Smart Standpipes: our latest innovation to combat rural water poverty

We typically work in remote, widespread communities where distances between households can be vast. For those communities where long daily water walks are a reality, despite a communal water source, we have developed and started deploying sustainable standpipes to cut collection times and long queues to fetch water. The introduction of the Project Maji standpipes marks the conclusion of a research and development project aimed at expanding the number of tools in our toolbox to combat rural water poverty.

Standpipes that dispense water from utilities have gained popularity as an alternative to piped water connections in urban areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 55% of city populations relying on standpipes as their first water source [1]. However, they are also a suitable potable water option for peri-urban and rural contexts.

Standpipes can expand the service area of a central water source, such as an elevated water storage tank. Until now, Project Maji installed solar-powered water kiosks in the heart of communities of 500 to 1000 people. The new standpipe solution now enables us to serve larger communities, with populations exceeding 1,500. They are a cost-effective network addition, bringing down the cost to unlock safe water access per person.

Water can be sourced from either a borewell or a river, and pumped into an elevated tank after undergoing the necessary filtration. The safe water is fed to the standpipes by gravity, creating a rural water hub and spoke system. As a result, continuing to follow our core ethos, we can reach those families that are currently being forgotten, leaving no one behind.

Our first three standpipes are installed in Ghana in partnership with Ghana Red Cross, who have applauded Project Maji’s efforts to provide affordable and sustainable solutions to scale up rural water access. We project to install at least 30 more standpipes in the West African country in the coming six months in marginalised, water-poor villages, investing in their health and prosperity.

Each Project Maji standpipe structure is fitted with a solar-powered cashless payment system that can support dispensing via three independent taps. This design kills two birds with one stone; long waiting times and financial sustainability, which in turn ensures functionality and prevents early breakdowns. As with conventional communal water points and handpumps in general, non-functionality is a serious issue to address. With the money collected through the e-pay modules, we secure water revenue in a dedicated account, accessible for future repairs and maintenance. In case the water service is disrupted, the funds allow us to restore operations at short notice. But critically, it also builds community trust and reliance on Maji outlets, positively impacting the willingness to pay.

Amol Parker, Country Director in Ghana, proudly introduces the Project Maji innovation. “Our novel standpipe design is the outcome of a joint R&D exercise between our production engineers and the field team in Ghana. Uniquely, the design supports fetching from three independent taps; two at a height of 65 centimetres to fill buckets/pans kept on the floor and one at a height of 2.5 metres (approx.) to allow people to collect water directly into a head pan by standing under the spout.” The higher tap is a user-centric solution to the preference of - in particular – women to not struggle to lift the heavy water pans from the floor to their heads.

We look forward to continue installing these smart standpipes in addition to existing rural water infrastructure. To the Project Maji team, the standpipes promote the sustainable, reliable, affordable, and effective provision of water to underserved communities, driving measurable progress towards SDG 6.1.

[1] Luengo, M., Banerjee, S. and Keener, S., 2010. Provision of water to the poor in Africa: Experience with water standposts and the informal water sector. The World Bank.