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DFID Research: Intelligent water pumps in rural Africa

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The Smart Handpumps initiative explains the value of a new electronic device designed to monitor rural handpumps in Kenya.

A water pump, Wagwer Primary, Western Kenya. Picture: Moving Mountains Trust/ Flickr
A water pump, Wagwer Primary, Western Kenya. Picture: Moving Mountains Trust/ Flickr

The Smart Water Systems project has recently released a short video on a new electronic device which monitors usage of hand pumps throughout Kenya.

Handpumps provide a vital source of safe drinking water for many rural communities across Africa. The Smart Handpumps initiative recognises that the construction of the pump is only the first hurdle in providing fresh, clean water. Maintenance is crucial and, as the video points out, around one third of these handpumps can be out of action at any one time. With no means of contacting a skilled mechanic this can leave communities forced to find less reliable sources of water which are sometimes a long way off.

This device has been designed to tackle this problem. Installed into each hand pump, it is able to monitor the amount of water being withdrawn and then transmit this information via SMS to the Smart Hand pumps base in Nairobi. This data is then analysed and collated into a map which illustrates which handpumps are being used regularly.

When a handpump stops transmitting evidence of usage the project workers in Nairobi can assume it is out of action and thus send out an engineer.

Smart Handpumps

The Smart Water System project led by the University of Oxford, couples mobile banking with smart water metering. It aims to improve the operational and financial performance of water service utilities in Africa through driving down water payment transaction costs and identifying and reducing non-revenue water losses.

By systematizing information, providing real time monitoring of handpump functionality, the Smart Handpumps initiative is helping to drive improved performance and transparency in the water sector.

An initiative funded by the Department for International Development, Smart Handpumps incorporates mobile technology to generate low cost tools which are easily replicable. It is currently running trials in Zambia and Kenya.

Published 16 May 2013