Water Management in ThailandThailand is a country known for its many wondrous sights, from its lush beaches to its luxurious temples that scatter the country. Despite these amazing locations that attract tourists is a lesser-known but just as impressive fact. Thailand is currently improving water and sanitation for the benefit of its people. The government in Thailand understands the need for Thai people to have better access to clean water and sanitation. According to a joint report released by the United Nations (U.N.) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, Thailand has been able to provide better sanitation for 93% of its population. Additionally, improving water management in Thailand has led to 96% of citizens having reliable drinking water. These results show that the government of Thailand takes water quality and improved sanitation seriously.

Water Management Challenges in Thailand

What makes improving water and sanitation in Thailand difficult is the current challenges of droughts and floods. Flooding takes place in Thailand quite often during the monsoon season when the country receives heavy amounts of rain. Additionally, the overflowing of dams during heavy rains also contributes to flooding.

The government of Thailand plans to deal with these challenges by implementing water management projects in the country’s 25 river basins. The government will work with the communities that live in these areas to prevent further droughts and floods.

The Thai government also plans on making changes to the infrastructure of the country. These changes include improving the transportation system of water throughout the country. It plans on creating more inland and coastal ports to help further this goal and make Thailand a transportation hub.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6)

Thailand is strongly committed to SDG 6 of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The purpose of SDG 6 is to help countries around the world improve water and sanitation. The U.N. notes that issues that come from lack of water resources and sanitation could displace 700 million people by 2030.

Fortunately, Thailand is already delivering on its commitment to SDG 6. The Thai Government’s 2017 Voluntary National Review reports that due to Thai policies and strategies, close to 100% of households have safe drinking water and proper sanitation. Another benefit of clean water and sanitation is that the infant mortality rate has decreased in Thailand. Thanks to improved water and sanitation, people are now less likely to contract a water-borne disease. The city of Bangkok has especially reaped some of the benefits from Thailand’s commitment to SDG 6. Clean and safe water is now so abundant that the average citizen in Bangkok consumes roughly 340.2 liters of water each day, which is more than the overall average of 277.6 liters.

Thanks to the Thai government’s commitment to improving water and sanitation, most of the people of the country are experiencing several benefits that go beyond simply quenching people’s thirst. However, the small number of people who still struggle with water and sanitation need prioritizing. Efficiently managing water and committing to achieving all of the SDG 6 indicators will ensure sustainable progression and development in Thailand.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Addressing Water Scarcity in Mexico City
Mexico City is the largest city in the Western Hemisphere with about 22 million residents. Additionally, the city uses a lot of water. Mexico City draws on a vast sub-surface aquifer to supply water to millions of residents. Water scarcity in Mexico City continues to increase due to the aquifer shrinking every year.

The Problem

Water scarcity in Mexico City is surprising because the city should have plenty of water. In fact, the area receives more annual rainfall than London, leaving one to wonder where it all goes.

The answer to that question lies partly in Mexico City’s other water problem: flooding. The heavy rainfall that occurs every year during the wet season results in floods that stop traffic, damage buildings and cause sewage overflow. The city has created infrastructure to channel rainwater out of the area to prevent flooding. Furthermore, the existing infrastructure that pipes water is outdated and inefficient. Mexico loses about 40% of water due to leaky pipes. As the city expands and more concrete and asphalt cover the ground, less water will percolate through the soil into the aquifer. In short, as the city expands, the aquifer will get exponentially smaller.

Widespread shut-offs of city pipes are becoming more common due to the growing water scarcity. This disproportionately affects impoverished areas of the city. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this problem and has made the already unreliable water distribution trucks even harder to find for thousands of residents.

Isla Urbana

The nonprofit organization Isla Urbana teamed up with Mexico City’s government regarding the rollout of a rainwater catching system. This system promotes sustainable, reliable water access in areas outside of the city’s central hydraulic network. Additionally, this system goes on the roof and costs around $750. Furthermore, it catches and filters rainwater for use in bathing and household chores. Carbon filters can provide potable water. Additionally, Isla Urbana’s system is capable of supplying households with 40% of their annual water usage.

