Kenya's M-PESA System Lets Cell Phones Control Access to Water

water systemWater is like liquid gold in drought-stricken areas of Africa, so it's no surprise to learn water conflict and corruption is common. Safaricom's M-PESA system of cell phone cash transfer, originally released in 2007, could help quell the dissidence. A Kenya community is working with Grundfos Lifelink and Safaricom to develop a solar-powered water vending system that allows consumers to pay with a credit-filled smart card. When the credit runs out, water-seekers can add more using the M-PESA mobile banking system.

M-PESA was originally designed to let microfinance borrowers—think Kiva recipients—collect and repay loans with Safaricom's network of cell phone airtime resellers. But during testing, Safaricom found that people really just wanted to use M-PESA to make basic banking transactions without ever entering their local branch. So now M-PESA allows customers to deposit and withdraw cash, transfer money to other customers, pay bills, and buy more airtime. The service has ballooned in popularity over the last few years, with 6.5 million subscribers as of May.

Undoubtedly, the M-PESA-powered water vending system will prove popular as well. We'll find out just how popular in short order—the system will be installed in 20 Kenyan communities by the end of the year.

If water supplies become tight enough, it wouldn't be out of the question to see similar systems pop up in the United States. Cell phone payment systems like Zong, Boku, and Obopay are fast gaining ground, and who's to say that they won't one day be used to grant us all access to the one resource we most take for granted?

[Via Green Inc.]

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  • Aly-Khan Satchu

    We are witnessing a revolution in Africa and the Catalyst has been the Mobile phone. There were 15,000 Phones in Kenya 10 years ago and today there are more than 17.4m. Thats the arrival of the c21st right there.

    Those that controlled the Levers of the State and their Cohorts and were able to extract an egregious share. It was plain aysmettric. The Phone has brought with it the arrival of the information Century. The Citizen is morphing from being a lone and single Lilliputian to the State’s Gulliver and the net to trap the state is the phone.

    The Country has been Bone dry, our Water Woes have been no different to Al Capone’s Chicago. Finally, we have the opportunity to get a handle on what has been daylight robbery. The Phone is allowing us to construct a new Architecture. Our People are now informed.

    Safaricom have been at the very forefront and should you wish to track the share price, you are welcome to register on my site for free and track the price during trading hours 0930-1500 Kenya Time.

    The Company remains some way ahead of the curve.

    Aly-Khan Satchu
    Twitter alykhansatchu