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Wireless water: mobile offers a brighter future for rural Africa

Oxford University led research which harnesses mobile technologies to improve rural access to water is featured in BBC News online.

According to mobile industry body GSMA, there are currently more than 250 million mobile phone subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa – and this is forecast to rise to nearly 350 million by 2017.

This mobile revolution is providing a platform for new technologies and enabling developing countries to leapfrog ahead.

Mobile is helping provide improved and more sustainable water supplies for Africa. For example, mobile/water for development, a research initiative based at the University of Oxford, designs and tests mobile technologies to try to improve rural access to water.

Read the full article on BBC News online.

Related links

mobile/water for development website

Mobile water payments article in Water International journal Best Paper Awards

A journal article by Oxford researchers on the impacts and implications of mobile water payments in East Africa has been given an honourable mention in the Water International Best Paper 2012 Awards.

The paper ‘Impacts and implications of mobile water payments in East Africa’ is co-authored by Tim Foster, Rob Hope and Aaron Krolikowski, Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment, and two formers students of the MSc Water Science, Policy and Management, Cliff Nyaga and Ilana Cohen.

The research takes a look at the unprecedented growth in Africa’s mobile communications sector and the new opportunities it offers to address the continent’s persistent water service challenges.

Download the paper for free.

From rights to results in rural water services

New evidence to translate the human right to water into measureable results in rural Africa is presented in a new report funded by UK Department for International Development and led by Oxford University.

rural water suply

 

Institutional transformations are required if Africa is to deliver the universal Human Right to Water to 275 million rural people without improved water services. Improving the reliability of one million handpumps which should deliver drinking water to over 200 million rural Africans will be a major contribution to translating water rights into measureable results. This study tests a new maintenance service model over a one year period in rural Kenya using mobile-enabled data to improve operational and financial performance by reducing risks at scale.

The report, produced by the Smith School Water Programme, highlights results that have led to:

  • a ten-fold reduction in handpump downtime (days not working),
  • a shift to 98 per cent of handpumps functioning,
  • a fairer and more flexible payment model contingent on service delivery,
  • new and objective metrics to guide water service regulatory reform,
  • a revised financial architecture shaped by an output-based payment model.

The model outlines a new and replicable framework for policy and investment behaviour informed by rural water users’ more expansive views of the design and delivery of rural water institutions than currently prescribed.

Report launched at ‘Smart Handpump’ day

The report was launched at an event at Kellogg College on 5 March  hosted by the Oxford Centre for Affordable Healthcare Technology, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, School of Geography and the Environment and Department of Engineering Science.

Attendees from DFID, ARM, Sequoia Technology, Oxfam and ESRC were invited to meet the ‘Smart Handpump’ that has been installed in the college grounds. Smart Handpumps use a mobile-enabled transmitter which sends data on pump usage, rapidly detecting any failures and enabling repairs to be made. The technology is currently being piloted in rural Kenya and feeds into ongoing work at Oxford University on improving institutions to measurably reduce poverty.

Researcher Patrick Thomson demonstrating the handpump to Nick Liddington (MD of Sequoia Technology Group) Steve Sydes (Commercial Director of Sequoia Technology Group).

Researcher Patrick Thomson demonstrating the handpump to Nick Liddington and Steve Sydes (Managing Director and Commercial Director of Sequoia Technology Group).

Download the full report

Making clean drinking water universally available is achievable

Making clean drinking water globally accessible is one of the biggest challenges of this century. Yet, a new study by Oxford University contends that this goal is achievable if the key elements of good governance and management are adopted.

The study proposes a framework built on examples of good practice in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, areas which the authors argue present the most severe challenges of all the developing countries. They warn, however, that the scale of investment necessary to update the often neglected, ageing infrastructure of pipelines or water pumps goes beyond the narrow project timeframes favoured by politicians. The findings are published in a landmark collection of papers on water security, risk and society by the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

The study says the problem of providing clean water is most acute in developing countries, particularly in Africa, where creaking infrastructures struggle to keep pace with fast-growing urban populations; in rural areas, millions of water pumps stand unused waiting to be repaired. Despite hitting the Millennium Development Goal for drinking water access in 2012, over 780 million people still do not have safe and reliable drinking water, says the report, resulting in largely preventable health problems that most affect women and children.

Based on nine case studies in Cambodia, India, Kenya, Uganda and Senegal, the authors analysed new data in rural and urban areas to compare what the authors call the under-researched aspects of water security: the institutional side of how water supplies are delivered, their operation and management systems. They examined water payment systems; and the quality of service, such as how quickly leaks or pumps were fixed, and whether populations had water on demand or a regularly disrupted service.

