In recognition of World Water Day, Internet of Business looks at how IoT technologies can help to bring clean water to people in Africa.
According to figures from The Water Project, a non-profit organization bringing clean water to communities across the world, 783 million people – or one in nine of the global population – do not have access to safe and clean drinking water.
To tackle this crisis, many water systems have been installed worldwide, and that work continues, but 65 percent are said to break within the first two years of use as there is no sustainable method of maintaining them.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) advisers recognize that the traditional model relies too heavily on unreliable water committees to collect user fees and carry out maintenance.
Consequently, solar pumps and filtration systems can be left broken for years, particularly in war-torn regions from which development workers have been forced withdraw. Equipment is left unused and can creates tensions within these communities.
World Water Day, as today is designated by the United Nations, is about taking action to tackle this water crisis.
eWATER and IoT for good
eWATER, a company that uses mobile technology for sustainable water maintenance, has found that IoT can have a major impact on the provision of clean water in countries that desperately need it.
eWATER has developed a system that allows users to pay for water at the point of use, and ensure that maintenance is provided long after installation.
Combining mobile money, IoT and Near Field Communication (NFC) technologies, eWATER claims to manage the provision of clean, low-cost water, which is accessible 24/7.
In the system, which is currently being used in Gambia, Africa, an eWATERtap is connected to a global network via an IoT node. To access the tap, users must purchase eWATERcredit from an eWATERseller.
Anyone with a smartphone can be an eWATERseller, but typically the job falls to local shopkeepers, who purchase large blocks of water credit through the app.
All the local villagers then have to do is purchase an eWATERtag powered by NFC, through which they can buy credit by tapping their tag against an eWATERseller’s smartphone. This can be as little as 10 pence, depending on that person’s need.
If they do own a smartphone, credit can be bought by anyone using the app, which ensures that anyone can be an eWATERseller and presumably also acts as a useful backup if the main eWATERseller’s technology fails.
To access the tap, villagers use their NFC tag to touch and pay at the tap, which deducts and records the amount of water used, and they have access to clean, safe drinking water.
Currently, 76 percent of Africans are said to own a mobile phone, but “The amount that people pay for a mobile phone in Africa would cover 10 years worth of drinking water purchased through eWATER, ” according to eWATER’s CEO Alison Wedgwood.
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Maintaining the maintenance
To ensure that maintenance on these taps continues after installation, eWATER trains local engineers to maintain the system and upgrade communal taps.
The upgrade includes replacing handpumps or leaky unreliable outlets with a smartcard reader, communications hub and solar powered electronic valve.
Central to this, and where the IoT comes in, is the connection to eWATERcare.
The cloud-based eWATERcare application receives information on functionality, flow rates and sales in real time, allowing unusual behavior to be highlighted and quickly passed to the local maintenance engineer. The engineer can then quickly visit the affected tap to ensure repairs are carried out within 12 hours of a server alert.
The engineer uses the app on their device to check what jobs are required. They can see details of how to do the jobs and also make notes to send back to the cloud server. Once the system is repaired, they mark the job as done, and the water system will confirm it is working.
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Connectivity of these taps comes through a network connectivity company called Eseye. Eseye provides what it calls AnyNet and AnyNet Secure Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs).
These SIMs provide zero-touch, highly secure, remote device provisioning with the ability to roam across more than 440 worldwide mobile networks.
Using this technology, water flows, that had only been visible after site visits through collected historic data, can now be viewed in real time, and water flow information can be updated as a customer is still filling their water tank.
100 percent of transaction data can also now be collated, which is crucial in the visibility of cash flow and ensures payment can be made to maintenance companies to repair the taps.
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Clean, safe water for thousands
eWATER says that installation of this system means 13,000 people currently have access to clean water 24/7 by ensuring maintenance companies receive up to date information on the state of the taps, so that they can repair them promptly. This is forecast to increase by up to 10 million people over the next five years through the instillation of 100,000 more taps. Water wastage has also decreased by roughly 99 percent.
“We pride ourselves on ensuring we never lose a single revenue transaction. By collecting 100 percent of water revenue means we help local communities keep their water resources maintained forever. Eseye and its global IoT network ensures eWATER always sends and receives data when we need it, and at a cost effective price,” Rob Hygate, eWATER.
“Eseye’s partnership with eWATER demonstrates again how IoT, when harnessed to highly innovative projects, is a power for good. In this instance, cellular security and data features enable the essential service and also, crucially, open investment routes that lead to more, new and better opportunities for health and wellbeing. eWATER’s exceptional work impacts on the most remote and disadvantaged communities. We are thrilled to see IoT changing lives and once again astonished at the power of the product,” Paul Marshall, Eseye.