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Water Filter Project in Africa Gets Technology Boost


Testing the Vestergaard Frandsen's LifeStraw water filter in Kenya

Testing the Vestergaard Frandsen's LifeStraw water filter in Kenya

Technology plays an increasingly prominent role in African development projects. One example is a Swiss company's water filter project in western Kenya that makes use of a sophisticated network of cell phones and satellites.

It's evening at command central in the western Kenyan town of Kakamega. Here, staff of the Swiss company Vestergaard Frandsen pores over results of the day's distribution.

Hours earlier, 3,800 workers visited homes across the area to demonstrate and hand out the company's LifeStraw water filter.

They also took photos and gathered basic information about the households on Android smart phones.

Catherine Khaemba works for Vestergaard Frandsen.

"I have been using [the phone] to record the information - it is easy," said Khaemba. "If you have recorded using this phone, the data is safe, unlike writing. This is the time of rain - maybe I can lose the record or the record can be spoiled by rain. So I am using this phone [and] it is safe."

Information that Khaemba and other workers gather is uploaded to a server at a rate of 100 files every 80 seconds.

It includes the map coordinates of each household visited.

Max Gold is chief technology officer with Manna Energy Ltd., a company working on Vestergaard Frandsen's carbon credit project designed to reduce greenhouse emissions. He says the map ensures the smooth distribution of the LifeStraw, and notes areas that still need to be reached.

"We may deploy extra people there to help out, or we might call up the local supervisor and ask them what's going on, see if we can identify any problems," she said. "It also helps us see if there are network outages and other issues that may come up in such a large deployment."

The technology, and the information it gathers, is needed to monitor the project's success in cutting down on the amount of firewood used to boil water so that it can be safe to drink.

This will enable Vestergaard Frandsen to claim carbon credits on the global carbon market, a new form of revenue for companies operating in Africa and worldwide.

Vestergaard Frandsen turns the information it gathers over to the Kenyan government, says company CEO Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen.

"This data platform will be shared with the government here, specifically in the Ministry of Health, so that they have a very strong platform to go out and do other things - hand washing campaigns, delivery of bed nets, etc., so that is hugely important," said Frandsen.

Company officials say the technology also ensures that some 900,000 homesteads in western Kenya receive a consistent supply of safe drinking water.

Access to safe drinking water and respiratory problems caused by indoor smoke are big problems in Kenya, particularly among children. The World Health Organization says 20 percent of deaths in children under the age of five are due to diarrhea, while 16 percent of these children die from pneumonia.

Worldwide, the United Nations says diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under five, with around one in five children dying from the disease, largely because of dirty water.

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