The study suggests that a critical factor in all cases is to have a good system for maintaining existing water supplies. Additionally, new information systems were found to be important for improving the way the quality of service was monitored. In West Africa, for instance, a structured crowd sourcing platform is used by water scheme managers to input weekly data via a mobile phone application; in East Africa, a mobile-enabled monitoring system is leading to faster repair times for water pumps.

Late bills are still a huge problem in developing countries, so consequently there is often a failure to recoup the service costs needed to invest in the infrastructure. The study highlights a successful mobile water payment system adopted in one Kenyan city, which was the preferred way of paying bills for 85% of customers who would otherwise often have to queue in water company offices. More efficient and transparent payment systems were not only found to reduce debts, but also helped root out corrupt practices which diverted water payments into illegitimate channels.

The study warns that barriers to progress include the vested interests of individuals benefiting from the status quo, and misguided public investments which are short-term and without any real measures of performance. However, the authors argue that these findings provide concrete evidence to demonstrate how drinking water risks can be managed and reduced ‘even in the most difficult and challenging contexts’.

Lead author Dr Rob Hope, from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, said: “We hope this study provides a framework to design policy and guide investments to systematically reduce drinking water risks in urban and rural contexts. These case studies demonstrate a variety of approaches taken by countries in some of the most challenging circumstances.”

“They set benchmarks by which others can measure their own progress. Our examples include water managers who have introduced both bonus systems to reward good performance and competitions between different areas to drive up standards of service. Some water service providers have found ways of giving subsidies to expand access to water customers on the lowest incomes. There are other examples of initiatives to promote greater efficiency which can mean leaks or water pumps get fixed more quickly or water rationing can be replaced with a continuous service.”

“Despite the often gloomy outlook voiced by some on the prospects for making drinking water more accessible, these case studies in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia show there are realistic pathways to transform water services, thereby potentially improving the health of the millions of people who depend upon them.”

Meanwhile in the same collection of papers, Professor David Bradley of Oxford University, with Professor Jamie Bartram, uses an analysis of the effective monitoring programme developed to measure the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the provision of domestic water supply and basic sanitation to see how it can be further improved and possibly be applied to a broader goal of water security.

Reference

Robert Hope and Michael Rouse (2013) Risks and responses to universal drinking water security. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, vol. 371, no. 2002.

 

Oxford University edits a themed issue of Philosophical Transactions A on Water Security, Risk and Society

Professors Jim Hall and David Grey, and Drs Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope, have organised and edited a landmark collection of papers, an outcome of the 2012 international conference Water Security, Risk and Society.

The papers demonstrate the growing scale of water security risks. For example, over 45% of the global population is projected to be exposed to water shortages for food production by 2050 (Falkenmark), and South American cities have experienced a doubling of risks associated with extreme rainfall from 1960-2000 (Vorosmarty). Modelling demonstrates that climate hazards are an impediment to economic growth (Brown).

The agenda-setting themed issue includes eight papers from Oxford University authors and engages multiple dimensions of water security, ranging from drinking water, food production and energy to climate risks, transboundary rivers and economic growth. Risk provides the basis for a unifying framework to bridge across multiple disciplines and science-policy divides.

Fifteen papers are organised in three sections to: frame the policy challenges and scientific responses to water security from a risk perspective; assess the evidence about the forces driving water insecurity; and examine responses to water insecurity at multiple scales.

Recognising the need for interdisciplinary science to respond to unprecedented water security challenges, the University of Oxford organised the international conference on Water Security, Risk and Society in April 2012. The conference convened 200 leading thinkers from science, policy and enterprise in 30 countries to take stock of the scientific evidence on water security risk and prioritise future interdisciplinary research.

Taken together, these papers provide strong justification and strategic priorities for policy-driven science in the lead up to new development goals in 2015 and beyond.

 

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

Theme Issue ‘Water security, risk and society’ compiled and edited by Jim Hall, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope

November 13, 2013; Vol. 371, No. 2002


Preface
Jim Hall, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson, and Rob Hope

Opinion piece: Water security in one blue planet: twenty-first century policy challenges for science
David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Don Blackmore, Jerson Kelman, Mike Muller, and Claudia Sadoff

Opinion piece: Catalysing sustainable water security: role of science, innovation and partnerships
John Beddington

Opinion piece: The role of technology in achieving water security
Ian Thompson

Research article: Risk-based principles for defining and managing water security (open access)
Jim Hall and Edoardo Borgomeo

Research article: Extreme rainfall, vulnerability and risk: a continental-scale assessment for South America
Charles J. Vörösmarty, Lelys Bravo de Guenni, Wilfred M. Wollheim, Brian Pellerin, David Bjerklie, Manoel Cardoso, Cassiano D’Almeida, Pamela Green, and Lilybeth Colon

