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How Mobile Can Hold Government Accountable for Clean Water Failures

BY Julia Wetherell | Friday, February 15 2013

In India, wastewater and drinking water supplies mingle in the street (Wikimedia Commons).

National Geographic’s online series Digital Diversity is back this week with a report from the Aquaya Institute, a nonprofit research and consulting group working on public health issues in the global water crisis.   The UN announced last spring that 89 percent of the global population now has access to improved water sources, but for thousands these sources remain unreliable, and, in many cases, still unsanitary or unsafe.  While building the infrastructure to enhance the water supply can be a long process, spreading knowledge about whether a source is drinkable is one simple solution. 

In communities throughout the developing world where cell phones are more ubiquitous than toilets, bringing that knowledge to a mobile platform allows local leaders to hold governments accountable for clean water failures. Aquaya Director of Projects Zarah Rahman shares the story of working with local district health technicians in Mozambique, who travel between tiny rural communities – often on foot – to check on water supplies. The technicians collect a huge amount of data yearly, yet it rarely leaves their logbooks.  Once they began to input these findings into an app called Water Quality Reporter, governmental officials began to respond:

A few months after training the technicians to use the app we witnessed concrete changes. The Director of the Ministry of Health’s national laboratory issued formal memos to the local Government, asking them to respond to the high levels of contamination reported in a number of the district’s water supplies. In her letters, the Director noted that many rural supplies are ‘improper for human consumption’ and provided technical guidance on determining the source of the contaminants (mainly bacteria and nitrites) and how to take action.

Rahman notes that using mobile to improve drinking water systems faces the same problems are using mobile for many issues in the developing world – namely, that “the [mobile] networks are generally weakest in the places where information flows are the most critical.”  Yet mobile penetration continues to spread quickly – more so in many places than sanitary infrastructure.  The flow of information, hopefully, will set the stage for the flow of clean water. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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