In the arid regions of Kenya and Ethiopia, people are predominantly farmers and pastoralists reliant on reliable water sources for agricultural, livestock and human uses. A mix of surface and groundwater use is common. Surface water use, including streams, rivers, lakes and other rain-filled depressions and ponds, is regular practice during the rainy seasons when surface water is readily available.

Frequently, groundwater water pump systems fail for long periods of time causing severe water stress on people, livestock and agriculture. 

Using satellite and cellular connected sensors we are presently monitoring the water supplies of over a million people in arid Kenya and Ethiopia, expanding to over five million in 2018 and linking this data to regional water service providers and national policy makers in an effort to improve water services and drought resilience.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, USAID, the World Bank, UNICEF, the Autodesk Foundation, and the Cisco Foundation, we are working with partners including IBM Research, SweetSense Inc., the Millennium water Alliance, IRC Wash  and Catholic Relief Services. 

With are engaged in several impact evaluations in Kenya and Ethiopia focused on improving water access during extreme drought.

This data data is currently being used by local utilities, non-profits, regional governments, national entities and international donors including the Kenya National Drought Management Authority, the Afar and Somali Regional Water Bureaus, and others. Previously, in Rwanda, we demonstrated a 10x reduction in water system downtime (from 200 days to 20 days) using remotely reporting sensors triggering repair activities.

The sensor data indicates runtime of each groundwater extraction pump. The sensors report daily over satellite or cellular networks regardless of pump runtime, thereby allowing an identification of a failed sensor differently from a non-operational pump. Time periods in which sensor data suggests a non-running pump may be attributed to one of several scenarios including:  a) planned downtime inclusive of seasonal disuse, b) mechanical or electrical failures of the water pump or water scheme, c) management or institutional considerations such as budgetary constraints including buying fuel, human resources, or communication challenges, and d) false-negatives caused by sensor failure, including accidental or deliberate tampering with the sensor device. 

In a recent study, we partered with the Nairobi based Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) and the NASA and USAID SERVIR program to examine three satellite collected remote sensing data sets (CHIRPS, NDVI and Grace) and attempted to correlate these to the sensor-collected groundwater extraction data. We collected groundwater extraction data from 147 water points across northern Kenya and and Afar Region, Ethiopia. All of these sites were monitored with satellite connected sensors. We observed a statistically significant relationship between borehole runtime and 1-week lagged rainfall in each of the country-specific models. Combined, a 1 mm increase in rainfall was associated with a 1.0% decrease in borehole use the following week (RR=0.989, 95% CI=0.986-0.993,.001).

This is the first study to quantify borehole use using in situ sensors and thus represents a direct measure of regional population response to drought.  Thus, when surface water availability is reduced during the dry seasons, access to borehole groundwater becomes a necessity. The dry seasons in this region often results in extreme drought and drought emergencies that highlight the importance of borehole water sources as well as expansion and maintenance of surface water retention efforts, including rainwater catchment. However, maintaining functionality of groundwater boreholes and water access is an on-going challenge.