Research article: Growing water scarcity in agriculture: future challenge to global water security
Malin Falkenmark

Review article: Water security, global change and land–atmosphere feedbacks
Simon Dadson, Michael Acreman, and Richard Harding

Research article: A cost-effectiveness analysis of water security and water quality: impacts of climate and land-use change on the River Thames system
Paul Whitehead, Jill Crossman, Bedru Balana, Martyn Futter, Sean Comber, Li Jin, Dimitris Skuras, Andrew Wade, Mike Bowes, and Daniel Read

Research article: Water security in the Canadian Prairies: science and management challenges
Howard Wheater and Patricia Gober

Review article: Domestic water and sanitation as water security: monitoring, concepts and strategy (open access)
David J. Bradley and Jamie K. Bartram

Review article: Risks and responses to universal drinking water security
Robert Hope and Michael Rouse

Research article: The politics of African energy development: Ethiopia’s hydro-agricultural state-building strategy and clashing paradigms of water security
Harry Verhoeven

Research article: The governance dimensions of water security: a review
Karen Bakker and Cynthia Morinville

Research article: Managing hydroclimatic risks in federal rivers: a diagnostic assessment
Dustin Garrick, Lucia De Stefano, Fai Fung, Jamie Pittock, Edella Schlager, Mark New, and Daniel Connell

Research article: Is water security necessary? An empirical analysis of the effects of climate hazards on national-level economic growth
Casey Brown, Robyn Meeks, Yonas Ghile, and Kenneth Hunu

Fully Baked! The completion of a successful Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship

Cliff Nyaga is a beneficiary of The Coca-Cola Company funded Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship, which sponsors his place on the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, class of 2012/2013. He reflects on his year at Oxford and reports findings from his dissertation research on customer payment behaviours in urban African water utilities.

Finally my Masters at Oxford has come to an end. Looking back, it has been a speedy race against time and it is hard to believe it is over! Having gained access to a unique dataset of the Dar es Salaam city piped water utility in June this year, I immediately embarked on a three-month period of dissertation research.

While my intention was clear – to make strides towards the finishing line while fighting off tempting distractions from an approaching British summer – I lost this battle somewhere along the way. Barbeques, river swims, berry picking, garden parties and picnics somehow found their way into my diary. Striking a fair balance between thesis research and outdoor festivities was sometimes challenging. Nonetheless I got my head down and submitted my dissertation by the set deadline. Amidst the celebrations, the summer period is almost over which makes this the opportune time for me to pack and run back to Kenya before the cold autumn breeze sets in.

My dissertation research investigated the predictors of customer payment behaviours in piped water utilities in urban Africa. This is an important area of study because the sustainability of piped water services depends upon how well utilities can recover costs through revenue collection from water users.

It is perhaps surprising that factors that determine payment behaviours in piped African utilities are largely misunderstood and so often are assumed. Most utilities lack information on their service such as customers’ demographics, preferences and perceptions of service quality which in turn leads to poor policy decisions and poor implementation. However, understanding and promoting water stewardship in Africa fundamentally depends on access to good data to evaluate what works, why and for whom. Major investments without this data may have no lasting impact.

The Dar es Salaam water utility dataset used in my analysis suggests that it is possible to obtain fairly low-cost evidence to inform policy and investment decisions in African utilities. Ultimately, investing in good information could lead to improved piped water access for the unserved urban poor and water insecure consumers.

Reflecting on the last year, my time in Oxford can be summed up in one word – awesome! Each day has brought a new learning experience and for this I am greatly indebted to The Coca-Cola Company Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship. Indeed, this Scholarship has facilitated my transformation from the water novice I was a year ago to the expert I am today.

The Masters course in Water Science, Policy and Management has empowered me with knowledge and skills to engage with the water access challenges facing Africa head on. Furthermore, I have made resourceful professional and social networks while in Oxford comprising of lead organisations, researchers and students working in the water profession all over the world. This will be a great asset as I start my career and will help me achieve my goal of improving water access in Africa.

This is the third and final post in a three-part blog series. Read Cliff’s first and second blogs.

Dr. Rob Hope leads session at the Skoll World Forum

Dr. Rob Hope, School of Geography and the Environment, is leading a session on Mobile-Enabled Entrepreneurship for Water Security at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford on 12 April.

skollThe session highlights the mobile-enabled technologies that are charting new models for addressing Africa’s rural and urban challenges to water supply security. The mobile-enabled entrepreneurial landscape is evaulated based on the latest research and practice, including findings from the Oxford University research initiative mobile/water for development.

