Thousands of families affected by the ongoing drought in East Africa are set to benefit from improved water supplies thanks to innovative mobile technology designed by Oxford University.
Hand pumps provide the main source of drinking water for rural communities in Africa, but around one-third of them do not work at any one time. It can take up to a month or more before they are fixed, leaving communities without easy access to clean water. But in August Oxford University researchers will start a pilot project in Kenya to install new, low-cost data transmitters that work in a similar way to mobile phones.
These Smart Hand Pumps will automatically send a text message to the district and national water managers, so they know when and where there is a problem, as well as when the problem has been fixed.
Researcher Patrick Thomson said: 'The technology is simple and robust. The transmitter is no bigger than a mobile phone and fits inside the hand pump. It automatically registers the movement of the handle of the pump and from this calculates the amount of water extracted from the pump. An automatic text about the water usage at each pump is sent at regular intervals to water supply managers, who then immediately know when and where a pump needs fixing. This should enable problems to be addressed more quickly and transparently than they are at the moment, so people don’t have to go without safe water – with all the resulting health problems that can cause.'
"Reliable water supplies lead to healthier people and more productive livelihoods. "
Lead researcher Rob Hope, Senior Research Fellow at Oxford's School for Geography and the Environment, said: 'Reliable water supplies lead to healthier people and more productive livelihoods. We hope that by applying mobile technologies within the rural water sector, we can improve water security and reduce poverty for the 276 million people in rural Africa who currently don't have safe and reliable water supplies.'