Every so often, I see ICT4D projects that have way over-thought their solution, going for whiz-bang technology over simpler, human solutions. Here is an example from DfID, which is trying to help with water shortages in Kenya.
Water pumps are the main source of drinking water in rural communities but around one-third of them do not work at any given time. It can take up to a month for the water pumps to be fixed so the UK government has announced that it will back the pilot of “Smart Handpumps” in Kenya.
The ‘Smart Handpumps’ project sees the hand pumps automatically ‘text’ local water engineers when water pumps break down or run dry. The data transmitters in the ‘Smart Handpumps’ will dramatically speed up the response by making water officials aware of when and where there is a problem, as well as when it has been fixed.
Now I can see the sexiness of having a pump automagically report when it is broken, along with usage data when it is working. But might that be a little two much tech?
Simpler is Better
Instead of a mobile phone/pump combo, which will need power, top-up, and constant maintenance, what about just giving local villagers the phone number of the local water engineers?
Presumably, the users of the pump have a very large incentive to accurately report when a pump is not working, and with simple additional incentives (free airtime, solar charger) they could report on pump usage using their own mobile phones, negating the need for delicate electronics installed in wet locations. Local villagers would feel that they were empowered and get direct access to water engineers for more in-depth first-hand reports.
Of course, this solution isn’t fancy and wouldn’t warrant an exciting announcement by DfID, but I would argue it would be much more effective.
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