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WASH SMS Project Overview

The WASH SMS Project will harness the potential of mobile phones and internet technology to create a highly accessible communication and monitoring system that develops crowd-sourced map data to improve water and sanitation services for the urban poor.

By 2030, the UN estimates that a majority of the global population—or 5 billion people—will live in cities. One of the consequences of large, unplanned urban growth is growing pressure on inadequate water systems. Governments and utilities are struggling to meet these needs, but the urban poor who lack safe water and sanitation suffer the most severe health problems. Every year 2 million children, mostly under the age of 5, die from preventable water-related diseases, and 75 million disability adjusted life years are lost due to the lack of safe water and sanitation. Demographic and Health Surveys have found that even children from the highest-income slum families have higher rates of diarrhea than children living in the poorest rural families.

The urban poor, often invisible to planning agencies, utilities, and government officials, need a way to get timely attention paid to their water and sanitation needs.

The widespread and rapidly growing use of mobile phones throughout the world offers an exciting new tool for enabling information to flow between communities, governmental entities, and service providers, in support of rapid and informed decision-making. Mobile connectivity is out-pacing fixed line telephony around the world, and especially in many developing countries due to the cost savings in both network infrastructure and individual subscription fees. The numbers are telling: in the least developed countries (LDCs) and developing countries, there are now 25 to 58 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, and in some countries this access has even outpaced access to basic services.

Our WASH SMS Project will create a highly accessible communication and monitoring system that relies on mobile phones and email to develop crowd-sourced map data to improve water and sanitation services for the urban poor. By enabling information about water and sanitation problems to flow among communities, governmental entities, and service providers, this platform will support rapid, informed decision-making on acute and chronic water problems and make the health implications of lack of access to WASH services ‘visible’ to planning agencies and utilities. Governments can increase service provision to underserved and vulnerable communities, alert residents to service changes, aggregate data on informal water services, unserviced areas, and aquifer levels, as well as assess and prepare for risks associated with climate variability and change. Using SMS, email, or the web, citizens and residents can remotely report conditions such as poor water quality and sewage backflow, register lack of infrastructure to aid in network expansion, and view information on the status of service provision and problem resolution.

The potential impact of this system is clear and powerful.

We are launching this project through a three-year pilot funded by USAID Development Grants Program (DGP) to build the Indonesia WATER SMS System to service two major metropolitan areas that are on the verge of water crises among their urban poor. This project will involve a collaboration between Indonesian citizens, public and private water service providers, and government agencies with three of the world's leading NGOs in the areas of water and sanitation, climate change, citizen involvement, and technology innovations for underserved communities. Pacific Institute (a leader in climate and water connections, extensive experience in participatory research and planning, and innovative solutions that release trapped knowledge in the WASH sector) will lead the project, with Indonesian partner PATTIRO (extensive program implementation experience in Indonesia focused on improving public services, and strengthening government capacity), and technology partner Nexleaf (a leader in mobile phone use to collect environmental data). We will develop a platform for global information sharing with others working on SMS approaches; incorporate new features to make existing crowd-sourced systems suitable for community needs; and disseminate this system globally.

Notes from the Field (click for complete list of blog posts):

- Urban Water Sources in Malang and Makassar, Indonesia
Misha Hutchings, September 2011

- The Waghad System: Institutions, Role of Mobile Technology, and Wise Water Use
Veena Srinivasan blogs from Dindhori, India, August 2011

- Need for Water Resource Management and Adequate Sanitation
Dr. John Akudago blogs from Gbulung, Ghana, June 2011



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