Sensors Offer Technical Solutions to Water System Challenges in Mozambique

FROM: Becky Neely - 05. October 2021

More than half of Mozambique’s population – 15 million people – live without reliable access to clean water, a number that is far higher in rural areas. The consequences of limited water services, due in part to a lack of system maintenance, are grave for Mozambicans’ health and livelihoods.

Helvetas has worked with the Mozambican government for more than forty years to improve water access for communities in the northern provinces of Nampula and Cabo Delgado. Since 2018, we have also worked in partnership with charity: water to install or rehabilitate more than 600 water points and hand pumps that reach more than 200,000 users.

But getting water flowing is only one component of our water projects. How communities keep it flowing is the protracted challenge we’re currently tackling with charity: water.  

Tracking water flow with real-time data

It is estimated that 25% of all hand pumps are broken at any given time. When a hand pump breaks, it typically takes months to repair. The delay is often due to a lack of capacity to address the issue independently and slowed communication and travel times resulting from poor infrastructure.

Charity: water has developed a solution to the problem of information flow and accountability: water sensors. The sensors are a remote monitoring tool that equip local leaders and maintenance providers with real-time data on water system performance. To date, charity: water has installed over 7,300 sensors throughout Ghana, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Nepal. According to charity: water, the handpump sensor takes 10 minutes to install, lasts 10 years without a battery charge, and is tamper-proof and vandal resistant.

The sensors allow for hourly monitoring of water flow from hand pumps and pipes, alerting local stakeholders if a water system needs maintenance. Here’s how the process works: If a pump breaks, the sensors transmit that data via the Amazon Web Services cloud computing platform, where it is analyzed in real time using advanced IoT and analytics tools. The insights are then sent to a system monitor, who contacts the appropriate maintenance provider to fix the issue.

With the sensors, repair time can be reduced to mere days, providing a vital solution to a critical problem many rural villages in low-income countries face. Moreover, over the course of 20 years, water systems outfitted with sensors are estimated to be active 97.5% of the time, compared to just 75% of the time for water systems without sensors.

The benefits of utilizing this technology go beyond reliable water service. The sensor and cloud technology could also incentivize local entrepreneurs to take on preventative maintenance and respond quickly to breakdowns. Instead of relying on local NGOs or businesses to fix the issue, an enterprising individual could start their own business to immediately address water system issues, and perhaps even catch problems before they manifest.

Piloting sensors in northern Mozambique

In summer 2021 charity: water delivered the first batch of sensors to Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. As a next step in the project, charity: water will train the local project team and other water system actors, including water committee members, local government focal points, and Cabo Delgado and Nampula technicians. The training will include the basics of how the sensors work, the installation process, troubleshooting, and the management of the data collected.

Once installed, the sensors offer local communities a water service pathway toward reduced maintenance costs, increased accountability among stakeholders, and better calculations for new wells. And, most importantly, the promise of reliable access to safe water for Mozambicans.

© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen

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