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Boosting Health, Productivity & Dignity: How a Simple System Solves Urban Water Poverty

Around the world, approximately 1 billion urban dwellers lack home water connections—a number nearly three times the population of the US. Disconnection is much more than an inconvenience; it negatively affects health, general productivity, and overall human dignity.

Every day, women living in communities around the world spend 200 million hours collecting water from sources outside their home. Unconnected households pay up to 20 times more for alternative water sources than households with utility-managed taps. And around the world, the urban poor are forced to spend $323 billion per year on low-quality water and sanitation. Furthermore, waterborne illness from low-quality water leads to 443 million missed school days per year.

Urban dwellers don’t need miles of pipes to connect their homes. So why do so many people lack home water connections? It all comes back to financials.

Targeting Two Issues: Capital Needs and Water Leaks

Despite their importance, water utility companies can’t afford to service everyone. Collection processes are inefficient, and unpaid bills result in billions of dollars in receivables. Beyond the 1 billion people without a home water connection, up to 70 percent of utility subscribers in the developing world are behind payment and face disconnection at any time. This lack of cash flow limits utilities’ ability to pay for maintenance projects and expand services.

On average, utilities lose around 50 percent of the water they produce to leaks and theft—often with little data as to where or how losses occur. Without knowing more about these losses, they’re nearly impossible to fix or prevent.

These numbers paint an unfortunate picture about urban water poverty. But CityTaps, a Sustainable Urban Communities Solver, is changing the equation. CityTaps’ innovative technology targets the core issues—utilities’ capital needs and high leakage rates—to drive systemic change.

CityTaps’ Simple Three-Step Solution

CityTaps’ solution, CTSuite, transforms the economic relationship between poor utility subscribers and utility companies. CTSuite is made up of three elements:

  1. Mobile Money: Using mobile money, customers load a budgeted amount onto their water account—whenever and wherever they want.

  2. CTCloud: An innovative cloud software manages billing, controls water access, and collects data, enabling utilities to find leaks and thefts.

  3. CTMeter: The smart prepaid water meter controls water distribution and sends water usage data back to the cloud. Once a customer’s water credit has finished, it shuts off access. The valve re-opens automatically once a customer adds credit.  

CTSuite helps customers and utilities meet in the middle, providing a reliable way to deliver payment. By prepaying for water, customers give utilities the cash they need. And as there’s no heavy upfront cost or monthly bill, the system enables customers to budget for water, and they cannot use more than they can afford.

Plus, by analyzing water monitoring data, utilities can reduce non-revenue water and optimize operations. With these cost savings, they can invest in repairs and expand services to even the poorest urban residents. In short, everyone wins.

Proof of Success: CTSuite in the Field

CityTaps has been piloting CTSuite in Niger since October 2016 in partnership with Veolia, the world’s largest water utility company. In addition to controlling water distribution, CTSuite enables utilities to reconnect subscribers and recover outstanding bills through micropayments. In one example, SEEN, the local water utility, recovered 21 percent of accumulated outstanding payments in five months through micropayments as low as $0.1 per day.

CityTaps has a letter of intent with Veolia to install an additional 15,000 CTSuites in 2019. The organization also just began a new pilot in Senegal, expanding services to a new market and providing more people with clean, affordable water.

CityTaps is currently raising capital to expand their research and development and sales team. Contact info@citytaps.org to learn how you can support their work.


Grégoire Landel pitches CityTaps at Solve Challenge Finals on September 17, 2017. (Photo: Samuel Stuart / MIT Solve)

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Sustainable Urban Communities

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