Africa trial for remote water monitoring system

A new remote monitoring system to ensure rural communities have access to water is being trialled in Sierra Leone.

The technology – a collaboration between Leeds Beckett University researchers and two Yorkshire SMEs – monitors whether hand-operated water pumps are in regular use, to identify when pumps are broken and communities cut off from their water supplies.

A recent USAid report stated that up to 40 percent of rural water systems in sub-Saharan Africa are out of use, representing between $1.2-1.5 billion in lost investment. Fewer than five percent of water infrastructure projects are visited after installation, leading to broken pumps going undetected and unrepaired.

The MANTIS (Monitoring and Analytics to Improve Service) system, now being field tested on ten pumps in the Bumpe Ngao Chiefdom of Sierra Leone, is low cost and easily deployable. The system detects whether the pump is in regular use and reports patterns of usage. Its simplicity enables it to have an exceptionally long life-span compared to other remote monitoring systems under development. The technology has been designed to function for five years without maintenance or re-power, sending back daily data on hand pump usage for interrogation via an easily accessible web interface, which can be monitored by an NGO or government agency to ensure repairs are swiftly made.

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Swan explains: “Remote monitoring has a very practical purpose – to spot broken hand pumps quickly so they can be repaired and people can continue to get easy access to water, even in very isolated areas. But the ease at which the data can be accessed means that this technology can also improve transparency and accountability as to how development funds are spent and how effective they are. Funders – whether countries, NGOs or individuals – can also see whether the pumps they’ve paid for are working.

“There is currently only limited information on how many of the millions of hand pumps installed across the world are actually still doing their job and visiting each one regularly is really impractical given their hard-to-reach locations. Remote monitoring could really help towards putting more effective and efficient maintenance in place.”

The MANTIS system was developed by Dr Swan, working with two technology companies based in Sheffield: Environmental Monitoring Solutions Ltd (EMS), who specialise in water, wastewater and emissions monitoring; and VisualWind Ltd who develop software for the wind energy industry. The work has been funded through an Innovate UK grant, led by EMS. The system is specifically designed to fit the two most common designs that make up the majority of hand pumps installed worldwide, but is compatible with almost any hand pump.

Managing Director of EMS, Professor Pete Skipworth, said: “The MANTIS system relays daily usage information in compressed format and relays whether the hand pump is in use – which is often all that is needed to highlight when pumps are broken. Our simple approach reduces power requirements, which enables the system to function for longer, and also reduces its production costs.

“This initial trial will show us how our prototype system works in the field, enabling us to fine tune the technology before we deploy it more widely.”