According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 840,000 people die each year from a water-related disease. The majority of people in affected countries gain access to groundwater by bucket and rope, or by using a handpump. Whilst handpumps are more sanitary and help to reduce disease they are more complex and therefore require more maintenance. Much of Africa’s water supply infrastructure is failing for this simple and avoidable reason: lack of maintenance.

In Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and a number of other countries across the continent, significant numbers of handpumps in rural villages are falling into disrepair, often only a few years after construction. Recent surveys in the Menaca region of Mali found that 80 per cent of wells were dysfunctional. In surveys in northern Ghana, 58 per cent of waterpoints were shown as needing repair. These figures are not unusual.

The water and sanitation foundation FairWater estimates that there are 50,000 dysfunctional water supply infrastructures across Africa. People can walk for up to four hours only to discover that a pump is not working.

H2ONow is a social innovation startup based in Barcelona. Their mission is to help increase the access to improved drinking water through the use of new technologies, including intelligent pumps.

These intelligent pumps are connected to a 2G network and upload daily information about the usage of the pump and the quality of the water. H2ONow generates customized recommendations for the people in the region on which source of water they should choose the next day. This reduces a huge uncertainty for the user and increases the chance for a successful trip to the water point.

For NGOs, local institutions and maintenance teams, being able to communicate the precise location of a water point is critical for the program. Historically this has been done with lat/long or GPS coordinates. Whilst these are accurate they are prone to error in transcription and communication.

To help solve this H2ONow have integrated what3words.


what3words is a location reference system based on a global grid of 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares. Each square has been pre-assigned a fixed and unique 3 word address. Easier to remember and communicate than GPS, more flexible than dropping a pin and more accurate than street addressing it is a universal and human-friendly system.

what3words simplifies the geolocalisation mechanisms between the H2ONow cloud platform and the end-user, reducing the risk of errors that often occur when manually registering latitude and longitude data in the field.

Every water pump’s 3 word address is displayed in the cloud-based management platform, and this can simply be communicated between stakeholders, such as international agencies, governments and water management companies, and the community on the ground. 3 words can easily be spoken, written and remembered as well as sent and received by digital messaging.

The naming of each water point with its 3 word address also means users can act simply on the information given to them through this smart water platform, making informed decisions about which water source to use.

H2ONow is currently working with three international NGOS to implement pilot programs with about 150 devices in very diverse regions around the world, from Guatemala to the Gaza Strip.