SPOTLIGHT | Mobi-Water

Improving water access one tank at a time


© Mobi-Water
One of the first clients of the Mobi-Water system in Kibera (Kenya) was a water point named Better Life. Here, residents can use a toilet (around 300 people per day) and buy water from the kiosk. Up until last year however, Better Life would run out of water to service the toilets by Wednesday or Thursday. Whereas the new delivery of water would only come on Saturday. This meant the community did not have any facilities close by for several days per week.

After the Mobi-Water system was installed, Better Life’s water management significantly increased. The water point’s management committee was now able to remotely access water information which helped them make better water use decisions. Not only were they able to improve how they managed their water, they were also able to improve accountability at the water point using alerts from the Mobi-Water system. Through the Mobile App and SMS Alerts, they were able to determine how much water was available for use each day, making it easier to have the ration last for the entire week.

Kibera is a large informal settlement, housing around 250.000 people without proper infrastructure, sanitation and drinking water systems in place. As a result of this, many different private and NGO-funded initiatives have formed to provide these basic services. Many of them do not function as they were meant to however.

Mobi-Water – through its initiative ‘Maji Mkononi’ (meaning Water in your Hand) - has developed a sensor which monitors water levels in water tanks and reservoirs and uploads the readings to an online database. Users, such as water point owners, are then able to access this information using various platforms such as the Mobi-Water SMS platform, mobile app and online dashboard.

© Shabana Abbas
The data is also being analysed by the initiative, making it possible to detect problems with the water supply in certain areas. Since the start of their monitoring, Mobi-water has already been able to see that the amount of water being available seems to be less of a problem: the problem lies much more in the distribution of the water. This means some water points are always filled to the brim, whereas others struggle to provide their consumers for the entire week. An intriguing pattern, since Kibera is not a vastly stretched piece of land.

When Mobi-water started out, they first conducted a baseline study. They interviewed 375 community members and 94 water point owners or operators in Kibera. Through this survey, the project was able to determine how water was distributed inside the informal settlement, how the water point owners/operators receive and manage their water supply, how consistent the supply was and how the community members accessed water from these water points. During the baseline survey, the support from a local NGO made the community members very receptive to the team, especially being new entrants into the informal settlement and offering a new technology for them to use. Working side-by-side with the local NGO enabled Mobi-water to freely interact with the community and provided genuine and honest information due to the trust the community has in the local NGO.

© Shabana Abbas

Not only did the project conduct a baseline study. They also made sure to thoroughly engage with the local water providers. This way, they gained some valuable insights before even starting the actual work. For instance: the fact that water is still a sensitive topic. With most of the water points in Kibera not receiving water directly from the Nairobi Water mainline, some water point owners were very uncomfortable to disclose how their water is being supplied to them. There were also issues with the fact that some other organisations coming into the area hand out things for free. This led to some people wondering why should they pay for this product.

Once the pilot was underway, new issues were discovered. Such as the theft of some sensors, which meant the sensors had to be strategically placed to reduce visibility, and in some places they were covered to camouflage and match the colour of the water tank. In other cases, the frequent power shortages and/or power supplies from illegal sources meant grid power was not reliable (as initially thought), leading the Mobi-Water team to opt for solar power for their devices.

© Shabana Abbas
At the moment, Mobi-water has been active for a bit over a year. So far, they have installed Mobi-Water sensors in over 38 water points across 4 different wards in Kibera. Through the daily Mobi-Water SMS Alerts and Alarms, water point operators have been able to manage daily usage of water and avoid wasting water. On the other hand, the water point owners are able to keep their operators accountable, promoting transparency and good business at these water points. In the meantime, the company has also received inquiries and are building a client base in other sectors such as water utilities, businesses and factories to monitor and improve their water management.

For more information about the project, including many interesting updates from the field:

On Mobi-water’s website you can read more stories on the team’s experiences in the past year: