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Balancing social and environmental capital for sustainable development in Africa

If you weren’t able to make this 16 Sept event in person, you can catch up on the podcasts as 3 African Oxford Initiative Visiting Fellows discuss water and sustainable development.

Listen here.

 

Crowdfunding Opportunity for Smart Handpumps

Crowdfunding has come to Oxford University. OxReach provides a crowdfunding platform to help researchers raise funds for specific ventures selected by the University’s OxReach team. One of those selected ventures is the Smart Handpumps project.

These handpumps collect and send data to FundiFix, a local maintenance company, to enable faster repairs, giving rural communities more reliable water services. The goal with this funding is to develop a new database that will allow the project o scale up from a research project, that started in Kenya in 2011 with support from DFID, ESRC and NERC, into an operational phase and reach more people. 

Starting on 3 June 2019, this link will go live on the OxReach site. Any donated funds will be matched by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund making this is a great opportunity to help this work move from research into action. Please share this with your networks (or support it yourself). The crowdfunding campaign will close on 30th June, so please don’t delay.

 

Can the Poor Pay for Drinking Water?

Rob Hope discusses whether or not there is the funding to reach SDG 6. ‘With over two billion people without safely-managed water and 663 million without basic water the costs to meet the target by 2030 runs to US$114 billion per year.’

Read more here.

 

Smart handpump impacts recognised by UK research council

The UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recent Impact Report highlights the role of Oxford’s innovative smart water pump research in helping secure rural water supply in Kenya.

The UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recently highlighted the significant contribution of Oxford University’s research to securing African rural water supply in their annual Impact Report. Oxford’s innovative smart water pump research is included among a selection of case studies demonstrating the societal and economic impact of the ESRC’s research funding. This not the first time Oxford’s smart handpump research has received recognition: last year Patrick Thomson’s poster, documenting the work, received the award for “Best Poster Presentation” at World Water Week.

The development of smart handpumps has dramatically reduced response times for those tasked with locating and repairing broken pumps in rural Kenya. It is estimated that as many as one in three pumps are out of service at any given time, with it often taking more a month or more to repair faults. The research uses mobile-enabled transmitters which automatically send SMS text messages to monitor pump performance. This enables a local maintenance company, FundiFix Ltd., to repair pumps within a couple of days. Information flows are informing institutional change in terms of sector coordination and sustainable finance with partners including local government, UNICEF and the private sector. Kenya’s Water Services Regulatory Board has also acknowledged the innovative nature of the approach in its national reporting.

The smart handpump research, is among a number of examples of Oxford’s groundbreaking work on rural water security being showcased by researchers his month at the ESRC-DFID’s Impact Initiative’s Pretoria conference, Lessons from a Decade’s Research on Poverty: Innovation, Engagement and Impact. Further information on the Impact Case Study and the Impact Initiative can be found below:

Updates of our researchers work in Africa can be found on their respective project websites. Below is a selection of recent posts outlining some of the many ways Oxford University’s water research is making an impact:

Gro for GooD

Dr Rob Hope outlines the importance of groundwater for the development of Kenya’s Kwale County as part of the Gro for GooD project (Groundwater Risk Management for Growth and Development).

REACH

Following the successful Water Security 2015 conference in December, REACH researchers have had a busy start to the year travelling to Kenya, Ethiopia and Bangladesh to develop research workplans with country partners. Here is a selection of recent items from the REACH website:

         In an article for Kenya’s Daily Nation, Dr Nic Cheeseman and Johanna Koehler draw from REACH’s recent Kenyan Country Diagnostic Report, identifying the drivers of water insecurity. Read more…

         Johanna Koehler and Susie Goodall, report on a recent workshop, run by Kitui County Government and UNICEF Kenya, for the County’s water staff to help develop sustainable water services. Read more…

Materials relating to the Water Security 2015 conference “Improving water security for the poor” are now available online:

       •       News article on the conference ‘Water Security: less talk, more action’

       •       Video and audio of the conference sessions

       •       REACH Country Diagnostic Reports – Kenya, Ethiopia, Bangladesh

       •       Social media summary of the conference on Storify

       •       Conference photos on Flickr

       •       “Securing Water, Sustaining Growth”  GWP/OECD Task Force report 

New groundwater monitoring tool wins prize at World Water Week

Topping off a successful week at Stockholm World Water Week 2015, Patrick Thomson and colleagues from the Department of Engineering Science won the prize for the best poster, which presented an innovative new approach to measuring shallow groundwater level using community handpumps.

handpump-africa

Using data generated by a low-cost accelerometer fitted to community handpumps, the team has used machine learning methods to measure the groundwater level beneath pumps.

