Paticipatory Hydrological Monitoring
The oft-repeated saying in water resources management is “what you don’t measure (or monitor) you can’t manage”. Sierra Leone’s water resources monitoring infrastructure was destroyed during its decade long Civil War (1991-2002). Efforts are now being undertaken to re-establish national hydrological monitoring networks.
As part of the Water Security Programme, rainfall-monitoring equipment has been installed in the upper and middle reaches of the Rokel-Seli River Basin, working alongside local schools and communities.
The focus of the monitoring was threefold:
(i) to develop a better understanding of local hydrology in action,
(ii) to assess what level of instrumentation is appropriate in Sierra Leone, and;
(iii) to better understand the willingness and ability of communities and school to engage in data collection.
A key objective was to gain insights into the hydrological process and obtain a better understanding of the relationships between rainfall and groundwater recovery and recharge. To do this the Ministry of Water Resources established multiple monitoring sites across Koinadougu, Bombali, Tonkolili and Port Loko districts.
We choose to engage with communities and schools for the following reasons:
To build strong relationships with communities and demonstrate our commitment to solving real water problems locally;
To provide opportunities for local communities and schools to better understand the hydrological regime of their localities;
To encourage a better flow of knowledge between government and the schools and communities, and vice-versa.
The process of participation began with a series of meetings and discussions with communities and schools. Staff from the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) and Bumbuna Watershed Management Authority (BWMA) assisted with locating and installing monitoring instruments and providing volunteer rainfall observers with training. At the end of the training equipment and recording forms were handed over to the community.
Monitoring has been ongoing now since May 2013 and MWR and BWMA staff provides regular follow up and support visits. One-day workshops have been held prior to the onset of seasonal rains, which includes refresher training. After the rainy season has passed the results are analysed and published and the communities and schools can see how their records compare.
Although the monitoring networks are relatively new, we have seen clear evidence that some of the hoped for benefits are emerging.
The observers are highly motivated to undertake the work and recognise the educational value of data collection. For example some of the schoolteachers are using the raingauge to demonstrate local hydrology to pupils. Furthermore, after two years none of the 23 rainfall monitoring sites have been vandalized or equipment stolen. Volunteer rainfall observers are also able to record data with high degrees of accuracy.
We recognise that participatory monitoring is an important part of re-establishing hydrometeorological monitoring in Sierra Leone. To build on early progress we plan to:
Provide regular feedback to communities on the results and data being collected;
Ensure that subsequent improvements are made in community water supplies at all monitoring sites;
Encourage lessons learnt to be captured and shared;
Support other Ministries, Departments and Agencies to recognise the value of participatory monitoring.
Communities have a vital role to play in monitoring and managing water resources, working alongside local and central authorities. This work demonstrates their active participation can and does work and represents positive change.