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.