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Getting Social About Water To Save Lives

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, September 5 2013

Every year more than 750,000 children under the age of five die after contracting diarrheal disease. Many of those deaths could be prevented if only the children had access to safe drinking water. A new smartphone app called mWater will try to tackle that problem through what they call social water monitoring. USAID thinks there's something to the idea: they just invested US$100,000 in their pilot project in Tanzania.

After preliminary tests of 100 water sources in Mwanza, Tanzania, where the app will be tested in a 12 month pilot, mWater researchers found fecal contamination in 90 percent of shallow wells and springs. Often, a safer piped water source was located nearby. The app would inform users of the dangers of one source, and offer safer alternatives.

The organization is working closely with Mwanza Urban Sewage and Water Authority and the Mwanza City Council. In a classic case of you scratch my back, they will help the Mwanza water management authority save money by using mWater to also identify breaks, leaks and theft.

The app consists of a water test, which can be completed with or without photos, a map of water sources and their quality, a list of water sources, and a survey of water access and quality. All four elements of the app can be tried out in a demo on their website.

A similar initiative called WaterWatchers was launched by IBM earlier this year in South Africa, and in April techPresident covered a water testing smartphone dongle called MoboSens. In China citizens are taking it upon themselves to report on pollution in their water, air and soil on the crowdsourced website Danger Maps.

Silicon Angle recently highlighted other ways big data and analytics can improve water quality. Real-time monitoring platforms like mWater informs communities and governments about the state of their water. Water quality forecasting can help maintain long-term health and quality of water sources, and monitoring consumption can cut back on consumption.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.