Another job for Africa's mobile phones: Fixing water pumps

Another job for Africa's mobile phones: Fixing water pumps

With new data transmitters, African hand pumps can keep the water flowing. photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/worldbank/2944066423/sizes/o/in/photostream/">World Bank Photo Collection (Flickr)</a>
With new data transmitters, African hand pumps can keep the water flowing. photo: World Bank Photo Collection (Flickr)

First money, then medicine, now water: What problems can’t the mobile phone solve?

Out of the hundreds of millions of hand water pumps used across Africa, about one-third are broken at any given time. This downtime can last upwards of a month, reducing village productivity and increasing reliance on dirtier water. A new data transmitter looks to change all that.

The device will allow a broken hand pump to communicate, via existing cellular networks, with a central office that can then dispatch a mechanic to fix it, ideally within 24 hours. "Eighty percent of breakdowns are small, involving rubber rings and seals, and a mechanic would be able to fix them on the spot," Rob Hope, researcher on the Oxford University team that developed the device, told the BBC.

Equally impressive are future uses for the device. As the team collects data, they may be able to predict pump failure, monitor water usage across the African continent, reducing pump repair costs.

There are still several hurdles to clear. Trials, funded by the UK’s Department of International Development, taking place in Kenya and Zambia will seek long-term solutions for power supply, theft, and vandalism.

Whether it’s transferring funds to Afghani farmers, allowing doctors to diagnose patients in remote locales, or delivering potable water across a continent, mobile phones continue to astound and have profound benefits across all sectors of development.

RELATED: Medic Mobile is Turning Cell Phones into Lifelines

RELATED: Can Mobile Phones End Extreme Poverty? Jeffrey Sachs Thinks So (video)

Curated news and insights about innovative, market-driven solutions to poverty explored through news, commentary and discussion.

Learn more »

Global Envision newsletter