Over 60,000 rural Kenyans have benefited from 'smart' hand pumps using mobile phone technology and remote monitoring, combined with a community-based payment model and local maintenance, to ensure secure water supplies.


Video: University of Oxford

Impacts

  • Over 300 smart hand pumps are operating in Kenya across three counties, providing data that dramatically improve water supply reliability for over 60,000 rural people.
  • Only three per cent of smart hand pumps are estimated to be out of action at any one time, compared with up to a third of non-monitored pumps across Africa.
  • The smart hand pumps enable a 72-hour guaranteed repair service or refunds are made, but most are repaired within 48 hours – compared to over a month previously.
  • The smart hand pumps have significantly reduced the time spent collecting water, especially for women and girls in the dry season.
  • Rwanda is testing a similar approach with a view to developing institutional and financial models similar to those in Kenya.
  • With the backing of UNICEF, Bangladesh is planning installations in 2016, with Ethiopia and Zimbabwe also expressing an interest.
Preparing a smart hand pump for use (Photo: Rob Hope)
Preparing a smart hand pump for use (Photo: Rob Hope)

About the research

Up to 200 million people in rural communities in Africa depend on hand pumps for water, but estimates suggest up to a third are not in use due to faults. Although faults may be easily fixed, repairs are often delayed for weeks – and in the meantime less safe water sources are used.

Jointly funded by ESRC and the Department for International Development, University of Oxford researchers led by Dr Rob Hope developed a mobile-enabled transmitter that can be fitted to a hand pump. The transmitter sends pump usage data to a central server, providing an immediate alert in case of pump breakdown.

The researchers' aim was to rethink community water management by providing reliable and regular access to water services. In return for a sustained and reliable water supply provided by a local maintenance company, communities are willing to pay a monthly maintenance fee. A financial model was devised for community pre-payment covering regular maintenance and repair of the water pumps.

Reliable and objective monitoring metrics mean infrastructure investments can be tracked against performance over time: Pump usage data reveals high or low demand and how a pump is used in the dry or wet seasons, providing insights into user behaviours and the value for money of investments.

Initial proof-of-concept trials of the system were conducted on hand pumps in Lusaka, Zambia, in July 2011. In 2013, a more extensive trial of the transmitters was carried out in North Mwingi sub-county of Kenya, an area with one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. The service was provided free-of-charge while it was established that maintenance would be carried out and a fast repair service was feasible.

Current work on the project is investigating new financial models based on performance metrics, blending user payments with government and donor financing in a more co-ordinated and efficient system, and on a much larger scale.