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Communities boosting water monitoring systems using the Internet

Communities boosting water monitoring systems using the Internet

By Ihuoma Atanga

Imagine a world where your spice cabinet reminds you to buy salt, or your cell phone sends a text message about the amount of water left in your water tank. These are the wonders of the Internet of things (IoT).

It has been over a decade since Kevin Ashton, co–founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Auto-ID Center (now Auto-ID Labs), coined the term Internet of Things to describe the network and communication of physical objects that have an IP address for the Internet.

Since then the world has transitioned into a digital age, one in which IoT devices are being harnessed to improve quality of life on a global scale. African countries such as Ghana, Niger, Rwanda and South Africa, among others, have seen a steady rise in successful IoT implementation meant to improve key areas of sustainable development—water monitoring being one of the most popular sectors.

In order to get the full picture of how IoT technology works to improve water monitoring, Africa Renewal talked to Ilana Cohen, the senior market engagement manager of the Mobile for Development Utilities Programme at the Global System for Mobile Communications Association or GSMA—a trade body representing the interests of mobile operators worldwide.

GSM, the global system for mobile communications, refers to the Internet of Things as a broad concept, describing it as an open, digital cellular technology used for transmitting mobile voice and data services.

Mobile technology enables IoT applications to function machine-to-machine (M2M), meaning machines use network resources to communicate with remote application infrastructure, like a water meter, for the purposes of metering and control.

For emerging utility models mostly operating in rural locations, GSM remains the most widely used machine-to-machine technology to transfer data over long distances. However, because GSM consumes a lot of power and relies on network coverage that is mostly unreliable in rural areas, utility companies are switching to NarrowBand (NB IoT) because it is cheaper and consumes significantly less power, which is ideal for utility applications that mostly require occasional connectivity with minimal throughput. The NB IoT standard is starting to emerge as the preferred mode by users.

Sensors and actuators (a component in a machine that is used to induce or control motion) used by water-related IoT devices can detect anything from changes in temperature and chemical composition to water quantity and soil humidity. They can even report a faulty water pump.

The good news is that the implementation of this technology in Africa is not a thing of the future; it is happening now with start-ups and institutions embarking on missions to conserve water, provide clean water, irrigate farms and monitor water usage, among other objectives.

Traditional water meters are notorious for inaccuracies in reporting water consumption; consumers sometimes pay for water not used, or find themselves unable to pay, where there is a dispute in payment, the accumulated cost of running water at home. The consequence of non-payment for services is that utility companies cannot sustainably provide safe drinking water to certain areas, and for customers it means possibly consuming unsafe water, or allocating more time and resources to finding clean water away from the comfort of their homes (e.g. from standpipes). In underserved communities in Niamey, Niger, where residents use CityTaps smart metres, consumers have gained access to running water at home, and spend 15 times less than they previously did.

In Niger, CityTaps, a social and tech company seeking to provide running water to every urban home, provides IoT tech solutions via smart metres to the national utility company, Société d’Exploitation des Eaux du Niger (SEEN), helping them provide drinking water to underserved communities in a sustainable manner.

In Rwanda, SweetSense, tech company that provides low-cost remote monitoring for water, energy and environmental projects—uses sensor technology to monitor water pump performance.

In South Africa, EZ Farms, created by IBM Research, is an IoT remote water monitoring system that uses sensors on the field to tell small-scale farmers how to better manage water and agricultural aggregators (websites or a computer programme that sums up specific type of information from multiple online sources) to enable farmers identify the best prospects for business.

Africa Renewal spoke with Patrick Thomson, the lead researcher on the water programme at Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment and CityTaps, which are funded partly by the GSMA, to learn more about their work with water metering and conservation in East and West Africa.

Africa has a plethora of ongoing IoT water metering projects, one of which was launched in 2013 by the University of Oxford, spearheaded by Mr. Thomson. The project started off with a 12-month smart hand pump trial in Kyuso town in Kitui County, Kenya, with the goal of resolving the problem of constant breakdown of water pumps.

According to a report on harnessing the Internet of Things for global development by the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency whose purpose is to coordinate telecommunication operations and services throughout the world, “Water service reliability is closely correlated with extreme poverty and water insecurity in rural areas. Around one million hand pumps supply water to over 200 million rural water users across Africa, yet as many as one-third of all hand pumps are thought to be broken at any given time.”

Mr. Thomson described the impact of the water pump project on the community as money-saving and transformative. He mentioned a crucial thesis question posed by his colleague, Dr. Tim Foster: “Could we do things differently if the hand pump itself could tell you it was broken?” This thesis question has been answered by the success of the project. Mr. Thomson and his team found ways for a pump to literally tell you when it is defective, via a GSM network.

