Cell Phones and Water: An Unlikely Combination

June 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: in rural Africa, cell phones are directly helping locals gain access to clean, fresh water.

Already astounding (and depressing) enough is the well-known figure that says more people in Africa have access to mobile networks than to clean drinking water. As the Journal of Hydroinformatics reported (and the BBC as well), researchers at the University of Oxford are aiming to use this fact to their advantage in order to provide locals with cleaner water.

Water pumps in Africa: while the local citizens rely on these pumps for clean water, it is estimated that as many as a third of them are not working at any given time.

Millions of Africans across the continent rely on hand pumps for their water supply, and according to the report published by Patrick Thomson, Rob Hope and Tim Foster, an estimated one third of those pumps don’t function properly. Help is usually slow to come in such rural areas–it can easily take more than a month for repairs to occur–and in the meantime, people must deal with their lack of clean water.

But now, a team from University of Oxford has developed a monitoring technology that is carefully calibrated to send out text messages when something goes wrong with the pumps. Using the mobile networks available in Africa (easier to access, as we said earlier, than water itself), maintenance arrives much sooner to the site, helping improve the quality of life and health of the community.

The team is still trying to find the best way to run these devices; they are battery operated for now, although they would like, eventually, to have them running on renewable resources, such as solar power. In the meantime, however, the implementation of these devices in 70 villages across Kenya is making a big impact on local life.

While I find it immensely depressing that water is harder to provide for these people than access to mobile networks, the benefits of pairing the two resources to strengthen the health of the community are ultimately worth admiring and appreciating.

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