However, rain-catching systems have the obvious shortcoming of requiring rain to function. Mexico City does receive heavy rainfall. Yet, the city receives rainfall in only a few, select months. It also experiences a few large storms.

Ecoducto

The Mexico City planners decided to bury the area’s biggest river under concrete to make room for more buildings. Since then, the now underground river has become contaminated with waste from the city and is unusable without filtration. Thus, Ecoducto is one project that aims to use natural vegetation to filter the river’s water for public use by uncovering the river. Ecoducto is a 1.6 km long linear, living park above the Rio Piedad that also functions as a completely natural filtration system.

Furthermore, it takes water from the Rio Piedad and removes up to 99% of the bacterial content in the river. Ecoducto removes E. Coli from up to 30,000 cubic meters of water per day. Fortunately, Ecoducto costs much less to build and maintain than more expensive, fossil-fuel-reliant treatment plants. Furthermore, it currently operates at a fraction of the scale that the entire Rio Piedad could if it were daylight.

Both proposed solutions to combat water scarcity in Mexico City are in their early stages. In addition, the government’s promotion of both points to an initiative that improves water quality and access. As the weather becomes increasingly unreliable due to environmental challenges, solutions such as Isla Urbana’s rain-catching systems and the Ecoducto represent the future for sustainable and affordable resource use.

– Kieran Hadley
Photo: Flickr

Water in India and Nepal
With populations totaling over one billion people and high economic growth rates, the middle classes of India and Nepal are rising quickly as the 21st century progresses. However, with this rise in standard of living comes increased demand for resources. This includes one of the most precious resources on Earth – water, or “paani” in Hindi, a commonly spoken language in both India and Nepal. As Indians and Nepalis elevate themselves out of poverty, the demand for freshwater grows higher. Water in India and Nepal is used for activities ranging from cooking to leisurely use. The limited financial resources of the Indian and Nepali governments pose a significant challenge for ensuring adequate water for each nation’s urban middle classes and rural, largely subsistence farmers. Luckily, local initiatives and international partners are chipping in to solve this issue, with considerable success.

The Challenge

India is home to 1.3 billion people, and its population increases by over 10 million people per year. With an urbanization rate of 34.9% and rapidly growing, the strain on natural resources is significant. The quick expansion of India’s middle class and the problem of resource mismanagement lead to the popularization of the term “Day Zero” across India’s metropolises. “Day Zero” refers to a hypothetical future date in which Indian cities will run out of the groundwater supply required to quench the thirst of their urban populations. Unfortunately, for some Indian cities, that hypothetical scenario is already reality.

The city of Chennai, home to over 10 million people, experienced a “Day Zero” event last year. After losing access to groundwater resources, Chennai and cities like it are forced to tap into the resources of neighboring towns and villages, jeopardizing millions of farmers and their livelihoods. This also limits farmers’ chances at rising out of poverty. Some estimates suggest that by 2030 demand could outpace supply by a factor of two.

Similarly, the nation of Nepal faces rising challenges ensuring water for its people. While considerably smaller than its southern neighbor, Nepal’s population density is high, home to the same number of individuals (over 30 million) as the much larger Canada. With higher average glacial melt as a result of climate change and an increasingly thirsty economy, the Nepali government must contend with more flooding coupled with more consistent drought. Its financial issues mirror those of India, so it too must find innovative ways to conserve and replenish its water supplies. Addressing water in India and Nepal is essential for their success as emerging economies.

The Paani Foundation – India

Though many NGOs, IGOs, and state governments are currently attempting to address challenges with India’s water supply, one in particular stands out: The Paani Foundation. Founded by famous Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, The Paani Foundation assists villages in creating natural water tables and irrigation systems. It works to sculpt the land in order to limit topsoil runoff, maintain water levels during drought and improve local biodiversity. The foundation’s focus is primarily in the Indian state of Maharashtra, located west of the Arabian sea, home to 110 million people. The scale of The Paani Foundation’s work in Maharashtra is so immense that it is often recognized as the largest permaculture project in the world. The work of this NGO showcases how inexpensive and innovative solutions are working today to address the growing water challenges in India.

