Hand pumps are a lifeline providing drinking water for many communities in remote, rural parts of Africa, but it is thought that around one third are broken at any given time, putting the health of many at risk.

In an effort to reduce the problem, a group of University of Oxford researchers have turned to mobile phone technology, developing data transmitters to automatically send a text message (SMS) alerting local water officials and engineers when the pumps break down.

Fitted inside the pumps, data transmitters measure the movement of the handle, which in turn give an indication of water usage.

“If, for example, a pump is pumping 800 litres of water a day, and then it suddenly drops down to a very, very low level, that would be an indication that there’s some problem with the pump,” researcher Patrick Thomson told AlertNet.

“Within a few hours of usage of the pump stopping due to a fault, someone can be dispatched to go and fix it.”