While currently at the proof-of-concept stage, the implications of this work are far-reaching. At scale, the tool could transform the thousands of handpumps across Africa into a large-scale, distributed network for monitoring groundwater supplies, in a continent where there is very little data.

The need for information on the state of groundwater is becoming ever more important in the face of climate change, as groundwater resources may help buffer against changes in rainfall and surface water flows.

The research project is a collaboration between the Smith School of Environment and Enterprise and the Computational Health Informatics Lab in the Department of Engineering Science.

See the electronic poster

Read the briefing note Distributed Monitoring of Shallow Aquifer Level using Community Handpumps

Sustainable finance for universal rural water services

Achieving the global goal of universal water services in rural Africa requires new and sustainable financial models. Oxford University and partners convened a special session at World Water Week 2015 in Stockholm, to present new evidence and debate emerging approaches being tested across rural Africa.

rob

Operation and maintenance costs for waterpoints in rural Africa are estimated at around USD 1 billion per year, according to new cross-country evidence (Foster). Mobile money platforms provide a promising but largely untested approach to improve rural water cost recovery (Nique). Public and private sector initiatives in rural Rwanda and Kenya illustrate emerging impacts and wider implications for Africa (Sano, Mikkelsen, Hope) with UNICEF supporting many initiatives across the region.

The session on 25 August saw Oxford University collaborating with partners from UNICEF (East and Southern Africa Regional Office), the Government of Kenya Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB), Rwanda’s national Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC), Grundfos and GSMA (mobile industry).

The following conclusions were drawn:

  1. Water service regulation and financial support in Africa largely focusses on urban piped services with insufficient attention and support to promoting sustainable models in rural areas.
  2. The legacy of uncoordinated investments in rural areas has wasted significant resources with competing infrastructure cannabilising sources.
  3. The non-functionality rate of millions of rural handpumps is twice as high without revenue collection.
  4. Communities struggle with low probability, high cost repair costs often leading to use of more distant, dirty and often expensive water sources.
  5. There are affordability concerns for vulnerable groups. Interventions must leave no one behind through a universal service delivery approach.

Next steps identified include:

  1. Institutional investments to promote coordination and regulation of existing and future infrastructure assets and financial models.
  2. Information systems that provide timely and reliable operational and financial data to inform more robust institutional design and performance.
  3. Understand the potential of private sector engagement in testing new models at scale in partnership with government and civil society.
  4. Generate evidence of novel financial instruments that optimise rural water sustainability blending user payments (tariffs), donor contributions (transfers) and government (taxes).

 

Presentations

Why financial sustainability matters – evidence from Africa
Tim Foster, Oxford University
presentation slides

Mobile water payment systems
Michael Nique, GSMA
presentation slides

Financial sustainability of rural water wupply
James Sano, Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC), Rwanda
presentation slides

Public private partnerships for sustainable rural water supply
Rasoul Mikkelsen, Grundfos Ltd.
presentation slides

Financial sustainability for universal rural water services
Rob Hope, Oxford University
presentation slides

Understanding financial flows for rural water services in Africa

Financial sustainability is a necessary but often forgotten condition to advance global goals of universal, reliable, safe and affordable water services. Oxford University researchers are designing and testing new financial models to find out what works for the rural poor in Kenya.

IMG_5377

In rural Africa people are four times more likely to get their water from an unsafe source than those living in urban areas. Around one in three handpumps are broken at any one time.

The Water Programme at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment is trialling novel financial models to improve rural water sustainability and results from ongoing research in Kenya are published in two new Working Papers.

The unpredictable timing and magnitude of costs associated with operation and maintenance is a chronic problem for communities. The first study assesses the case for handpump insurance to reduce financial risks, and is supported by a grant from the UK Department for International Development and the Economic and Social Research Council.

