cell phone signals
Like many developing or impoverished countries, Rwanda continues to be a victim of inadequate water supply and accessibility. However, a project piloted by an Oregon university may help put a dent in the nation’s water problem.

The idea is to use remote sensors to measure water supply. A project spearheaded by SweetSense Inc., and designed by Sustainable Water, Energy and Environmental Technologies Laboratory (SWEETLab) in partnership with the NGO Living Water International, the sensors will allow water pumps to be installed throughout the nation of Rwanda.

The sensors work by using cell phone signals to transmit details about water pumps through cloud computing infrastructure. The data the sensors collect includes information on water pressure, water quantity and when people are pumping water. Then, the data can be accessed through an online dashboard.

On any given day, thousands of water pumps are installed throughout Africa. Unfortunately, many usually fail within their first several years of implementation, and are never repaired or replaced. With SWEETLab’s sensors, technicians receive notifications by text message to alert them if a pump is broken or needs repair.

With a price tag of approximately $500 per unit, each sensor is battery-operated and is outfitted in a waterproof box. While 30 sensors have been already installed, Living Water International plans to install 200 sensors by the end of the year.

In collaboration with Portland State University, SWEETLab “develops and implements technologies for the support of life in remote environments.” The research organization works with academic institutions, industries and nonprofits throughout the world. Its research “focuses on improving accountability and methodologies for international development through improved data collection.”

SWEETLab has also helped to produce gravity water filters and clean-burning stoves. Kenya, Indonesia, Haiti, Rwanda and other countries have already implemented these technologies for use.

Rwanda is home to over 12 million people. According to Water For People, roughly 69 percent of Rwandans have access to clean water and sanitation services. It is also one of several African countries on target to accomplish seven of the eight Millenium Development Goals by 2015.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: All Africa, All Africa, Forbes, CIA, UNICEF, PDX, Water For People
Photo: Devex

The groups parted ways officially in 2004 so that Maya Pedal could be an independent local organization. Now, Maya Pedal “works with a number of local groups, working to implement community-based projects using pedal technology.”

Maya Pedal takes donated bikes from the United States and Canada and refurbishes them to sell locally. However, their main claim to fame is their bicimanquinas, or “pedal powered machines,” which are composed using locally available materials.

These bicimanquinas have several benefits:  since they do not require electricity, they can be used practically anywhere, even in places where electricity is not accessible. Additionally, unlike most human-powered machines, they are pedal powered rather than hand powered, requiring far less effort.

While Maya Pedal is based in Guatemala, they have composed and provided fact sheets and step by step instructions on their website so that the machines can be used worldwide. Their designs for bike-powered water pumps have been used as far away as Malawi, providing sustainable access to water that anyone can use.

Maya Pedal has designed both a stationary and smaller mobile form of bicycle-powered water pumps. The stationary version is able to access water from wells and boreholes up to 30 meters deep, 18 meters deeper than electric pumps and is capable of pumping water at 5-10 gallons per minute making it useful for communities or homes.

While the mobile version is less powerful, only capable of accessing water up to 5 meters below the pump, it is designed with the added capability of moving the water after it has been pumped, making it ideal for watering and irrigating crops, or moving water from tank to an elevated area.

The pumps utilize locally accessible materials, many of which are recycled including old bike tires, construction rebar and electric water pumps with broken motors. In addition to providing sustainable, electricity-free access to water, the pumps repurpose materials that would often be thrown away, saving money and resources.

Additionally, the simple construction of the water pumps makes them accessible to anyone, and can be modified to suit the specific needs of a situation in a way that the more expensive standardized electric pumps cannot.

Maya Pedal’s bicimanquinas, especially their water pumps, are revolutionary, offering sustainable machines that anyone can build and use. In places where water and electricity are not readily accessible, these pedal-powered water pumps offer a crucial link for communities to survive and thrive.

– Cameron Barney

Sources: PEDAL, Maya Pedal, The Permaculture Research Institute, Maya Pedal (2), Maya Pedal (3), Worldwide Cycling Atlas
Photo: World Cycling Atlas