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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

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

Smart handpumps one of the Guardian’s 12 global development innovations of 2012

Featured alongside disease-eating prawns and solar-powered lamp-posts, Oxford University’s Smart Handpumps are recognised by the Guardian newspaper as one of twelve innovations for global development that caught the eye in 2012.

The so-called ‘smart’ handpumps use a mobile technology device designed by Oxford University which generates information on handpump use and can quickly detect a breakdown. The project is being trialled in 60 villages in the Kyuso district in Kenya where water is scarce during the dry season and functioning handpumps are critical for people’s survival.

The mobile data transmitter monitors movement of the handpump handle and estimates the volume of water being pumped. It sends periodic text messages to relay information on handpump performance to research teams in Nairobi and Oxford. Early detection of a problem means someone can be quickly dispatched to resolve it.

The project is funded by the UK Department for International Development and led by Dr Rob Hope, Senior Research Fellow at the School of Geography and the Environment.

“There are a lot of gadgets and gizmos and devices out there, but those alone don’t really resolve the enduring problem of rural water supply sustainability,” Rob Hope is quoted in the Guardian article. “It’s really the institutional reforms that emerge from using the information in a more effective manner. That’s where our research is really focused.”

Read the full article online

Smart Handpumps feature on BBC Click

Oxford University’s Smart Handpumps project, part of the mobile/water for development (mm4d) initiative, aims to improve rural water security by automatically monitoring handpump performance which trigger maintenance responses. The handpump technology uses data transmitters which fit inside handpumps and send text messages to a central office if the devices break down. The research initiative is a collaboration between the School of Geography and the Environment, and the Department for Engineering Science, led by Dr Rob Hope and Patrick Thomson in partnership with Dr Gari Clifford.

Story starts at 6 minutes 36 seconds

Global leaders discuss food, water and energy scarcities at Re|Source2012

Tamara Etmannski, University of Oxford

The Oxford Water Security Network had a strong presence at the highly acclaimed Re|Source2012 conference which was held at Oxford University on 13-14 July 2012. Oxford’s Professors Jim Hall and Professor David Grey were amongst the impressive list of speakers, which included influential thinkers such as Bill Clinton, Sir David Attenborough, Lord Patten of Barnes, and Amartya Sen. The vision for Re|Source2012 was to bring together global business, finance, political and academic leaders to discuss the interdependencies of food, water and energy, resource scarcity, and investment opportunities. The event provided the platform to rethink, reform, and renew ideas about managing resources.

‘A Thirst for Growth’ panel, moderated by Dominic Waughray, World Economic Forum. Photo: John Cairns

The immediate need for water-related innovations became a common theme throughout the two days of discussion. Prof Hall drew attention to a predicted 90% increase in water demand by 2050 and in low latitudes, a 10-30% decrease in water availability. The Chairman of the Board of Nestlé S.A., Peter Brabeck-Letmathe warned that the future of all economic growth will depend on water. The Minster for Environment and Water Resources of Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan highlighted three factors that have been critical to success in Singapore: long-term plans that extend beyond the electoral cycle, technology breakthroughs such as reverse osmosis, and pricing to send a signal that water is a scarce and precious resource. Glen Daigger of CH2M HILL said that solutions will need to be tailored to the local context and hydrology, selecting from a toolkit of approaches which increasingly includes efficiency, water recycling and reuse, and rainwater capture.

Oxford University Professors David Grey and Jim Hall. Photo: John Cairns

Two water exhibits gave examples of the innovative research being undertaken by Oxford University. Patrick Thomson had a real-size ‘Smart Hand-pump’ for rural water supply set-up to demonstrate how it will automatically send a text message to district and national water managers when there is a mechanical problem or failure with the pump. This will ensure immediate action by local partners, creating a reliable system of information communication and repair accountability. Simon Dadson presented a global hydrology simulation model using geospatial visualisation, highlighting the sophisticated modelling tools being advanced to help understand and inform tradeoffs in water resources and environmental management.

‘Smart Handpump’ measures the amount of water extracted and sends a text message when there is a failure

Some major themes emerged throughout the conference. On the value and management of natural resources, there was clear emphasis on the need for long-term agendas and multi-stakeholder partnerships. MP David Miliband responded to the question of whether action should be led by business or government, by stating that the answer is clearly both. He stressed that strong government leadership, business innovation and mass mobilisation are key. Dr James Bradfeld-Moody, co-author of ‘The Sixth Wave’, suggested real innovation as the selling of access not ownership, using and investing in waste, and the convergence of the digital world with the natural world.

The private sector voiced how integrated reporting is the way forward, how sustainability in business is an investment and touched upon other important topics like ethical business, fairness and dignity. Representatives from both BP and Puma spoke of the need for corporate and governmental transparency, especially in the area of subsidies. Delegates converged on agreement that the future is already here, and action on all these fronts is required immediately.

President Bill Clinton inspired delegates with a vision for the future in his closing keynote speech. He clearly stated that the sustainability model in business is good economics. To tackle climate change, he said we should “pick the low-hanging fruit”; first by improving global efficiency, and then pursuing solar power as an alternative energy source. He emphasised that creative networks of cooperation should be the way forward in tackling all the issues discussed during Re|Source2012, and said that one day we will all realise that common good is more important than private gain.

All talks and discussions from Re|Source2012 are available to view online.

Tamara Etmannski is a Doctoral Student in Sustainable Water Engineering at the Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford.

 

 

Mobile technology to fix hand pumps in Africa

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.’

Lead researcher Dr 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 communications 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.’

The researchers will start to install the technology in 70 village hand pumps across the Kyuso District of Kenya, in a pilot trial funded by the UK Department of International Development. Kyuso commonly experiences droughts and will be the first place in the world to use the new Smart Hand Pumps, a mobile technology that should improve the functionality of its hand pumps.

Lack of reliable access to clean water is an enduring problem in rural Africa. Yet mobile technology in Africa is booming: the number of people within range of a mobile signal has already overtaken the number with an improved water supply and, this year, the number of people with a mobile subscription will pass the same benchmark.

The Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, whose department is funding the pilot project in Kenya, said: ‘This is a fantastic example of British innovation helping some of the poorest people in the world.

‘Water does not just save lives in the short term – it is also a cornerstone for delivering economic growth and helping countries to work their way out of poverty. This is why UK aid will give an additional 15 million people access to clean water by 2015 and supporting a number of programmes, like this one, to help the world’s poorest countries harness the full potential of their water resources.’

A research paper about the technology used in the pilot project is publicly available in the Journal of Hydroinformatics.

The research team will gather data on the advantages and disadvantages of the Smart Hand Pumps so they can refine the technology as and when needed. Following the trial in Kenya, they plan to roll out a national trial in Zambia, which will be funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Read further coverage about this research on the BBC News website.