The programme also includes sessions on ‘Water, Water Everywhere: The Paradox of the 21st Century’ moderated by Gary White (Co-Founder and CEO, Water.org) and ‘A Collaborative Approach to Water and Sanitation’ led by Joe Madiath (Founder and executive Director, Gram Vikas).

Each year in Oxford the Skoll Forum gathers over 1,000 delegates from the social, finance, private and public sectors with an aim to accelerate entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues. The full programme, live streaming and other resources for the event which is running from 10 to 12 April 2013 can be found at http://skollworldforum.org/

Mobile payment innovations improve water service delivery in Tanzania

New research from Oxford University has found that mobile payments and related innovations are improving urban water service provision in East Africa by increasing revenue collection and reducing corruption.

Water service providers in Tanzania often struggle to provide satisfactory water supplies in its rapidly growing cities due to inadequate revenue collection and inefficient billing and payment systems. Mobile payment innovations are being used to improve public service delivery in East Africa by increasing the ease of payment for customers, expanding revenue collection for water utilities, and removing opportunities for theft, bribery, and collusion.

The project examined the use of mobile money applications and wireless pay point networks for water bill payments in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Data included 1,000,000 water payments made using different payment methods, 1097 surveys of water users in the city, and over 40 interviews with water sector officials and representatives with the telecommunications industry.

Researchers on the project include Aaron Krolikowski (School of Geography and the Environment), Professor Xiaolan Fu (Department of International Development), and Dr. Robert Hope (School of Geography and the Environment). Funding was provided by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

The report, entitled “Wireless Water: Improving Urban Water Provision Through Mobile Finance Innovations” is accompanied by a policy brief and three analytical sub-reports on customer payment behaviours, governance, and user characteristics, which can be downloaded below.

Read the Oxford University press release

Report: Wireless Water: Improving Urban Water Provision Through Mobile Finance Innovations
Policy Brief: Improving Public Service Delivery with Mobile Payment Solutions
Analytical Perspectives: Mobile Payment Innovations and User Characteristics
Analytical Perspectives: Analytical Perspectives – Governance
Analytical Perspectives: Mobile Payment Innovations and Customer Payment Behaviours

Smart Handpumps feature at the Department for International Development on World Water Day

Today Oxford University’s Dr. Rob Hope presents research on Smart Handpump technology at the UK Department for International Development, as part of their celebrations for World Water Day 2013.

The seminar A Life (in a Day) of a Girl will consider how water impacts on the life of a girl, from her birth, to school, adolescence, through to adulthood. Experts from the Department for International Development (DFID), universities and NGOs will discuss key issues such as early childhood development, childhood undernutrition, menstrual hygiene, reproductive health, the burden of water collection, and technology.

The Smart Handpumps project is led by Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. The technology consists of a GSM-enabled transmitter, securely located within the handle of the pump. The transmitter is programmed to send periodic SMS messages detailing pump usage which are transmitted cheaply and automatically over the GSM network.

Immediate detection of handpump failure can help ensure that repairs are made quickly and open-access data can improve the monitoring and regulation of water service delivery. Mobile networks allow for the scaled-up management of multiple handpumps, thereby reducing operational and financial costs.

Field trials in rural Kenya have been running since August 2012 and are being expanded with support from DFID and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The interdisciplinary project team is made up of Geographers, Engineers, Economists and Public Health experts from a number of departments across the University. Other partners include the Government of Kenya, UNICEF, GSMA and Rural Focus Ltd. (Kenya).

 

View the Smart Handpumps poster

Watch the Smart Handpumps video

Read more about the Smart Handpumps project

Integrated Urban Water Management – lessons and recommendations from around the world

Alvar Closas, a DPhil candidate at the School of Geography and the Environment, is lead author of a World Bank publication on Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM). The report reviews a number of IUWM initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

IUWM is a response to complex urban water challenges, including rapid population growth, inadequate connections to sewage systems, floods and the lack of proper drainage systems, and intensifying competition for water between sectors. It aims to develop flexible and efficient urban water systems by linking together planning, management and stakeholder participation across sectors and institutions.

The report summarises lessons from IUWM initiatives and pilot studies funded by the World Bank’s Water Partnership Program. It provides a valuable set of recommendations and guidelines for operationalising IUWM approaches.

Experiences from around the world show that there are both significant opportunities and challenges to implementing IUWM. Flexible and adaptive institutional frameworks are needed to achieve IUWM, and problems will be encountered where existing cities are locked into rigid institutional frameworks, traditional technologies and non-integrated urban plans.

Newly-built or planned areas, or even rapidly expanding cities, offer potential for adopting IUWM principles. The report highlights alternative solutions that can complement traditional planning and technological approaches, such as innovative technologies planned around new urban clusters, decentralised infrastructure, and diversification of water sources.

Read the full report