Across drought-ridden counties in Northern Kenya, solar-powered sensors help ensure speedy repairs and proper maintenance for boreholes, making the difference between health and hardship for the many rural Kenyans who rely on this infrastructure as their only source of clean water.
SweetSense, a U.S. company that joined forces with Millennium Water Alliance in 2015 as a founding partner of the Kenya RAPID program, manufacture solar-powered remote sensors in five counties: Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Turkana, and Wajir. SweetSense joins Kenya RAPID’s other private sector partners, such as IBM and Davis & Shirtliff, in building the capacity of county governments to manage the delivery of water and sanitation services.
Doris Kaberia, MWA Kenya RAPID’s chief of party, explained how water management before SweetSense intervention could be problematic. “If you go to a county minister and you ask them ‘How many water points do you have? How many are functioning? What is the operation and maintenance regime? How many beneficiaries are you serving?,’ these counties often cannot give an answer because they do not have a centralized database system,” she said. “So when it comes to decision making for investment or budgeting, it’s not really based on data.”
SweetSense deploys instruments on hand and electric water pumps, water tanks, and water distribution systems to measure rates of utilization and functionality. These measures are then used to help dispatch technicians, supplies, or other responses. With the aid of the sensors, water directors and county water ministers can monitor individual boreholes right from their desks, rather than having to travel hundreds of miles for manual assessments.
“They can see which boreholes are not performing well, and which one is almost failing, instead of waiting for it to fail,” Kaberia said.
The Kenya national average access to improved water sources is 48% in rural areas. In the region of Kenya targeted for this activity, the average is closer to 27%. This baseline provides one of the first opportunities to institutionalize accountable, cost-effective feedback mechanisms in delivering water services. Key outcomes in this program include a responsible and accountable government framework for water services; replicable and scalable business models to deliver these services; and community engagement in demanding water services.
Evan Thomas, CEO of SweetSense, said, “Often times the pump will break and it doesn’t get fixed very quickly. What we’re trying to do is reduce drought emergencies. A drought emergency happens when water is not available where it needs to be, when it needs to be.”
SweetSense Inc. was founded in 2012 and has installed satellite and cellular connected sensors in 15 countries monitoring water, sanitation, energy and infrastructure programs. In 2019, SweetSense will expand to monitoring over 5 million people’s water supply on a daily basis in Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia.
MWA is a permanent alliance of 14-member NGOs committed to implementing water, sanitation, and hygiene education programs in poor communities in the developing world. MWA convenes implementers and others to share learning, create new partnerships, advocate for greater government commitment to water and sanitation, and demonstrate scalable, systems-wide programs. MWA emphasizes engaging with local and national government, developing enterprise models, and blended finance.
Working In Kenya since 2004, MWA now manages Kenya RAPID, a five-year, 21-partner program bringing together public and private institutions to increase access to water and sanitation for people and water for livestock, and to rebuild a healthy rangeland-management ecosystem in five northern counties.