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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

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

Nick Hankins appointed editor-in-chief of new Elsevier water journal

Dr Nick Hankins of the Department of Engineering Science has been appointed as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Water Process Engineering.

The Journal of Water Process Engineering is a new journal which will publish refereed, high-quality research papers with significant novelty and impact in all areas of the engineering of water and wastewater processing. The journal will particularly focus on contributions involving environmentally, economically and socially sustainable technology for water treatment.

The first issue of the Journal of Water Process Engineering, comprising of invited papers, will be published towards the end of March 2014. Dr Hankins will co-edit the journal with  Professor Abdul Wahab Mohammed  of the Universiti Kebangsaan, Malaysia.

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

Ian Thompson wins grant to develop new hybrid technology to combat water pollution

Prof. Ian Thompson, Department of Engineering Science, has been awarded funds from the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to develop a hybrid technology for treating recalcitrant water contaminants using electron beams.

The project is one of seven aimed at solving environmental challenges that have been awarded a total of £1.5M under the Challenge Led Applied Systems Programme (CLASP). The projects plan to produce tangible results in a 3-5 year period and bring STFC researchers together with other academic disciplines and industry through new collaborations to solve real environmental challenges.

See the full list of successful projects

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/

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

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.