Make the World Better Place With Smartphones

Tackling water challenges with mobile software and web tools


Two villagers are sitting side by side on the waterfront. They shake a test-tube which they have just filled with water and click the sample onto a photometer which is connected to their smartphone. Within half an hour, they see via the app that the water is clean enough to drink. This is huge progress. In the past, a bottle with a water sample would be transported in a hot car for hours, and the results would only arrive days later. What’s more, the GPS system on the phone of these data collectors shows the exact location where this sample in Mali was taken, and data on the substances found in the water is also saved and shared so that everyone in the area can make use of it.

In more than twenty countries, Akvo provides partners with the software and process-support to collect water quality data with smartphones. The number of inhabitants with Android smartphones in many sub-Saharan countries is growing, leading to numerous possibilities for data-driven development. That’s why Akvo, together with relief and development aid organisations and local governments, focuses on using the latest technology to gather information about the water situation. The importance of data for development is not yet fully exploited. So what is Akvo’s wish? For every organisation that operates in water governance to have a sound data strategy at management level and for data to be used sustainably. This offers a promising future.

Inspecting a Water Pump

Hard numbers about the water situation deliver a clear wake-up call


Collating information in a smart and fast way in the field makes it possible to tackle what is often a very poor local water situation.

The situation only really becomes clear when hard facts come to light. For example, it was found that 90% of the drinking water in households in Sierra Leone was not fit for consumption due to contamination with the E. coli bacteria. The water quality had never been surveyed on this scale before. Soon, using data captured with Akvo, everyone will be able to see the information gathered by data collectors in the field via an online dashboard.

The information gathered in 2015 by the national water point mapping in Nigeria also hit hard. The World Bank interpreted the data and drew attention to the disturbing situation concerning WASH in its report ‘A wake up call for Nigeria’. It emerged that 71 million people in the country still did not have access to clean drinking water. With good data available for the first time, an overview of costs could also be made. A positive development is that many improvement programmes have been launched to tackle the problem since the publication of the report.

Online dashboard
Real time data
national water point mapping in Nigeria

Measuring is knowing and that results in an economic boost


Making an inventory of the number of water points and the quality of water is for many countries the first step towards improving the water situation. Making this data public is vital, as data has far more value if it is shared.

Commitment to systematic measuring can contribute to the verification of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Open data makes regional, national and worldwide consequences visible. And this stimulates entrepreneurship. It is therefore important to make room for data magic. What people do with the data on their own initiative leads to great developments.

In Africa, many villagers walk to water wells every day to fetch drinking water. Often, there is a caretaker by the well who is paid for the maintenance of the water pump. This doesn’t always work optimally and sometimes wells are without water for weeks because pumps are not repaired. This is no longer the case in areas where data projects operate and water quality, as well as the state of wells, is closely monitored. Here, private parties are now willing to take risks and invest in maintenance. For a fixed per capita fee, they guarantee to solve problems within 48 hours. So, besides clean water, data also provides security of supply.

In a new initiative which is under development for the Sahel region, the potential of data for development is central. The initiative consists of a platform in which local data providers are connected to those seeking data. A local data collector network will be established in which young people who have smartphones can be trained in data collection. If there is a local demand for data collection, local youths can earn a sustainable income from it. In addition to measuring water quality, they could play a broader role in providing data services. For example, due to more and more satellite information becoming available, it is possible that these data collectors will, in the long term, also be able to capture data and inform farmers about expected weather conditions, optimum times for planting crops, and fertiliser recommendations.

Central data development
Fetching drinking water