Posts

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

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

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.

Story starts at 6 minutes 36 seconds

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.