Dusk breaks in Niamey, the capital city of Niger, and Aminata’s soles are already thick with red clay. She returns from a 1/2-mile round-trip trek to a local standpipe, carrying 4 gallons of water atop her head in an open bucket. She steps off the dirt road and into the compound she shares with two tenant families. A little boy runs to greet her and tugs eagerly at the worn folds of her cotton skirt. She bends to let him sip from the vessel hoping to quench his keen thirst.
This morning, the “garwa”, who often delivers water to her home in dirty 4 gallon jerry cans, doesn’t show up. Aminata must walk to the standpipe, stand in line for 30 minutes, and secure little water to make do until he comes. She pays about eight times the normal price.
Aminata and her husband find makeshift jobs around the community, such as cleaning for a well-off family. Yet, they have no running water in their home, which costs them time, money, and health, as the water they drink from standpipes loses quality during transport and storage.
Today, 750 million urban dwellers in developing countries live without running water at home, just like Aminata and her family. This number is rising with the increase in urbanization – by 2050, an additional 900 million people are expected to move to African cities alone. Water utilities are already struggling to keep up.
As supplying a home with running water is not that complicated, you may ask why this situation continues. To put it simply, it’s about money. Low income households have irregular incomes and a low savings capacity, but a household water connection requires a high up-front costs and monthly bill payments. Like Aminata, these urban dwellers instead turn to unreliable and costly substitutes to on-premises utility piped water, such as public water points, delivery services, or chlorine pills.
We, at CityTaps, are pioneering innovative technology to help bring piped water to the homes of the urban poor, so that Aminata can do what you and I do, which is turn on a tap at home. With our smart pay-as-you-go water meter, she is able to make micro-payments for utility-piped water at any time with any mobile phone.
Civic innovation lies at the core of our mission. We work with water utilities to create systemic change, and use technology to build upon existing water systems. We believe this ultimately improves the following:
- The function of cities: By ensuring safe at-home piped water and with our transparent payment system, we build trust between water utility companies, citizens, and authorities.
- Efficiency of urban infrastructure: We are bringing the building blocks of Smart Cities to the developing world, and thereby improving the agility of governments and the investment equation for international donors.
- The state of community affairs: Safe running water at home improves health by reducing water-borne illnesses and child mortality, and the risk of theft or assault of women when ‘fetching’ water. Further, we work with community-based organizations to educate citizens on best practices in water.
- A place in society: Bearing running water at home is recognition of one’s existence in the eyes of authorities. In some countries, access to on-premises water services can be the first step from traditional land occupation towards legal tenancy.
Through civic engagement, CityTaps is seeking to better the lives of Aminata and others like her. For many households, having a water connection at home will finally be formal recognition that they no longer live on the fringes of the community, but are very much part of it.
By working with water utilities and using groundbreaking technology, we are supporting a common goal for all cities: sustainably boosting the health, dignity, and economic opportunity of all of its constituents.
We would like to thank Microsoft for its support, and look forward to having you be a part of this journey.
CityTaps is a social enterprise whose vision is running water in every urban home. The company is also a 2015 MassChallenge finalist and a recipient of Microsoft’s Civic Innovation Scholarship. For more information, go to www.citytaps.org, like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/citytaps) and follow us on Twitter (@citytaps).