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Researchers focus on finding solution to water scarcity in Kenya

By Fredrick Obura | Published Wed, August 29th 2018 at 14:34, Updated August 29th 2018 at 15:44 GMT +3
A Turkana woman tastes water which was installed by Ministry of Water and National resources at Napuu area of Turkana Central.

NAIROBI, KENYA: With a population of approximately 46 million, 41 percent of Kenyans rely on water sources such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers, a challenge especially in rural areas. Only nine out of 55 public water service providers in Kenya provide a continuous water supply.

Now, as part of the Kenya Resilient Arid Lands Partnership for Integrated Development (Kenya RAPID), researchers have created a water management platform to address the needs of these arid lands without access to safe water.

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“The Kenya RAPID programme combines assets and experience of development actors, private and public institutions by leveraging their capital and investments, innovation and access to markets to address complex problems of inadequate water access, sanitation and poor governance of natural resources in the Arid and Semi- Arid Lands (ASAL) counties of Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Turkana and Wajir in Kenya,” says Doris Kaberia Chief of Party for Kenya RAPID & Kenya Programs Director at Millennium Water Alliance.

The key product of IBM's research is a software platform known as the Water Management as a Service Platform (WMaaSP), which provides decision support capabilities to county water officials and other partners.

The platform can enable decision making by predicting water demand based on population trends, ground and surface water supply, climactic patterns and land use. This Water Management as a Service Platform (WMaaSP) is accessible on both web and mobile as an app.

The platform, which uses sensors to provide supply and demand patterns based on groundwater extraction data, can also help water service providers significantly reduce their non-revenue water (water that is “lost” before it reaches the customer through leaks, theft or metering inaccuracies).

“Through the support of the platform’s decision making tool, water service providers such as Lodwar Water and Sewarage Company in Turkana or Dirib Gombo water scheme in Marsabit have significantly reduce their non-revenue water. For example, Dirib Gombo’s non-revenue water has reduced from over 40 per cent to 30 percent and their revenues from Tariff collection has also tripled ’’, says Doris Kaberia, Chief of Party and Kenya Programs Director at Millennium Water Alliance.

The traditional approach to coping with water challenges, especially in water-scarce, arid environments has been to increase supply by investing unsustainably in decentralised water infrastructure (such as dams and boreholes) to meet growing domestic, agricultural and industrial demands. Local governments and donor organizations typically finance expensive water infrastructures which are then handed over to communities with limited capacity to maintain them.

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Water managers also lack visibility into the location, status and performance of the water infrastructure, leading to an inability to respond to user feedback and a limited ability to provide repair and maintenance.

“For instance, if a citizen reports an issue to the sub-county water officer, the officer can use the mobile app to quickly locate the issue and assign the complaint to a repair officer who then inspects the issue and files a site report detailing the issue and/or required resources, also using the app. Once the repairs are complete, the assigned officer files a repair report detailing what was fixed to close the issue through the mobile app,” says Dr. Nathan Wangusi, the Principal Project Investigator from IBM Research – Africa.
SweetSense, a startup that works closely with IBM Research, is also installing sensors on electric water pumps to measure rates of utilisation and infer levels of functionality to aid in the dispatching of crews for timely repair and maintenance for more efficient management of decentralised water infrastructure.

IBM has also established a Rotational Program with the counties which is focused on sharing software development skills with the county ICT representatives as these skills pertain to aspects of WMaaSP.

The Program will allow the county representatives to work with IBM Research’s Engineering Team to learn first-hand how WMaaSP is designed and how it is being developed.

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