Let’s use data in managing water resources

water supply
Only nine out of 55 public water service providers in Kenya provide continuous water supply. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A new water resources management application developed by Kenyan water stakeholders with the help of IBM is being featured at the ongoing World Water Week 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden.

The technology was built through a public-private partnership model between Kenya Resilient Arid Lands Partnership for Integrated Development (Kenya RAPID), NGOs and funders with IBM as a technology partner.

It is a timely invention considering the fact that Kenya is a water-scarce country. Much of the country’s lands are either arid or semi-arid. People in those areas hardly access clean water.

In times of drought, water is a perennial source of conflict in Northern Kenya. The move towards leveraging data to manage this critical resource is therefore welcome.

Studies show that the per capita water availability in Kenya is about 650m3/year. The tragedy is that by 2025, this is estimated to drop by more than 50 per cent to 235m3 as a result of population growth and climate change.

A press release by IBM in Stockholm says that 41 per cent of Kenyans, especially those in the rural areas, rely on unimproved water sources such as ponds.

Only nine out of 55 public water service providers in Kenya provide continuous water supply, leaving people to find their own ways of searching for appropriate solutions to basic needs.

To mitigate against these problems, IBM researchers developed a software platform known as the Water Management as a Service Platform (WMaaSP), which provides decision support capabilities to county water officials and other partners.

This platform can enable decision making by predicting water demand based on population trends, ground and surface water supply, climactic patterns and land use.

The platform, which uses sensors to provide supply and demand patterns based on groundwater extraction data, can also help water service providers significantly reduce their non-revenue water (water that is “lost” before it reaches the user through leaks, theft or metering inaccuracies).

Already, the use of WMaaSP in Dirib Gombo water scheme in Marsabit has helped reduce non-revenue water loss from more than 40 per cent to 30 per cent and improved revenues from tariff collection to more than triple of what they collected before.

IBM further stated that it is working with a start-up to install sensors on electric water pumps to measure rates of utilisation and infer levels of functionality to aid in the dispatching of crew for timely repair and maintenance for more efficient management of decentralised water infrastructure.

This provides a great opportunity to widen the use of sensors to secure the critical water infrastructure.

All forms of data gathered is of immense value since, with time, it can be used for predictive analytics that often leads to great savings. This will, however, require great commitment of human and financial resources.

When data is gathered and made available in usable form to stakeholders, it acquires a use value so that it helps its users to make better decisions and respond to their specific needs.

Given that the pilot programmes have immensely worked, the Ministry’s RAPID programme should begin to spread the benefits of data driven decision making, look into means of scaling the outcomes to cover all other counties, and build human resource capacity to advance technology across the country.

The requirement of data to manage water resources does not come as an accident. Rather we are in a transition towards the 4th Industrial revolution that will be largely underpinned by digital technologies.

Masayoshi Son, a Japanese business magnate and investor of Korean descent, founder of SoftBank, once said, “Those who rule data will rule the entire world.”Let’s rule data to manage our water resources.