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Smart hand pumps take water to Kenya

Oxford University researchers will soon start a pilot project in Kenya, in which low-cost data transmitters will help people in rural areas ensure regular access to clean drinking water.

The researchers report that hand pumps provide the main source of drinking water for rural communities in many areas of 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.

In August, the 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.”

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.

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