It came as no surprise to read about a survey showing that a large section of India’s population, over 80 percent, are mobile-armed! Those familiar with the landscape will know that sanitation may take a rap, but not mobile phone coverage. Ironical as that seems, the same technology can be used effectively for more than idle chat.
A team from the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, proposes installing in Kenya handpumps containing devices that automatically send text messages to local water engineers whenever pumps break down or dry up. The device is fitted into handpump handles, and automatically monitors the number of strokes made when a pump is operated.
This data, which provides estimates of daily and seasonal demand, including critical under- or over-usage information, is then transmitted to a central hub — thus informing engineers, cheaply and regularly, of the need for repairs, and helping to ensure a constant flow of water.
A prototype transmitter was successfully tried in Zambia in 2011.
The project comes as a response to the widespread failure of hand pumps [largely because of wear and tear, and mechanical faults] and associated health and economic failure impacts on the 276 million Africans who do not have improved water services.It is estimated that at any one time, one third of handpumps in rural Africa are not working. Unimproved water access is associated with 1.5 million unnecessary deaths of children under five!
The initiative would particularly benefit arid and semi-arid areas, which require a constant water supply.
For the project to be effective, it needed to work closely with mobile communication providers to ensure good signal coverage. Technology-enabled empowerment at its best.