While it seems unlikely that a standalone insurance product would offer a viable business model, the concept of pooling finances and spreading risk across multiple communities could help them pay for services that last.

The second study supported by UNICEF, builds on the teams earlier work and tests a model where water users pre-pay for a professional maintenance service that uses mobile-enabled data on handpump use. The report argues that improved institutional coordination and investment, and improved monitoring systems are necessary conditions for achieving universal rural water services.

The two papers will be launched at World Water Week 2015 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Read the reports

Insuring Against Rural Water Risk – Evidence from Kwale, Kenya
Financial Sustainability for Universal Rural Water Services – Evidence from Kyuso, Kenya

RCUK highlights Oxford’s ‘innovative’ smart handpumps project

The Research Councils UK is showcasing an Oxford University project which uses mobile phone technology to transmit data on handpump use in rural Kenya.

RCUK-handpump-story

Research trip to Kyuso, Kenya. L to R: Handpump mechanic in Kenya; Patrick Thomson, Oxford; Dr Rob Hope, Oxford; and Dr Peter Harvey, UNICEF.

The ‘Smart Handpumps’ project is led by Dr Rob Hope, an Associate Professor at the School of Geography and the Environment and Director of the Water Programme at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. It is one of 13 projects funded by the seven Research Councils highlighted as ground-breaking and innovative research at the RCUK’s first ‘Research, Innovate, Grow’ conference, attended by business leaders, entrepreneurs, and policymakers.

The project, part funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, harnesses mobile phone technology to enable smart handpumps to send automated data on when and how much they are used. This flags up when they are broken so they can be fixed quickly, significantly improving waiting times for maintenance services. In rural Africa, one million handpumps supply water to over 200 million villagers. Yet up to one third of pumps are out of action at any one time.

Researchers work in two test sites in rural Kenya, Kyuso and Kwale, to resolve the problem of broken pumps and provide reliable water. From a delay of a month, the pumps at the sites are now fixed in under two days. Previously many households were paying nothing toward the service, but after a free trial many villagers are willing to pay for the new maintenance service based on past performance.

The smart pump data also show how much water the pump is using and its reliability. It is therefore possible to charge communities that use their pump less at a lower rate than those who use the pump more frequently. Equally, the first ever hourly data on observed handpump water use provides important insights into water demand and seasonal variation. For example, in both sites the researchers have evidence to show that when it rains people switch to alternative water sources which may be less safe.

Professor Rick Rylance, Chair of RCUK, said: ‘We are delighted to be holding such an exciting and engaging event to show how the UK is a world leader in research and innovation, with a reputation for excellence of which we are immensely proud. We truly punch above our weight on the global stage in terms of the quality of research we produce and its high impact on economic growth and prosperity. Strong, sustained investment in the UK research base is essential to strengthen and let fly the excellence, creativity and impact of the UK’s world leading researchers, innovators and businesses. We need to invest now to secure its future.’

The Government of Kenya has identified the translation of the research into a business model as an important contribution to their efforts to find new and sustainable ways to maintain water services. Local businesses set up by the project now gather data that monitors the performance of the agencies delivering water services in a measurable and accountable manner.

The work is expanding in Kenya, with other countries in Africa and Asia interested in adopting the model based on the evidence the project has provided on innovative engineering solutions and institutional design, including mobile water payment systems.

Research from the project has recently been published as an open access article in the journal World Development.

Koehler, J., Thomson, P. and Hope, R. (2015) Pump-priming payments for sustainable water services in rural Africa. World Development, 74: 397-411.

Read the Oxford University press release

The RCUK Research Innovate Grow event

Eleven projects featured in the RCUK event

Dr Rob Hope

Smart Water Systems research

Britain leads global water initiative

In May 2015, Professor Paul Whitehead gave a keynote talk at the launch of Britain’s first national water benchmarking scheme. The event took place at world-renowned Pinewood Studios, giving it “00” status!

paul-whitehead

AquaMark is a multi-million pound grant scheme managed by consultants ADSM and is free to join for all UK participating organisations. The national project will fund a range of services so that sophisticated benchmarks can be derived for over 500 different building classifications, allowing commercial users to reduce water usage by an average of 30%. The project is the first of its kind and is set to put Britain at the forefront of global water benchmarking.

