With all the buzz about using cell phones in the field of development I decided to do a quick review of the different ways people have attempted to use cell phone technology to improve water sanitation and/or hygiene related access.
When we talk about cell phones for water and sanitation we are talking about a broad range of uses and technologies. On the simple end we can use basic cell phones to transmit data through sms (text messages) or voice. We can get more fancy and utilize smart phones that run more serious operating systems and have powerful features like internet connectivity, gps, and cameras. Here are some examples of how people have started using cell phones to improve WASH services in Africa and Asia:
1. Community Led Total Sanitation Tracking via SMS – In a World Bank WSP funded project in Indonesia, Health Officers and Sanitarians started using SMS to report on baseline conditions and progress on the path towards Open Defecation Free Communities. The officers text in the number of latrines contructed and other key information to a SMS server which processes the information and puts it into some sort of database. According to WSP they will plan to replicate this in 29 districts in the Province.
2. Q&A – IRC International Water and Sanitation Center piloted an SMS based Question and Answer service to link communities and individual users with information related to their water supply. Questions submitted via SMS are (or were) answered by one of the members a Water and Sanitation Network. Questions ranging from the costs of spare hand pump parts to inquiries about low pressure in a piped system in Dar es Salaam have been answered by this service. This pilot project started back in 2005 and I have not received any response by the operators whether they are still in action.
3. Water from Cell Phones – Grundfos, the Danish pump company, launched a new business model called LifeLink. LifeLink is a small water enterprise (see previous post on SWEs) that uses cell phones to transfer “water credits” from the user’s bank account to that of the pump operator. Lifelink constructs a solar powered water kiosk in a community and when someone wants to buy water they add credits to their account thorugh a simple text message transaction. The kiosk displays the users balance after they swipes some sort of pass. After that they are free to have as much water as they can afford.
4. Information Broadcasting – A number of programs throughout Africa and Asia have attempted to use SMS to broadcast information about everything from handwashing to water conservation.
These four cases are surely not comprehensive but give good examples of what people have used phones for in the WASH sector. I think we can break these uses down to the following:
- Monitoring and evaluation – Cell phones can be used to collect information and relay data back to some central location. This fucntionality can be extremly useful for tracking progress of work and maintaining transparency.
- Information Services (to end user) – People can get information by calling or texting a specified number (in addition to the example above check out google sms in Uganda).
- Gateway – The cell phone can act as a mechanism to enable a service (think about the Grundfos example above).
To date none of these projects have really gone to scale. As you could imagine there are some huge barriers to success including poor cell phone networks (including poor coverage and a lot of system downtime). I have a few ideas of my own on how to enhance WASH service delivery with cell phones and hope to post them in the coming weeks.
Any other interesting cell phone based projects? Post them in the comments section.
While many of you have heard of the peepoo product, the worlds first marketed “flying toilet” like solution. Many may not have seen it in action. Here are two interesting videos about the PEEPOO. (I found these videos on http://watersanitationhygiene.org ). These appear to be having some positive impacts on the Kibera Community in Kenya so if you are interested check out this impact assessment funded by GTZ .
The terms myopia and myopic (or the common terms short sightedness or short sighted) have also been used metaphorically to refer to cognitive thinking and decision making that is narrow sighted or lacking in concern for wider interests or longer-term consequences.” -Wikipedia (8/9/09)
I started to think about this term after reading a paper from Environmental Health Perspectives called Public Health Strategies for Western Bangladesh That Address Arsenic, Manganese, Uranium, and Other Toxic Elements in Drinking Water. The authors of this paper sampled a number of tube wells in Western Bangladesh to investigate the water quality, not only with respect to Arsenic but an array of other potential toxicants. They found levels exceeding WHO health-based drinking water guidelines for Uranium, Manganese, Arsenic, Chromium, and Lead along with significant levels of other important elements like Antimony. Why is this interesting one may ask?
After drilling millions of tube wells to save people from the morbidity and mortality related to gastrointestinal illnesses, UN agencies and the Bangladesh Government realized that they had exposed millions of people to arsenic. This arsenic shifted the causes of illness and death related to water to other ailments like cancer (lung/bladder/skin). Most of you know how this happened but in case you don’t…They simply didn’t test the water for Arsenic!!!
With so much focus on dealing with the arsenic problem, are we forgetting about other potential toxicants in the water? This study seems to suggest we may be – at least in some parts of Bangladesh. The government of Bangledesh is focused on testing each and every well for As but does not look at many of these other elements mentioned in the article (it should be noted that Arsenic probably poses the biggest threat to the population but the possible effects of the others are by no means negligible). The authors note that in wells exceeding limits for As Uranium was not often found in quantities above the limit. However, the household treatment technology that many use to remove arsenic could actually increase the dissolved Uranium concentration (by making otherwise insoluble form soluble)….
