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Award-winning programme uses carbon credits to deliver safe water in Kenya

In 2011, nearly 900,000 water filters were distributed to households in Western Kenya, promising access to safe drinking water for 4.5 million people. Oxford University is leading research to evaluate the programme’s impact on diarrhoea, dysentery and dehydration among children under five and people living with HIV.

LifeStraw® Carbon for Water is an innovative public health programme which distributes LifeStraw Family water filters to households in Western Kenya, enabling citizens to safely treat water in their own home.

The ten-year programme is implemented by the private company Vestergaard Frandsen in partnership with the Kenyan Government. It is one of the largest water treatment programmes realised without public-sector funding, and the first ever to be supported by carbon financing.

By using LifeStraw filters, families no longer need to purify their water through boiling, which means less firewood is burned as fuel. Vestergaard Frandsen claims carbon credits for the greenhouse gas emissions saved, which can then be sold and the revenue used to cover programme costs.

Crucially, carbon credits can only be obtained once it is shown that the filters are being regularly used. The certification methodology was designed by the Oxford-based organisation ClimateCare, and ensures that the programme delivers real and long-lasting sustainable development benefits. This results-driven system incentivises important investments in health education and robust monitoring systems.

The programme was chosen by the United Nations Climate Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as one of their landmark ‘lighthouse activities’ which help developing countries to curb their greenhouse gas emissions or adapt to climate change. It will be showcased at the COP18 Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, at the end of November.

It is expected that the use of LifeStraw, alongside the provision of health and hygiene education, will significantly reduce the risk of contamination and illness. Dr John Haskew, an Academic Clinic Fellow at Oxford University’s Department for Public Health, is leading the health impact evaluation, which makes use of cutting-edge mobile phone technology and electronic medical records.

The health impact studies focus on populations most vulnerable to water-borne diseases. The Oxford-led team is evaluating the impact of the programme on diarrhoea and dehydration among children under five years old. They will also establish whether the use of LifeStraw can reduce rates of diarrhoea and infection among people with HIV, and even delay the development of the HIV disease itself.

Watch a video about the LifeStraw Carbon for Water programme

A new owner of a LifeStraw Family water filter in Western Province, Kenya. Photo: Vestergaard Frandsen

Mobile money and water services in East Africa

The unprecedented growth in Africa’s mobile communications sector offers new opportunities to address the continent’s persistent water service challenges, claims a new article published in Water International, a collaboration between past and current students at the School of Geography and the Environment.

The article is co-authored by two current DPhil students, Tim Foster and Aaron Krolikowski, a current student of the MSc Water Science, Policy and Management, Cliff Nyaga, and a former MSc student, Ilana Cohen. The research stems from Oxford University’s thriving mobile/water for development (mw4d) initiative.

The concept of mobile money is simple – money can be transferred between electronic accounts and the payment system can be easily accessed using a standard mobile phone.

A number of water service providers in Africa have started offering their customers mobile money as a payment option. This alluring marriage between water services and mobile technology offers many potential benefits.

For customers, mobile money provides an easy, fast and convenient payment method, particularly for the millions of people without a bank account or a branch nearby. For water utilities, the direct electronic transfer of money should reduce transaction costs and improve their revenue collection; savings which could then be channelled into extending coverage and improving the quality of services.

This could go some way towards addressing the considerable challenges faced by Africa’s water service sector. Service providers are commonly caught in a downward spiral of deteriorating finances, infrastructure, and operational performance. In urban areas, the expansion of service coverage is failing to keep apace with population growth, meaning that the number of urban Africans without access to a safe water supply is actually increasing.

However, there is very little evidence to determine whether the alleged benefits of mobile water payments are being seen. The new research by Oxford University investigates the impacts of mobile water payments in East Africa and explores customer behaviour and barriers to uptake.

The study shows that uptake of mobile water payments is surprisingly low.  In Dar es Salaam, a free mobile payment option has failed to attract more than 1% of customers. There are a number of reasons for its limited success, including low customer awareness, lack of utility receipts for proof of payment, and high transaction tariffs charged by mobile network operators then passed on to customers.

However, one success story shines. In the community of Kiamumbi in Kenya, a remarkable 80% of customers opt to pay their water bills with mobile money. The research confirms that these customers make considerable savings of time and money, and are also more likely to pay their bills on time.

Fortunately, the common barriers to wider uptake of mobile water payments can be tackled by the water service providers themselves. Once behavioural and operational constraints are overcome, the real test will be whether the savings made through the use of this payment tool are translated into improved access to and sustainability of water services.

Reference

Foster, T., Hope, R., Thomas, M., Cohen, I., Krolikowski, A. and Nyaga, C. (2012) Impacts and implications of mobile water payments in East Africa. Water International. DOI:10.1080/02508060.2012.738409

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.

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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.

 

 

Australian water practitioners visit Oxford to learn from innovations in the UK water industry

Gareth Walker, University of Oxford

On Thursday 10 May, a delegation of 18 Australian water management specialists from industry, local government, and engineering consultancies visited Oxford University as part of a Water Sensitive Studies Tour. Speakers from Oxford University and the UK research and technology sector briefed the delegation on trends in policy, research and technology in the UK water industry.

Dr Dustin Garrick presented Oxford University’s Water Security Network which was launched to establish Oxford as a global centre of water science excellence and innovation. The network’s research themes reflect Oxford’s areas of strength and capacity, with relevance to multiple aspects of urban water management. The network fosters links with external partners across the world. “We are actively building partnerships with Australian researchers, policymakers and practitioners in the areas of climate risk and resilience to promote water security,” said Garrick.

Ian Bernard (British Water) and Gareth Walker (DPhil candidate, Oxford University) highlighted the water scarcity challenges faced by the UK Water Industry, along with current policy and regulatory responses.

The drive for innovation and new technology uptake in the UK water sector was discussed by Steven Lambert (Technology Strategy Board), Derek Pedley and Kerry Thomas (both from Oxford’s Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network). Current government initiatives are targeted to overcome the institutional and economic barriers to innovation, while the ESKTN supports coordinated research and knowledge sharing across diverse public and private sector actors.

Discussions included the potential transferability of lessons learnt between the Australia and UK, with a particular focus on utility responses to water scarcity, the impact of regulatory frameworks, and behavioural change in relation to demand management.

The delegates shared several insights about long-term planning under non-stationary conditions. The UK’s experience of a collapse in demand during the economic recession in the 1970s was contrasted with the recent and sudden abatement of drought conditions in regions of Australia. A theme emerged; in the case of investments in projects such as reservoirs and desalination plants, planning horizons can span several decades, yet our ability to forecast climatic conditions and demand trajectories at this time scale are highly uncertain.

How can the political and economic risk of over or under investment be mitigated given these uncertainties?  Innovations in technologies and institutional design were acknowledged to provide potentially more adaptive modes of management. However, the barriers of political will and cultural change remain significant and poorly understood.