business case, it is in our interest to develop cost-efficient systems where demand and supply are fine-tuned. Recently, we have partnered with Practica Foundation on optimizing water distribution systems, taking into account the pressure on communal water points to cater to collection peaks. Practica’s internal research showed a surprisingly even pattern of water collection across the day in Liberia, rejecting the original notions of fetching water at peak times. But when installing the piped MajiPlus distribution system in Ghana in 2021 with three compact towers with 1,000 liters storage tanks, the flat consumption pattern was not observed in this pilot project.

The graph above shows distinct peaks observed, particularly at the end of the afternoon. This led us to expand our internal research to gain reliable insights, leveraging the remote monitoring capabilities of our smart pre-payment meters. We analyzed the high accuracy volumetric, time (hour), and location data of 13 Project Maji kiosks, five in Kenya and nine in Ghana between 2019 and 2021. The sample represents 7.7 million liters bought by community members using the e-pay tokens. The average sales per community per day is 1.1 CBM, with Ghana outperforming the water collection volumes with 305 CBM sold per day and Kenya only 0.6 CBM liters per day per water kiosk. It must be noted that the Kenyan water points are relatively new and still in the ramp-up phase, showing a steep positive revenue trendline beyond this data set.

Evening peak in Ghana

When segregating the data between our two focus countries, distinct patterns emerged visualizing water fetching patterns. In Ghana, we find two peaks – in the early morning and early evening – with a dip in transactions at the water points during the midday. The end-of-day spike is not only very pronounced but also much later than we anticipated, namely between 6 and 7 pm when it is already dark. Our Kenyan communities show a different pattern on the other hand. We identify a small peak in the morning around 7 am, but water is collected throughout the day and an afternoon spike is absent.

To understand the reason behind the evening peak in Ghana, we interviewed our Country director Amol Parker and reviewed the findings from the pre-and impact surveys of the respective communities. The socio-economic questionnaires include a set of questions about the benefits of the e-pay systems. In Ghana, the all-time access nature of the pre-paid kiosk was cited frequently by the users, especially by those working in mining, construction, and on the plantations. If they return home in the early evening, they fetch water for household and personal hygiene purposes.

This is confirmed when showing the outcomes to Mr. Parker, who knows the WaSH habits of each community well. “Indeed, this graph does not surprise me. The fact that community members can fetch water at their convenience, and are not depending on kiosk opening times, is considered a big benefit. This is also reflected in high water source satisfaction rates; 95% of the population is either satisfied (50%) or very satisfied (45%) with the Project Maji drinking water service.

Our Monitoring & Evaluation team will continue to analyze the water collection data to improve our operations. Ultimately what matters is that we always provide sufficient drinking water to the communities we serve. With our data management systems such as the remote monitoring systems and mWater data collection and analysis tool, we can segregate data on community, household, and regional levels. We will keep the Project Maji community of supporters and donors posted about our insights and how this can help us do a better job to provide non-contaminated potable water.

[1] The most relevant article is Ingram W, Memon FA. Rural Water Collection Patterns: Combining Smart Meter Data with User Experiences in Tanzania. Water. 2020; 12(4):1164. https://doi.org/10.3390/w12041164