A pretty important question to ask myself while I’m here, and of course a question that a lot of people probably have for me. This first week I’ve pretty much just been a special kind of tourist, so at this point I can only really talk about what other EWB people are doing here.
In general you might think that engineers in Africa go out and help build bridges, build buildings. or install wells. Well it turns out that a lot of people have already come over to Africa to do those things, and as a result there’s a lot of these things lying around broken. Of course there’s a definite need for this type of infrastructure, but there hasn’t been much consideration for the maintenance of this infrastructure. A common word thrown around in the development world is “sustainability”. Think of how sustainable it would be to bring over thousands of cars to a country that doesn’t have car dealers, mechanics or even gas stations. How long would these cars last? Of course there are definitely cars and support for them in Africa, and this is a major over-simplification, but it’s a parallel to what has been done with water infrastructure like wells and pumps. Lot’s of wells installed without good systems for maintenance repair in place, and despite a large amount of wells put in place, still a lot of communities without access to clean water.
So what does this mean for EWB volunteers? Let’s fast forward through a lot of reasons and details and generalize and simplify the current situation in Malawi. It’s role of communities to maintain the water infrastructure that they use, and the role of the government to implement new water infrastructure. So EWB looks at strengthening the willingness of communities to take care of their own water points, at the same time as helping to improve and increase their access to the skills and parts to do the appropriate maintenance and repairs. In working with the government, EWB is helping to improve government capacity to manage information about the current infrastructure, and use this information to make equitable decisions in citing new infrastructure.
All this is still really general stuff, so you will have to keep reading this blog or the blogs of my team-mates linked to on the right if you want to know more 🙂