Paul Whitehead, Professor of Water Science at the School of Geography and the Environment, delivered a keynote on ‘Security of water supply: managing for the future and minimising risk’. He explained the implications of climate change for water resources in the UK, and introduced modelling tools for predicting future water shortages and environmental risks.

Oxford University research is helping identify and address water security risks, both in the UK and globally. Professor Whitehead highlighted the MaRIUS project on drought and water scarcity in the UK, the Macronutrients Cycles Programme, and the ESPA Deltas project which explores the impact of future climate change and socio-economic change in the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in India and Bangladesh.

Patrick McCart, ADSM Founder and Director, commented: ‘Right now there exists a real opportunity for UK organisations, both large and small, to participate in this ground-breaking research project. Britain is set to become the global advisor on sustainable water supplies for commercial users. The recent events experienced in California and São Paulo, have highlighted how essential it is that businesses and organisations are supported with all the necessary tools to combat water scarcity.’

The launch took place in Pinewood studios and was supported by over 100 blue chip and public sector organisations.

The project has received backing from the water industry, regulators OFWAT, The Environment Agency, and leading research experts BRE, BSRIA and the University of Oxford.

For further information about joining the scheme, please visit www.adsm.com/AquaMark

See Paul Whitehead’s presentation ‘Security of water supply: managing for the future and minimising risk’

Oxford University and UK Government to lead research to improve global water supply

A global research project led by the University of Oxford and backed by the British Government will help millions of people in Africa and South Asia to have reliable access to water.

Photo credit: Rob Hope

Researcher sampling water quality at a water pump in Kenya

Announced by International Development Minister Baroness Northover, the seven year research project will receive a £15 million grant from the Department for International Development.

A changing and variable climate, increasing demand for water, crumbling infrastructure, unaffordable bills and water contamination have caused a chronic lack of safe, reliable and clean water in the developing world.

Baroness Northover said: ‘Access to water is a defining challenge for the 21st century. The UK has already helped 43 million people to access clean water, but there is far more to be done. Research into how water resources can be better managed will help millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

‘Oxford University’s expertise will ensure we can generate new ways to give up to 5 million more people secure water resources in some of the world’s poorest countries.’

The programme’s initial focus will be on fragile states which face great water security risks. Some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people live in fragile states, rural hinterlands, floodplains and rapidly growing urban slums where they have very low resilience to water shortages and the least capacity to cope.

The announcement comes ahead of World Water Day on 22 March 2015 and the release of the 2015 United Nations World Water Development Report, which calls for urgent action in managing the earth’s water resources.

The researchers aim to create a risk-based framework for policy-makers, assessing risk at global, national and individual household scales. Researchers will generate data on climate, hydrology, health, poverty and demographic trends to provide an overarching context for governments and international organisations to inform future decision-making to improve water security. Ensuring the research translates into real influence and change leading to improvements for the poorest will be a priority for the programme.

The University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, said: ‘This research programme is an outstanding example of how the University of Oxford can contribute to the international effort to improve water security globally. Our researchers work to provide innovative solutions to the pressing challenges of climate change, population growth and sustainable development. They are helping to ensure that more people living in poverty can rely on safe water supplies and working to minimise the impact of droughts and floods on lives and livelihoods.’

The Programme Director Dr Rob Hope, from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment in the School of Geography and the Environment, said: ‘Living in poverty has long been synonymous with the struggle for water security. This programme establishes a global science-practitioner partnership to design, test and replicate more effective policy, methods and technologies to improve water security and reduce poverty.’

The global science-practitioner partnership will work with UNICEF global, regional and country programmes to provide the capacity and expertise in delivering water security for children and communities in the greatest need.

Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF’s Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene said: ‘Water security will be one of the major challenges in making sure that the poorest and most vulnerable children gain access to drinking water and sanitation. We are excited to be partnering with the University of Oxford to help countries access the best possible evidence for making decisions that will improve the lives of millions of people.’

Media coverage