A new study was recently carried out by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank on how to unlock the potential of Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) to improve Water and Sanitation Services in Africa. According to a Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) report, in 2014 52% of all global mobile money deployments were in Sub Saharan Africa and 82% of Africans had access to GSM coverage. Comparatively, only 63% had access to improved water and 32% had access to electricity. This early adoption of mobile-to-web technologies in Africa provides a unique opportunity for the region to bridge the gap between the lack of data and information on existing water and sanitation assets and their current management — a barrier for the extension of the services to the poor.
In December 2013, I was excited to receive funding through an Innovation Challenge Award to pilot water flow sensors in rural Tanzania, where the sustainability of rural water supply is a major development challenge. Approximately 38% of rural water points are not functioning properly. The sensor we wanted to develop would remotely monitor flow, making it easier to deliver operational information to the Ministry of Water’s water point mapping system.
The pilot brought one of the first 3D printers to Tanzania and we connected the American start-up WellDone International to the local non-governmental organization (NGO) Msabi. The project team implemented the gadget effectively, and my colleagues at the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and I navigated the procurement and implementation challenges. The pilot ended successfully in June of 2014 and we were proud of our achievement in bringing an innovative ICT solution to the Tanzanian rural water sector.
Can prepaid systems become an instrument to improve access and quality of water services to poor people in African cities and towns? Or does prepayment deny poor people more access to water? Do prepaid systems cost too much and impose more technical, affordability and social pressure on service providers already struggling to cope with growing demand? And what do customers think?
As African cities continue to grow at historic rates, basic services like water supply and sanitation are struggling to keep up. Sparked by the continuing challenges experienced by water utilities to connect poor communities to their networks, and to recover the costs of water supply, there has been a notable surge of interest in the use and implications of pre-paid meters for water supply service provision in African cities.