Drilling for water in Uganda as part of the Smart Water project.; Drilling for water in Uganda as part of the Smart Water project.;

Smart Water – making handpumps digital, Kumi District

Harnessing data to improve handpump reliability

For many communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, the main source of water 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 Ugandan communities.

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

Project Summary

IoT pilot project

>16,000people to access clean water

7partner organisations

Smart technology improves reliability

Currently, there is no way to track the functionality of handpump boreholes, so breakdowns are a common occurrence. When a borehole pump fails, repairs can take weeks, months or, in some cases, 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 locally based, evidence-centred approach, and technological testing to make sure the project was viable within the context.

To better understand how to meet local needs, we undertook research and carried out a fact-finding visit to Kumi District, spending time with the communities in various villages. 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 local people can monitor trends in the operation and the reliability of the handpumps, helping to improve the management of handpump boreholes and, by extension, the reliability of 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-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. The local community was central to and 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. Our 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 to run, 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.

The close relationship and partnership with local communities in the design and implementation of the system is key to success. ” Alex Gason Head of Development and Fundraising, Fields of Life

People using a handpump for water in Uganda, with containers lined up to fill with water. People using a handpump for water in Uganda, with containers lined up to fill with water.

Data informing community 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, when required. It also helps to build local capabilities together with the 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 a more sustainable water supply.

This is an exciting, scalable pilot project. It is a privilege to work with our partners towards our common goal of improving people’s lives by enabling informed maintenance and repair decisions ”

Sean Masonc Sean Mason Director

Human-focused design is the key driver for this project. Photo credit: Fields of Life

Co-developing ideas with potential into solutions with global impact

Work alongside us together with communities to improve the lives of the vulnerable and marginalised while tackling systemic challenges. 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 that can deliver meaningful outcomes and a positive impact.

Contact the community engagement team