An Update from Christian Aid

The following is a guest blog post kindly provided by Christian Aid about a project we funded them and their local partner, Northern Aid, to carry out in Kenya.

Last year, Christian Aid and Kenyan NGO Northern Aid were fortunate to team up with the Indigo Trust to trial an innovative water payment system in El Wak town, Kenya using mobile phone technology.

Children scrambling for waterEl Wak and the surrounding region of Mandera County, north eastern Kenya are extremely vulnerable to droughts and chronic water shortages. The town’s wells frequently dry up and are routinely contaminated by human waste when the water table rises. Communities are therefore faced with the decision of walking many miles for water or paying exorbitant prices for water brought in by donkey carts or water trucks. This project sought to address this with the use of mobile phone and reverse osmosis technology, enabling local communities to pay for safe, clean water.

In Kenya, more than six million households have access to mobile banking, three times the number with access to a traditional bank account. And this number is growing rapidly. Recent studies have shown that people prefer mobile transactions over traditional banking systems, which is quicker, easier and more cost effective. In El Wak alone there are more than 200 mobile banking centres, managed by locals, where people go to pay their bills.

The project began with Northern Aid drilling a new borehole in the El Wak Township, providing a permanent water supply to the town. A pump house was then constructed and a pump fitted with a solar panel, providing a clean, renewable energy source for the system. The system was also fitted with a reverse osmosis filter and high kinetic energy treatment to kill bacteria and clean/desalinate water.

In order to set up an effective water distribution point for the community, a water kiosk was constructed and a mobile phone enabled dispenser installed. The unit is powered by an internal battery which is charged through the solar panels. It has a user interface which will enable the beneficiaries to enter and pay for the amount of water they require, through a smart card reader. Northern Aid has currently distributed smart cards to 80 households, which will serve 10 households each (total of 800). A further 20 smart cards will be kept on site for the most vulnerable households to use. It is therefore anticipated that this water unit will be used by an initial 1,000 households, with the revenue generated used to Women accessing water for the first timepurchase more smart cards. To ensure the local ownership and leadership of the project, the system will be managed by a water users’ committee comprised of community members, who will oversee the running of the system.

The final stages of the project were completed in June 2014. We are now in the trial period and are testing the effectiveness of the mobile payment system – we hope to be able to share our findings and learnings later in the summer. All going well, we have ambitions to set up further water kiosks over the coming years to help more households in the town access affordable clean water.

Not only will this project provide a permanent source of clean drinking water for local residents (1,000 households will benefit immediately from trial system; approximately 7,000 people) but the mobile payment system will ensure that the project is truly sustainable, enabling communities to reinvest money raised back into the system and use the surplus to carry out other projects. The project is an example of how technology can be embedded into community development plans and highlights the growing role that it can play in delivering essential services in Kenya and beyond.

Christian Aid, Northern Aid and the community of El Wak would like to say a huge thank you to the support of the Indigo Trust for making this project possible.