This type of myopia happens all the time the water and sanitation sector. We want to focus only on provision of clean water but don’t want to think about the multiple other pathways for enteric pathogen transmission. We focus on toilets but forget that there is no readily accessible water to wash hands….Hopefully it won’t take another mass poisoning for us to wake up and look at the big picture.
Check out the article it is pretty interesting (oh and try to estimate the carbon footprint of the samples that made their way from India to Dubai to France to Vermont,USA)
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, a self described “action sociologist”, has catalyzed the construction of over 1.2 million latrines in India – yes 1,200,000!!! Since 1970 Dr. Pathak and his Sulbah Sanitation Movement has helped change Indians’ perception of sanitation, and developed new and innovative technologies for both rural and urban populations. For his work on the Sulabh Sanitation Movement and its contribution to making sanitation a priority in India, Dr. Pahtak was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize this week. In case you wanted to know a little bit about his accomplishment/innovations, here is a short overview:
• Sulabh public toilet and bath facilities based on that system at 7500 locations, together serving more than 10 million people daily. These pay-per-use public facilities provide an economically sustainable, ecological, and culturally acceptable solution to hygiene problems in crowded slum communities and public places.• Optimized water conservation in the Sulabh Shauchalaya systems, requiring only 1.5 litres of water per use to flush, in contrast to conventional toilets that require a minimum of 10 litres. This has significant additional benefits for health and quality of life in water-poor regions.
• Environmentally balanced wastewater treatment based on a duckweed and fish raising (pisciculture) ecosystem that provides economic opportunities for rural poor communities.
• Several technologies that convert waste from Sulabh Shauchalaya toilets into biogas for heating, cooking, and generating electricity.
• The Sulabh Shauchalaya twin pit, pour-flush toilet system now in use in more than 1.2 million residences and buildings built by Sulabh. This technology has been declared a Global Best Practice by United Nations HABITAT and Centre for Human Settlements, and is now recommended by the UNDP for use by more than 2.6 billion people around the world.
(taken from here)
The Twin Pit Flush Latrine
This is only a short list….Check out their website for more info.
Honestly, this guy is an bonified sanitation guru. From the development of a sanitation museum (that is right) to a sanitation encyclopedia, this guy knows his shit (literally). Hopefully this prize will help highlight the Sulabh Sanitation Movement’s accomplishments and teach the world/WASH sector a thing or two about going to scale.
The Toilet Museum
Sanitation , Tech , WASH , Water
Tags: Akvo.org, Environmental Health, IRC, Sanitation, SIWI, UNICEF, WASH, Wastewater, Water, Water and Sanitation, World Water Week
As many of you probably know, the World Water Week conference is currently taking place in Stockholm. This conference has a geographically diverse group of people from the water, sanitation, hygiene, and health fields. If you are interested in following the conference from afar here are a few ways to do it:
(1) The World Water Week Website has the programme of talks/workshops and many of the presentations and abstracts available for download
(2) Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre and Akvo.org are broadcasting a series of interviews with people at the conference called WaterCube.tv. Watercube.tv seems to be uploading new clips VERY frequently and has had interviews with some really interesting people from all over the world.
(3) Try following some tweets here or here
Michael Pritchard spoke at the recent TED Global Conference in Oxford about the Lifesaver Filter. From the outside this look like a water bottle people use for athletic activity..you know with a teat on top. On the inside, this bad boy has an ultra filter (~15nm poresize) and activated carbon which will remove just about everything (well not quote but….good enough for sure).
fresh clean water – yum
tech details of the ls bottle
One feature that makes this product stand out for me is that it supposdly stops working when the 6000L threshold has been past (presumably the filter pores are clogged and the user cannot genereate enough pressure to push water through). If this really works this would be one key factor in ensuring usablity sucess with less educated populations.
Ptrichard presents this as the miracle solution for providing water to all those without access…Not so fast there! I don’t think this is a practical solution outside of short term complex emergencies (in certain cultures) or backpacking. The logistics and supply chain issues facing wide distribution (through public or private sector) of the product and spare parts are daunting…
This technology is really neat but can not serve as replacement for water infrastructure in the developing world. The big issues in providing water to poor people in low income countries do not result from technology – rather they stem from poor leadership, corruption, and POVERTY.