In Sub-Saharan Africa, the main source of water for many communities can be a handpump borehole. As part of our community engagement Global Challenge, which supports projects aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we are integrating smart technology with traditional handpumps to improve water supply in Uganda.

Together with Fields of Life, a development organisation which has worked in East Africa for 25 years, we are developing a solution harnessing Internet of Things (IoT) technology, in collaboration with Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Analog Devices, CW Applied Technology, VT and the Kumi District Local Government in Uganda. This enables communities in Kumi to make informed management decisions and carry out preventative maintenance to secure clean water access.

Currently, there is no way to track the functionality of handpump boreholes, so breakdowns are common. When a borehole pump fails, repairs can take months to complete or, in some cases, they don’t happen at all. 

This results in people using alternative sources, including surface water supplies which are susceptible to seasonal weather patterns and contamination, posing a greater health risk. Our fieldwork involved fact finding, crucial to our local evidence-centred approach, and technological testing to ensure the project was viable. 
To understand local needs, we researched and carried out a fact-finding visit to Kumi District, spending time with the various village’s communities. Our proposed solution was to install a handpump monitoring device, linked through a communication system to a multi-level user interface. This would mean that locals can monitor operation trends and reliability, improving the handpump’s management and, by extension, the water supply reliability.

Co-creating a technical solution

Collaboration and human-focused design drove the solution with Arup’s hydrogeology and digital and electronic engineering groups, working closely with our partners and the local community. Communities were involved in the system design, leading to real benefits for them while building capacity. This innovative project’s R&D activities are co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Enterprise Ireland under the Innovation Partnership Programme with Letterkenny. 

Arup’s electronics team worked with the Letterkenny Institute of Technology WiSAR lab to design and produce an innovative monitoring device that is cheap to install and uses limited power, with an estimated battery life of four-five years. Importantly, the small-unit has buy-in from the local communities. The team’s goal is to make the overall system open source, to replicate the software and ideas around it through the developing world.

Data based decision making

The near real-time data generated supports local government and community decision making, enabling preventative maintenance to be prioritised and procedures to be set up to address problems, schedule and carry out repairs. It also helps to build local capabilities together with appropriate training. Based on the data produced, it becomes easier to make informed operational and management decisions transparently and collectively. It also opens the door to developing partnerships to deliver more sustainable water supplies.

Through this project, we hope to achieve Sustainable Development Goal number 6, providing a sustainable water supply for our communities and improving people’s livelihoods  

Peter Mawanga

Kumi District Water Officer, Uganda

Co-developing ideas with global impact

As part of its community engagement global challenge programme, Arup brings together people from many disciplines to work collaboratively on local solutions to urban and rural challenges. We work together with local communities to improve the lives of the vulnerable and marginalised while tackling systemic challenges.