The Paani Programme – Nepal

Unlike the Paani Foundation, developed by a famous Bollywood actor, the Paani Programme is a cooperative between Nepali villagers, the non-profit AVKO and the United States Agency for International Development. Though the focus of this initiative centers on biodiversity conservation, this program, like India’s Paani Foundation, aims to develop irrigation and management systems that are sustainable in design and easy to maintain. The benefits of preserving biodiversity are two-fold, as resilient ecosystems that improve local wildlife numbers also contribute to the sustainable use of water supplies. With more reliable water access and more resilient ecosystems as a result of the investments of the Paani Programme, villagers across Nepal are more able to enjoy economic resilience and elevate themselves out of poverty.

With booming populations and increasingly thirsty economies, water in India and Nepal must rely on better systems to maintain its flow. Homegrown initiatives like The Paani Foundation are showcasing how local creativity can earn international praise. At the same time, programs like USAID’s Paani Programme provide an important example of the necessity of American federal interest in global poverty reduction and sustainable resource management. With “paani” being the most valuable natural resource on Earth, it’s time to give it the attention it truly deserves.

– Saarthak Madan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ganges RiverMore individuals depend on the Ganges River in India than there are people in the United States. More than 400 million people live at the basin of the Ganges, making it one of the most important natural water resources in the world. A holy river in the Hindu faith, the Ganges River (or Ganga) is used to bathe, cook, wash clothes, conduct funerals and more. Entire businesses along the basin depend on the river, adding an economic dependence to it as well. Due to this immense usage, pollution has run rampant. The Ganga Action Parivar estimates that “2.9 billion liters of wastewater from sewage, domestic and industrial sources are dumped” in the river every single day. Pollution reduction in the river is a top priority to prevent hundreds of millions of Indians from facing water insecurity.

The World Bank Assists

In 2011, the World Bank targeted the Ganges River pollution issues by launching the National Ganga River Basin Project (or NGRBP). A $1 billion initiative, the NGRBP looked to create bank investments in the water sanitation department and develop better waste management control in India. While this did prove to be a step in the right direction, the Ganges still saw a rise in pollution. India’s inability to properly dispose of waste outpaced the World Bank’s project. After nine years, the World Bank looked to bolster its contribution to the fight to save the Ganges as more and more Indians were becoming sick. In June 2020, the Second Ganga River Basin Project received approval from World Bank directors despite the bank focusing on COVID-19, proving how dire the situation at the basin truly is. An 18-year commitment, this second NGRBP adds another $380 million to clean up the Ganges until 2038.

Ganga Action Parivar’s Impact

Along with international help from the World Bank, India also made pollution control a national issue. An array of agencies have come about in India centered around the purification of the Ganges. For over a decade, the Ganga Action Parivar (GAP) has taken a diplomatic approach to fight water pollution. Through communication with government officials, media outlets and fundraising, the GAP looks to bring awareness to the issue and demand action from within India. In 2016, the GAP launched the National Ganga Rights Act and began asking for support for it. The act detailed how there are both natural environmental and human rights on the line with the continued pollution of the Ganges River. More than just a body of water, the Ganges is an epicenter of religion, prosperity and life. Creating a natural rights act helps to ensure that action will mobilize to protect the water resource and that is exactly what the GAP has set out to do.

The Year 2020 and Beyond

The year 2020 has been a promising year for pollution reduction in the Ganges River. The World Bank launched and financed its second project centered around cleaning the water back in June 2020. New research suggests that there has also been a natural cleansing that has taken place over the past few months. Since COVID-19 forced India to shut down, the Ganges’ usage has dropped. In a video released by BBC News, just a mere 10% drop in usage throughout the pandemic has led to significant improvement in the sanitation of the Ganges. For years now, India’s government has been trying to find ways to heal the Ganges. While India and the world fight the COVID-19 virus, the Ganges River is healing. Once the lockdown ends, the work of the World Bank and GAP will be vital to keep the momentum going. If pollution rates continue to climb, India will have a water crisis on its hands. Sanitizing and protecting the Ganges is instrumental in helping India reduce its poverty rates and preserving a crucial water resource.