How does this technology work?

Mr. Thomson explained: “A device in the pump handle uses an accelerometer, just like the one in your smartphone that works out which way you are holding it, to sense the movement of the handle. From this movement we can tell if the pump is working and how much water is being produced by it. This information is then transmitted over the GSM network to a central server, where we process and present this information.” In a matter of 48 hours, as opposed to several weeks, the pump is repaired.

Moreover, since the success of the Kyuso project, Mr. Thomson said other new and exciting findings have emerged that could completely prevent any kind of water pump breakdown in the future.

In a new water pump project supported by UNICEF in Kwale County in southeast Kenya, new research is underway to determine how the data from the accelerometers can be used to determine the depth of the water beneath the pump, in order to monitor the condition of the pump. This way an accurate breakdown prediction can be made before the pump actually stops working. The objective is to reduce pump downtime to zero, Mr. Thomson explained.

CityTaps founder Grégoire Landel explained to Africa Renewal how the company’s IoT tech solution works, saying that CityTaps provides utility companies with guaranteed pay for their water services via a prepaid meter system that uses mobile money. The utility company installs the smart pay-as-you-go water metres that help monitor the exact amount of water used. The company’s goal is to supply communities in need with clean running tap water.

Implementing these technologies involves complexities and challenges. While recounting his experience in West Africa, Mr. Landel said he has witnessed water and energy utility companies perform ‘little miracles’ daily for the people they serve. Once people see the fundamental benefits of the product, they are usually willing to pay for what is generally a much better quality of life.

In the case of the Kyuso project, Mr. Thomson said that while there isn’t an excess of challenges, some communities and governments are more open to projects that meet their immediate needs. He and Mr. Landel believe it is important to watch, listen and develop solid relationships within the community in order to build technology that best serves it. It is, after all, the people that determine the success of the product and give meaning to the projects.

Can we benefit if the water pump itself can tell you it is broken? The answer is a simple and definitive yes. A broken hand pump that goes unfixed is expensive and dangerous to the community that depends on it. Water is life, and the Internet of Things is doing its part to provide sub-Saharan Africa with smart and affordable ways of monitoring, metering and conserving, and by so doing bettering the lives of urban and rural communities in the region.

About The Author

Sanlam 2018 Annual Results

7 March 2019


Sanlam’s 2018 annual results provides testimony to its resilience amid challenging operating conditions and negative investment markets

Sanlam today announced its operational results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018. The Group made significant progress in strategic execution during 2018. This included the acquisition of the remaining 53% stake in SAHAM Finances, the largest transaction concluded in the Group’s 100-year history, and the approval by Sanlam shareholders of a package of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) transactions that will position the Group well for accelerated growth in its South African home market.

Operational results for 2018 included 14% growth in the value of new life insurance business (VNB) on a consistent economic basis and more than R2 billion in positive experience variances, testimony to Sanlam’s resilience in difficult times.

The Group relies on its federal operating model and diversified profile in dealing with the challenging operating environment, negative investment markets and volatile currencies. Management continues to focus on growing existing operations and extracting value from recent corporate transactions to drive enhanced future growth.

The negative investment market returns and higher interest rates in a number of markets where the Group operates had a negative impact on growth in operating earnings and some other key performance indicators. This was aggravated by weak economic growth in South Africa and Namibia and internal currency devaluations in Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Substantial growth in Santam’s operating earnings (net result from financial services) and satisfactory growth by Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) and Sanlam Corporate offset softer contributions from Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) and Sanlam Investment Group (SIG).

Key features of the 2018 annual results include:

Net result from financial services increased by 4% compared to the same period in 2017;

Net value of new covered business up 8% to R2 billion (up 14% on a consistent economic basis);

Net fund inflows of R42 billion compared to R37 billion in 2017;

Adjusted Return on Group Equity Value per share of 19.4% exceeded the target of 13.0%; and

Dividend per share of 312 cents, up 8%.

Sanlam Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ian Kirk said: “We are satisfied with our performance in a challenging operating environment. We will continue to focus on managing operations prudently and diligently executing on our strategy to deliver sustainable value to all our stakeholders. The integration of SAHAM Finances is progressing well. In addition, Sanlam shareholders approved the package of B-BBEE transactions, including an equity raising, at the extraordinary general meeting held on 12 December 2018. Our plan to implement these transactions this year remains on track.”

Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) net result from financial services declined by 5%, largely due to the impact of new growth initiatives and dampened market conditions. Excluding the new initiatives, SPF’s contribution was 1% down on 2017 due to the major impact that the weak equity market performance in South Africa had on fund-based fee income.

SPF’s new business sales increased by 4%, an overall satisfactory result under challenging conditions. Sanlam Sky’s new business increased by an exceptional 71%. Strong growth of 13% in the traditional individual life channel was augmented by the Capitec Bank credit life new business recognised in the first half of 2018, and strong demand for the new Capitec Bank funeral product. The Recurring premium and Strategic Business Development business units also achieved strong growth of 20%, supported by the acquisition of BrightRock in 2017. Glacier new business grew marginally by 1%. Primary sales onto the Linked Investment Service Provider (LISP) platform improved by 5%, an acceptable result given the pressure on investor confidence in the mass affluent market. This was however, offset by lower sales of wrap funds and traditional life products.

The strong growth in new business volumes at Sanlam Sky had a major positive effect on SPF’s VNB growth, which increased by 7% (14% on a comparable basis).

Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) grew its net result from financial services by 14%. Excluding the impact of corporate activity, earnings were marginally up on 2017 (up 8% excluding the increased new business strain).

New business volumes at SEM increased by 20%. Namibia performed well, increasing new business volumes by 22% despite weak economic conditions. Both life and investment new business grew strongly. Botswana underperformed with the main detractor from new business growth being the investment line of business, which declined by 24%. This line of business is historically more volatile in nature.

The new business growth in the Rest of Africa portfolio was 68% largely due to corporate activity relating to SAHAM Finances, with the East Africa portfolio underperforming.

The Indian insurance businesses continued to perform well, achieving double-digit growth in both life and general insurance in local currency. The Malaysian businesses are finding some traction after a period of underperformance, increasing their overall new business contribution by 3%. New business production is not yet meeting expectations, but the mix of business improved at both businesses.

SEM’s VNB declined by 3% (up 6% on a consistent economic basis and excluding corporate activity). The relatively low growth on a comparable basis is largely attributable to the new business underperformance in East Africa.

Sanlam Investment Group’s (SIG) overall net result from financial services declined by 6%, attributable to lower performance fees at the third party asset manager in South Africa, administration costs incurred for system upgrades in the wealth management business and lower earnings from equity-backed financing transactions at Sanlam Specialised Finance. The other businesses did well to grow earnings, despite the pressure on funds under management due to lower investment markets.

New business volumes declined by 13% mainly due to market volatility and low investor confidence in South Africa. Institutional new inflows remained weak for the full year, while retail inflows also slowed down significantly after a more positive start to the year. The international businesses, UK, attracted strong new inflows (up 57%).

Sanlam Corporate’s net result from financial services increased by 4%, with the muted growth caused by a continuation of high group risk claims experience. Mortality and disability claims experience weakened further in the second half of the year, which is likely to require more rerating of premiums in 2019. The administration units turned profitable in 2018, a major achievement. The healthcare businesses reported satisfactory double-digit growth in earnings, while the Absa Consultants and Actuaries business made a pleasing contribution of R39 million.

New business volumes in life insurance more than doubled, reflecting an exceptional performance. Single premiums grew by 109%, while recurring premiums increased by a particularly satisfactory 56%.

The good growth in recurring and single premium business, combined with modelling improvements, supported a 64% (71% on a comparable economic basis) increase in the cluster’s VNB contribution.

Following a year of major catastrophe events in 2017, Santam experienced a relatively benign claims environment in 2018. Combined with acceptable growth in net earned premiums, it contributed to a 37% increase in gross result from financial services (41% after tax and non-controlling interest). The conventional insurance book achieved an underwriting margin of 9% in 2018 (6% in 2017).

As at 31 December 2018, discretionary capital amounted to a negative R3.7 billion before allowance for the planned B-BBEE share issuance. A number of capital management actions during 2018 affected the balance of available discretionary capital, including the US$1 billion (R13 billion) SAHAM Finances transaction. Cash proceeds from the B-BBEE share issuance will restore the discretionary capital portfolio to between R1 billion and R1.5 billion depending on the final issue price within the R74 to R86 price range approved by shareholders.

Looking forward, the Group said economic growth in South Africa would likely remain weak in the short to medium term future, and would continue to impact efforts to accelerate organic growth. The outlook for economic growth in other regions where the Group operates is more promising. Recent acquisitions such as the SAHAM transaction should also support operational performance going forward.

“We remain focused on executing our strategy. We are confident that we have the calibre of management and staff to prudently navigate the anticipated challenges going forward,” Mr Kirk concluded.

Details of the results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018 are available at