'Smart' handpumps warn of water shortages

From Global development | The Guardian Tue Jan 1 2013, 04:00:03

Researchers in Kenya are testing a new device that transmits data on handpumps in areas with scarce water supply

Installing handpumps in far-flung villages has long been a favourite activity of aid agencies and development NGOs. But the pumps rarely last forever: at any given time, only two of every three handpumps in rural areas are actually working, and aid workers don't often go back to check up on the status of the pumps installed several years before.

That's precisely the problem a team of researchers at Oxford University are trying to tackle. They have created a device that uses mobile phone technology to generate - and transmit - data on handpump use in rural Kenya. They hope their approach will ultimately help to improve water access in drought-stricken areas.

This year, the UN said new data showed the millennium development goal (MDG) target to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water had been met in 2010, five years before the deadline. Even so, an estimated 780 million people - more than a 10th of the global population - live without basic and reliable water supplies; the overwhelming majority, roughly 80%, live in rural areas.

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