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How IoT is helping developing countries

People in developing countries have the biggest access restrictions to drinking water. New technology solutions such as IoT are a powerful weapon to fight this huge barrier.

On March 22nd we celebrated the World Water Day. Water is probably the most valuable asset of the world, more so if we take into account the WHO predictions that, by 2025, at least half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs391/en/). We don’t have to think of the future only, as of today, about a billion people do not have access to reliable sources of drinking water, while at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source which is contaminated with feces

As expected, developing nations are the ones most exposed to these water challenges as they lack the necessary basic infrastructures or efficient water management systems.

The shortage of clean and safe water supply on a daily basis increases the spread of malnutrition, and severely affects food safety and the population’s health in general. A striking example is that of Sub Saharan Africa which has a better access to GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) than to a reliable and safe drinking water supply, let alone electricity. (Sustainable Energy & Water Access through M2M Connectivity, by Michael Nique and Firas Arab, GSMA)

Technology, and in particular the Internet Of Things, should not be just restricted to the first world’s challenges (they are having a big impact in sectors such as industry, logistics, or even wine production and art). It is meant to be a powerful tool to fight back this shortage challenge, and at the same time, help us save the environment. In fact, the most recurrent use of IoT technologies to date in developing countries is to address clean water distribution challenges and improve sanitary conditions.

In Bangladesh, they are using a network of 48 arsenic sensors to monitor the quality of clean water and the water pollution prevention. Similarly, in the JiangSu province of China, they are monitoring water supply quality using a diverse range of IoT sensors located in key points of the distribution network. Piramal Sarvajal, an Indian Social Enterprise focused on improving the access to clean water to impoverished areas in India, has developed and implemented a clever low cost reverse osmosis system that, coupled with smart controllers, allows the efficient distribution of clean water to rural areas in India, monitoring and guaranteeing the quality and quantity of water supplied at every moment.

In Africa, circa 200 million people use 1 million manual pumps distributed across the continent to manually Access their daily drinking water needs. The estimations say that at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The challenges and potential problems that a pump breakdown might cause to the rural population are obvious.

To address this situation, Oxford University started a proof of concept project in 2013 in the Kenyan Region of Kyuso. The project used motion sensors (accelerometers) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle. Through the use of a wireless transmisor, they sent all the captured data to the University servers.

As soon as the data was available and analyzed by Oxford’s university researchers, they realised that not only were they able to know when a pump was working or not, but also they had access to data such as water flow per hour of the day, pump performance, peaks and valleys of water demand, etc. Using the information at hand, they developed a decision support system based on real data that can be used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and dramatically shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking wáter for the rural population.

Data shows that this project has reduced the downtime of water pumps by a factor of ten, and the percentage of “working” pumps has improved from 68% to 98%, thanks to the use of these basic IoT techniques.

Similarly, in Ruanda, the Sweetsense company uses sensors to monitor water pumps. In this case, the device identifies which pumps are in a malfunction state and alert the maintenance service through SMS and email to alert them. So far the Sweetsense devices have been deployed in several Development and Cooperation Initiatives across the world, such as monitoring cooking stoves in India, monitoring latrines in Bangladesh, water filtering in Indonesia, etc.

Talking about Indonesia, where they implemented a program that, using water flow sensors and motion sensors, they were able to assess the effectiveness of “personal hygiene training” delivered to the rural population. They specifically monitor how people wash their hands after using latrines, comparing the data gathered on the field surveys to take corrective actions in case of discrepancies.

All over China, India, and Africa, we can see people using connected small weather stations that control irrigation pumps according to the current weather, saving important amounts of water.

As we have seen, IoT is not only helping people in developing countries to access clean drinking water but these technologies are also crucial to the improvement of the efficiency of current sanitary programs, as well as fostering the adoption of the concepts of Water Economy as a key driver for sustainable growth. Let us face it, the challenge ahead of us is of Herculean proportions, but the tools and techniques we have at our hands are also formidable!

Sources:

  • Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development; report made by Cisco and ITU (International Telecommunication Union).
  • Wash’ Nutrition Guidebook; Action Against Hunger
  • http://www.who.int/topics/water/en/
  • https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Sustainable-Energy-and-Water-Access-through-M2M-Connectivity.pdf
  • Main picture by A. Zouiten, WHO.
  • Photo in text by Nirmal Adhikari, https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/

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Article written by Miguel Ángel Fernández, Product Manager at Barbara IoT.