The European Commission has awarded the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) $1.16 Million USD for implementing a reliable and inexpensive solution to providing water to refugee camps in Uganda.
Delivering water by tanker-trucks to remote refugee camps was a challenge for UNHCR due to the prohibitive cost and the inability to monitor the process accurately. But, by deploying technology widely used in the oil industry the agency is now able to account for all money spent.
The system provides real-time data on water delivery and consumption by linking the delivery trucks with static tanks in refugee settlements through a series of networked, ultra-sonic sensors.
Based on the “Internet of Things”, where physical objects fitted with sensors connect and exchange data over the Internet, the devices cost about $55 USD each and transmit their readings to a gateway, similar to a mobile phone mast. The range of the masts is sufficient to track all the water trucks and tanks serving an entire refugee settlement.
The data is the gathered and assessed, allowing UNHCR to understand how much water is being delivered and consumed across the entire network. It permits the agency to predict and prevent shortages.
The system is reliable, inexpensive and can be applied in emergency settings. It has also been deployed in Iraq, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. It is due to be introduced in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh by the end of this year.
There are plans to use the same system at boreholes to monitor the impact of pumping from natural aquifers. The focus is to mitigate the negative environmental impact of extraction. Sensors will also be able to monitor water quality, flow rates and pressure in distribution networks.
The project was chosen as one of the five winners of the European Commission’s EIC Horizon Prize for Affordable High-Tech for Humanitarian Aid, claiming the prize in the water, sanitation and hygiene category.
It is expected that among other initiatives and in addition to planned expansion of the project, the prize money will be used to fund projects to look at how similar systems can be applied to other aspects of humanitarian operations such as energy and environmental monitoring.