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Ending Drought Emergencies in East Africa

We will scale a accountable & responsive water tracking system using sensors & analytics for 10 million people to end drought emergencies.

Photo of Evan Thomas
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Water stress is a driver of conflict in the East African Rift Valley, exacerbated as water access becomes unpredictable in the face of climate change. Extreme drought is an annual occurrence leading to armed conflict, food insecurity, health impact, and economic shock. Hundreds of thousands of refugees live in camps in arid regions while millions more in host communities face water stress. Humanitarian drought relief is hampered by sparse, infrequent and unreliable information on water services. Using satellite connected sensors we are presently monitoring the water supplies of over a million people in arid Kenya and Ethiopia, scaling to over 5 million people in 2018. We will scale a transparent, responsive and accountable water funding and service delivery tracking system that will allow communities, national ministries and international donors to track the funding and delivery of water for over 10 million people. We will combine water sensing with real time evaluation of drought severity and crop failures, create a near real-time index of drought induced problems that can be used to address both drinking water and food security issues. This project aims to eliminate drought emergencies.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are the rural, pastoralists living in the arid regions of east Africa.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Roughly half of water infrastructure in conflict prone, water stressed regions of Kenya and Ethiopia is in disuse at any given time. Repairs are delayed because of a lack of information on service function, poor budgeting and revenue collection, and mismatched organizational incentives. Additionally, food production is primarily in areas without irrigation infrastructure. As a result, region is highly vulnerable to drought induced crop failures and associated food insecurity. By providing access to real-time, objective and democratized information on water service to myriad stakeholders, our approach will align funding with accountable and responsive water services that mitigate resource-based conflict. Our cross-sector indicies will provide the first integrated assessment of water related insecurity in both drinking water and agricultural sectors.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Our consortium has expertise in conflict mediation, water services, and technology implementation. The team is led by Professor Evan Thomas, the incoming Chair of Global Engineering at the University of Colorado. CRS and IRC Wash have established expertise in water-related conflict mediation in Kenya and Ethiopia, SweetSense and IBM Research are operating a water monitoring system in this region.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
  • Yes, we are a registered social enterprise.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Each of our team members have at least 15 years personal experience working in this region, in partnership with communities under stress. The recent drought conditions represent an acute threat, and highlight the urgency of environmental conditions driving water shortage and creating a public health emergency. Prolonged drought is especially severe for smallholder farmers and pastoralists, our friends and professional partners.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

In East Africa, 20-30% less annual rainfall than historic norms leads to extreme drought, physical, food, and economic insecurity, and tensions between communities and across borders. These are critical human and environmental challenges that are getting worse in the face of climate change.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Our consortium, is led by the University of Colorado at Boulder, with the private sector partner SweetSense Inc., providing instrumentation and implementation support, IBM Research Kenya providing the blockchain enabled Water Management as a Service Platform (WMaaSP), Catholic Relief Services, operating in northern Kenya, IRC WASH operating in Afar and Somali, Ethiopia, and with the Afar and Somali Regional Water Bureaus in Ethiopia, the County Governments of Garissa, Wajir, Isiolo, Turkana and Marsabit in Kenya, and the Kenya National Drought Management Authority. These partnerships are in place already, under existing efforts including USAID Kenya RAPID, and USAID Lowland WASH.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

We have the direct participation of local, regional and national governments in both Ethiopia and Kenya, committed to ending drought emergencies in these regions. Our consortium brings more than 50 years of experience in these regions, with expertise in conflict prone and water stressed regions.

Geographic Focus

East Africa, starting in northern Kenya, and Afar and Somali Ethiopia.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

36 months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Attachments (3)


Our previous effort to improve water service delivery using cellular sensors on rural handpumps.


Attached is a recently submitted journal publication reviewing the current status of our work, and demonstrating the acute demand for reliable water in this region.

SweetSense TheoryofChange2.8.18.pdf

Our technology partner, SweetSense Inc, is currently monitoring the water supplies for over a million people in Kenya and Ethiopia, under contract to scale to 5 million this year.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Russell Davis

Good morning Evan,

I would like to discuss consolidating your project along with several other complimentary proposals in order to be more effective and to increase the chances of your project being successfully incorporated. Please provide your email address, WhatsApp number or skypeID so I may call you today to discuss your interests. We have several other projects in your same area.

Russ Davis
Chairman H2CI

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