In a country where mobile-phones are everywhere, but access to clean water is limited, one company is using the phone as a payment method for water. Kenya has a cellphone payment system, M-Pesa, which is becoming ubiquitous nation-wide as a critical method of payment and access to new possibilities, far beyond just talking with friends. The Grundfos Lifelink company manufactures and maintains solar-powered pumps to provide safe drinking water around Kenya. It is a pay-per-use service, using high-tech methods to overcome low-tech needs.
Each customer uses a personal Lifelink fob key, they simply wave the key at a sensor and out comes 20 liters of clean water. An added benefit to this system is that money collected will go to a virtual account and thus safeguarded so that it is not misspent on other things, local cash payments are often mishandled. Recent research has shown that many similar water projects fail after two years because money is not reserved for the continual maintenance that is needed for the equipment.
“In terms of tech solutions, it’s cutting edge,” says Manji, head of water and sanitation at Kenya Red Cross Ayaz. “But, in other ways it’s not quite working… We’re in a social market. It’s a balancing act, so it’s not as easy as raising your tariffs. If you raise your tariffs, people go back to drinking from the river.” The biggest problem is that Lifelink is not collecting as much money as they expected to. They do hope to develop a less expensive model by the end of next year, thereby bringing down the end cost to the consumer.
– Mary Purcell