Oxford University launches crowdfunding campaign for reliable drinking water in Africa

3rd June 2019

The University is launching an initiative to provide reliable access to drinking water for communities in rural Africa using its smart handpump technology.

Around 275 million people in Africa don’t have reliable access to drinking water. Many in rural areas depend on handpumps to access groundwater, but at any given time one in four of those handpumps is broken. Mechanics are often unaware of failures, leaving pumps out of action for weeks or even months, which can drive people to use other distant, dirty or expensive water sources.

To combat this, the Oxford University has developed “smart handpumps” which use mobile phone technology to monitor how the pumps are functioning. Developed by the University’s Patrick Thomson, the smart handpumps send data to mechanics who can then make repairs quickly. In parallel the research team at Oxford also spun out FundiFix, a Kenyan social enterprise that provides these repair services to rural communities. Using smart handpumps FundiFix has reduced waiting times for repairs from weeks or months to a few days. To date, this work has helped 70,000 people in Kenya have access to a reliable source of water.

To expand this work and reach more people, Patrick and his team need to develop an improved IT infrastructure that can capture information from pumps across the continent using 4G mobile networks. This data can then be shared with local engineers, governments, NGOs and charities to ensure that water keeps flowing. The data can also be used to provide transparency, increasing confidence in regulators, governments and funders that resources are being well spent and rural water services are being delivered.

The University is aiming to fund the expansion of the project by raising £50,000 through its crowdfunding platform OxReach. The OxReach team are working with numerous partners across the University to make this a reality, including the Development Office, the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, the School of Geography and the Environment, and the University’s innovation arm Oxford University Innovation. The campaign is also being supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund, which has committed to match the first £25,000 raised in the crowdfunding campaign.

Patrick Thomson, Lead Research at Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, said:

“Our work to date with FundiFix in Kenya and the team here in Oxford at Geography and Engineering has given tens of thousands of people access to a reliable water supply; but to be able to scale this up from a research project into something that can help more we need your support. Making our IT system able to work at a regional scale is a critical part to that expansion that will allow us to reach hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people.”

Chas Bountra, Pro Vice Chancellor for Innovation at Oxford University, added:

“Imagine turning on a tap and having to wait over a month for the water to come out. Imagine realising it is not coming and having to walk for miles every day to take water from a contaminated stream just to keep your family alive. This is reality for 275 million people in Africa. We have an opportunity here to take an Oxford idea and to turn it into real-world impact that will benefit millions of lives. I commend Patrick and his team for their work and implore people in the UK who take water for granted to donate generously and change the countless lives for the better.”

 

The crowdfunding campaign can be found at: https://oxreach.hubbub.net/p/Smartpumps/

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