Longitudinal studies often produce surprising results. Pat Stys and Tom Kirk interview their fellow researchers, Sandrine N’simire and Samuel ‘Keith’ Muhindo, about the challenges and learnings emerging from a project examining water governance.
This post forms part of a series exploring an ongoing research project into water governance in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
IMAGINE is a large-scale ten-year DFID-funded urban WASH programme that will reach up to 1 million beneficiaries in Goma and Bukavu through improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene promotion. The overall goal is to decrease diarrhoea rates among children under five through an integrated approach improving infrastructure, promoting effective behaviour change, reinforcing market systems for WASH services, and improving governance and community accountability of these systems.
A team of five Congolese researchers have been collecting longitudinal data on 24 households’ social networks and financial management. They visit the households every two weeks to gather additional data and follow emerging stories. The aim is to better understand how they cope in an insecure environment and to use the information to improve the numerous development interventions and programmes that dot the city. Names of project participants mentioned in the following interview have been changed.
Choosing one of the neighbourhoods (quarters) you work in, what are the differences between the households of different socioeconomic levels participating in the project?
Sandrine: In Kyshero, there is a low socioeconomic status household consisting of a husband and wife, Matisse and Rosine, and their 22-year-old daughter. They are very poor. They cannot even access basic social services and have a very small – three person – personal support network.
Matisse was in the military, but he demobilised himself following Mobutu’s death in 1997. As he did it himself and not through a programme, he gets nothing from the state. He bought their little parcel, 7×10 metres, in 1998 and they have lived there since.
Matisse was a carpenter but now rarely gets paying jobs. When he does obtain money, it is usually little bits from his children or, in his own words, ‘people that are educated’ who feel sorry for him. Rosine is very sick and unable to work.
The household survives by eating food given to them by tenants who have built a small house behind theirs on the same plot. The tenants treat the couple as their own parents, sharing food with them whenever they prepare it. But they can rarely afford any rent money. Also, one of their other children who no longer lives with them works at a slaughterhouse and brings his parents meat whenever he can.
The couple are currently engaged in a dispute over their plot of land with the person they bought it from. He returned to Goma after time elsewhere and has claimed that he still owns 15 plots in the neighbourhood.
When Matisse bought the plot, the area was used for banana plantations and the first Congolese war had just ended. But now it is a densely built up neighbourhood and the land is worth a lot. This is probably why this person is trying their luck.
Matisse and Rosine are worried as they have no paperwork for the plot and they do not have $150 to pay for a lawyer to represent them at a tribunal. They do not know what to do.
Sam: To compare, Prisca is a widow in the same neighbourhood that our study classes as being of moderate socioeconomic status. She lives with her seven children, most of which are in school. Education is a marker of her status.
Prisca sells Rutuko (local alcohol) for a living. She is also the President of a savings club associated with a national trade union and bank that provides micro credit. She also has two workable fields outside of Goma that she cannot currently use due to armed group activity in the area.
Her income allows her to pay the children’s school fees and it means she can buy access to social services. When this is not enough, she uses her membership in organisations to help get the money needed for such things and also to get discounts on medical goods from her sister’s husband.
Prisca is also going through a land conflict over the boundaries of the plot her house sits on with her neighbour. She wants to link her house to a nearby road and is in negotiations over a solution. She claims that it will eventually involve some kind of payment.
She has taken the negotiations on herself because, as a widow, she knows the Chef de Quartier (neighbourhood chief) will try to abuse her should she turn to him. Besides, she claims the neighbour has already paid the chief off. As a last resort, she will contact her brothers who work in government for help.
However, like in households of a low socioeconomic status, she does not have radios, TVs or electricity. She does not own many things. The difference, therefore, is her business acumen, how she uses the savings club to invest in her business, her networks to access services and fight conflicts, and how she has succeeded in putting her kids through school.
How do the households you work with in that neighbourhood get water and how do they pay for it?
Sandrine: The poor household mentioned above used to be given two jerrycans of water in the morning and two in the evening from a neighbourhood doctor who looked out for them. However, as water has been shut off in the quarter for the last two months, this has stopped. So, now they only collect rainwater.
Sam: Prisca also collects rainwater. However, she also buys water from a lady who owns six tanks scattered around the neighbourhood and sells a jerrycan at 150 CF. She fills the tanks through trucking in lake water and collecting rain. Locally she is considered a hero for providing a solution to the neighbourhood’s water problems.
Yet, the widow argues that since she has been using this water source, illnesses have never left her household. She associates the tanks with malaria, typhoid and frequent headaches. All things she indirectly attributes to her husband’s death.
Sandrine, please tell us a little about your Masahani (kitchen utensils) methodology?
Sandrine: The objective of the method was to help Mercy Corps (MC) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine figure out a way to collect data on household’s water usage, specifically how they allocate it to different household tasks. We chose this method because it allows us to have the lowest margin of error and precision in terms of recording the quantities of water for different activities.
Originally, MC suggested we use bottles, stones, bottlecaps and fractions to get households to show us how much water they use. However, our households and our research team found this really difficult. The households’ reactions when we took the provided measuring tools out of bags was really poor and many quickly became furious when we wasted water pouring out water measurements. Some even thought that we came to do sorcery!
Instead, I suggested we simply use the households’ existing kitchen implements and that members point out with their fingers how much water they used for each activity. This works as many of the households use the same water vessels and kitchen implements across Goma. It does not matter if they’re rich or poor, as China makes and imports all the utensils and vessels. The Masahani method is now being used at scale by MC in Goma and Bukavu.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the research and the most interesting thing you’ve learned?
Sam: There are questions that we simply can’t answer that the households pose to us. Usually, they want to know what they are going to get at the end of the research. They are used to interviews by researchers being shorter and not taking as long. They are also used to getting compensation from students and NGOs that usually do interviews and surveys. They will do anything to get data, with even the students giving their own money. Our respondents want to know why we keep coming back every two weeks to talk further with them!
Sandrine: We have explained over and over that they are part of a long-term study. They appear to understand for a few weeks and then the same questions arise again. The questions often arise when they are going through a household shock – illness, funeral, debt etc – so it’s not really about a misunderstanding.
Sam: One of the interesting things we’ve noticed is that, due to our research, the households are becoming more aware of their finances. They are getting quicker at telling us what they are doing with their money and say they are learning to more carefully manage it due to our questions.
Tom: Come on, your visits can’t really be having an effect, isn’t this about trust?
Sandrine: Yes, this is also about trust. There is a lady headed household in Kyeshero. When we started explaining about expenses and how they use water, her husband got interested in the interview and stayed for the first time, especially the opportunity to discuss finances.
He thinks the system of going to the households every two weeks forces members to think more about how they spend and manage what’s coming in and out. Especially, how they may be able to save something for future projects.
He is now hoping his wife may have a business in the future and will keep the same accounting system!
Sam: Yesterday we were with that household when a relative visited from the village. The husband gave her $10 for transport costs back to Bukavu (an overnight boat) and remarked to the wife that she must make a note of this expense for our research project.
One more thing – a lot of respondents want to see the outputs of this study. So, we must find a way to make this happen.
The research project, examining water governance in Goma, DRC, is jointly funded by the Department of International Development (DFID) and the Centre for Public Authority and International Development (CPAID) through Mercy Corp’s IMAGINE programme.
Photo credit: Steve Evans