This week Dr Nathan Cooper is in Swakopmund, Namibia, speaking at the annual Waternet Symposium on sustainable water resources and water governance. Nathan’s paper, ‘Using SMART pumps to improve access to water in rural Gambia: Reflections on the importance of theory and fieldwork in achieving SDG 6’ draws on recent fieldwork in The Gambia, trialing ‘MANTIS’ telemetry technology to remotely monitor the performance of water pumps in rural areas.
There is significant potential for such technology to improve reliable access to water for rural communities. But the paper seeks to reflect not only on such potential, but also on the many challenges (including technological, financial, and relational) facing those involved in pioneering new water technologies, as we seek to upscale from proof of concept, towards resilient and sustainable solutions that are adequately embedded in the social, cultural, and legal context of communities, and which consequently, will assist in achieving ‘universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all’ by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 6).
The emergence of new telemetry technology that can remotely monitor water pumps constitutes a novel and cost-efficient alternative to undertaking regular site visits. Smart pump technology like MANTIS, has been developed specifically to monitor the performance of water pumps and to communicate this information swiftly and cheaply using SMS messages and dashboard display. Led by a UK-based company, MANTIS is being developed and applied with support from universities and NGOs, and in partnership with the Gambian government, Department of Water Resources. This represents an instructive example of the importance of partnerships in seeking to meet development objectives like improved access to water (as emphasized in Sustainable Development Goal 17) but it also illustrates some of the complexities related to working with a broad range of actors.
The paper reports on the technological progress of MANTIS to-date, as well as reflecting on what some of the partners have learned in the process of taking technology from the ‘lab’ to the ‘field’, in order to help direct and inspire similar projects in the future.