BBC World News Horizons examines how rural communities are using low-technology to resolve water scarcity

Date: 25.04.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.01
Category: BBC World News
In the sixth episode of the series, Horizons presenters Adam Shaw and Saima Mohsin head to China and Kenya to discover how relatively simple technology is being used to try and tackle the problems of soil degradation and water shortage.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, up to 250 million people across Africa could face water shortages by 2020. Aid agencies have tried to ease the problem in Africa by paying for and installing water pumps in remote locations, but in many cases the pumps fall into disuse because of lack of ongoing maintenance.

Saima travels to Nairobi, Kenya, to understand how Danish company Grundfos Lifelink is using a mobile payment system to help fund the installation of water pumps. To operate the pumps villagers pay a small amount of money every time they get water, using a smart card which is topped up using mobile money through a cell phone. This allows communities to pay back the loan of the pumps and maintain their regular upkeep.

Peter Todberg Hansen, Managing Director, Grundfos Lifelink, says: “When you talk about water you have roughly one billion people that do not have access. So if you have to cope with that challenge, somehow the private industry needs to get involved.”

Commenting on how mobile money has led Kenya to pioneer the cashless society in East Africa, Sneak Shah, Head of Mobile Banking, Orange Mobile, adds: “Within five years, 20 per cent of Kenya’s GDP has been transacted through mobile money. It has made a huge impact on the economy here and the welfare of the people.”

When it comes to tackling soil degradation, China has opted for another relatively low technology solution - tree planting on a massive scale. Adam Shaw travels to the Gobi Desert where some 40 million hectares of trees are being planted between now and 2020, in a bid to bind the soil and prevent the desert encroaching any further on the capital city Beijing.

Shi Jingwei, Deputy Director, Forestry Bureau, Doulun County, says: “The main purpose of our work is to prevent the sand moving and to recover the ecology and the environment. We have policies to protect forestry in this region: it is forbidden to graze animals on open land, we’ve fenced areas and used airplanes to sow seeds and we also plant a lot of trees ourselves. This place is where the sandstorms start from, yet we’ve seen them reduce in size. Originally we had over 140,000 hectares of desert, and now it’s dropped to 40,000.”

Finally, Adam visits the Yongding River in Beijing, China, the capital’s 'Mother River' that remains dry for most of the year, due to droughts and water extraction along its length. In a bid to restore the flow of the river and meet Beijing’s ever-growing demand for water, the government has invested $3 billion into a huge civil engineering project. They’re building a number of artificial membranes and lakes to prevent seepage, recycling waste water and when necessary pumping water to keep the river flowing along its 170-kilometer stretch. The project aims to be completed by 2014 and will be China’s longest and most expensive attempt at river restoration.

The Horizons series, sponsored by DuPont, airs weekly on Saturdays at 01:30 and 08:30, Sundays at 14:30 and 20:30 (all times GMT). For programme highlights and an insight into the future of global business visit For all the latest news, behind-the-scenes pictures/videos and updates from Adam Shaw and Saima Mohsin, please follow at and/or on twitter at @horizonsbiz.