Water point mapping in a Mali village: who drinks from where?

Understanding where people choose to drink from when they live in a village with multiple water sources (including both ‘improved’ and ‘unimproved’ water points) is a key aspect of my research. I’ve been using simple household surveys to ask this question, and I’m now beginning to visualise the data using the Water Point Mapper tool developed by WaterAid. The tool is free and easy to use, employing a combination of GPS data, a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet mapper, and Google Earth. You can download the mapper, a manual and example maps from the website. The Water Point Mapper is designed to identify each water point with a colour-coded symbol. Depending on the type of information you want to display, this symbol can represent various indicators. For example, this sample map from the website shows the functionality of water points in an area:

Maps can also be generated with symbols to represent the number of users at the water point, the type of water source, the revenue collection system used, and various other characteristics (click to see the examples from the Water Point Mapper website). The mapper tool also collates this information to allow comparison of different areas (such as sub-districts or districts), which can be coloured according to the indicators.

However, for this analysis I have adapted the tool to show individual households rather than water points, because I am interested in detailed behaviour at village level. In this example of one of the villages where my research is ongoing, each coloured point on the map represents a household and the colour of the point represents the type of water source used by the household for drinking:

  • Blue = drilled borehole fitted with a handpump (an ‘improved’ source according to international definitions and national norms).
  • Yellow = modern hand-dug well with concrete lining, metal cover and bucket to draw water (also considered ‘improved’, but with an increased risk of contamination if users leave the lid open or leave the bucket on the ground).
  • Red = traditional hand-dug well, usually with no lining or cover (an unimproved source because of the high likelihood of contamination of the water).

The map shows that about a quarter of the households in the village use traditional wells, rather than improved sources, and that all but one of these households are in the western side of the community.

Adding the locations of the improved water points to the map helps us begin to understand why:

The boreholes with handpumps (which would be expected to provide the best quality water) and one of the modern wells are further to the other side of the village. One of the modern wells near to the households in the west is abandoned because it has collapsed in on itself, but WaterAid’s local partner NGO recently improved a traditional well used by a couple of families (on the left of the map) to become a modern well protected with a cover. When all these improved water points are taken into account, all the households in this village are considered to have access to drinking water from an improved source, according to the national standards for the number of people who can be served by different types of water point and the distance they can be expected to travel to collect water.

To illustrate this, the first map below shows that all the households lie well within a 500m radius (the access distance currently considered reasonable by the government in Mali, shaded blue) of an improved water point, even when only the boreholes fitted with handpumps are considered. However, as the data clearly shows, not all households are actually accessing the improved sources. Households in the village which are slightly further from the improved water points prefer the convenience of traditional hand-dug wells next to their house or in their compound. The government is considering adopting 300m as a more realistic distance for measuring access to take into account preferences such as these. But the households in this village who choose not to use the improved sources still fall within a more strict access zone of 300m radius for the handpumps (shown in the second map).

These maps highlight a common challenge: people are understandably sensitive to how far they travel to collect drinking water, since it is a time-consuming and arduous task, and they may prefer to use closer unimproved water points than further improved water points. There are also many other factors that I have not discussed here, including the taste of different sources, the financial cost of access (for example, digging your own well or contributing to the repair of a community handpump), the possibility of household water treatment, traditional views of gender roles in water collection, and many more. I’ve discussed this initial analysis with WaterAid’s partner in the region, and they are enthusiastic to use this type of approach to help them identify challenges in promoting access to safe water for every household in a village.


2 Comments on “Water point mapping in a Mali village: who drinks from where?”

  1. Jason says:

    Nice maps!

  2. […] for more money. My previous discussions about understanding what water and sanitation facilities people actually use and how sustainability can be improved are just some examples of […]

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