– Zachary Hardenstine
Photo: Flickr

Rainwater harvestingTechnology has played a significant role in the reduction of global poverty. Two particular areas technology has improved impoverished communities are water access and water quality. For instance, a newly developed piece of technology showcases the potential for enhancing water security throughout Africa. The key is effective rainwater harvesting.

Water Supply Threats

In Africa, increasing water access and sanitation has become a top priority. Consequently, many organizations — the United Nations, the African Union, and the African Development Bank — have come together to solve the water crisis by sponsoring The Africa Water Vision for 2025. It warns that African water resources are threatened by pollution, environmental degradation, and a lack of responsible protection and development.

A New Smartphone App

Despite these threats, a new smartphone app has empowered Africans to efficiently procure their own water. Rainwater Harvesting Africa (RHA) is a smartphone app that the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization jointly developed. It enables Africans to use rainwater harvesting systems to obtain their own water.

Usually, rainwater is harvested through the construction of a central water tank that connects to various downspouts. But, with this app, households are able to capture rain runoff for essential personal use.

RWH Africa utilizes real-time meteorological data to track rain patterns throughout Africa. App users can input their location, the area measurement of their rooftop, the number of people living in their household, and how much water they use per day. The app uses this information to calculate how much water can be harvested at a given time for the needs of the user. Additionally, the app provides images and directions detailing how to construct rainwater harvesting systems with locally available materials.

Promising Factors

In addition, RWH Africa has built-in resources that can improve access to water throughout Africa. They can capitalize on increased technological infrastructure to expand its user base. GSMA estimates that 475 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone will become mobile internet users within the next five years, and 27% of their mobile internet connections will be on 4G. With increased smartphone usage throughout the continent, more Africans will be able to access this powerful tool of water procurement.

Although Africa needs to increase its internet capacities to maximize the app’s effectiveness, it has a more than sufficient water supply. In 2006, the U.N. Environment Programme and World Agroforestry Centre issued a report indicating that Africa alone receives enough rainfall each year to meet the needs of nine billion people. According to the report, Africa is not water-scarce, but the continent is just poorly equipped to harvest its water resources adequately and safely. RWH Africa gives Africans the knowledge they need to personally capture these vast water resources.

Furthermore, rainwater harvesting is low-cost and easy to maintain, making it widely accessible. According to The Water Project, a household rainwater harvesting system can hold up to 100,000 liters of water. This is enough to allow communities to decouple from centralized water systems that are subject to incompetent or corrupt management. Rainwater harvesting hence enables individuals to take matters into their own hands and decrease their reliance on undependable municipal water sources.

Technology Can Beat Poverty

As internet connection and smartphone usage expand, new solutions to poverty issues, such as water insecurity, will reach more people. RWH Africa serves as an educational and practical tool for rainwater harvesting and thus can be used as an example for similar future efforts. It signifies a positive outcome of increased cooperation between international organizations and local communities in combating global poverty.

John Andrikos
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

GoliathonGoliathon is a nonprofit organization located in New Jersey, that uses obstacle courses to raise money for another organization, charity: water, which is based in New York. These two organizations jointly work to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.

Water: A Universal Human Right

In 2017, 2.2 billion people worldwide did not have access to clean water, which is roughly one in 10 people. The lack of access to clean water is due to the contamination of water as well as the location of water. With 144 million people sourcing their drinking water from untreated lakes, ponds and streams, disease is a massive concern. Unsafe and untreated water is responsible for the transmission of diseases like cholera and dysentery. Diarrhea alone claims almost 485,000 lives a year. The matter of location is equally vital. Efforts to create safe water sources mean little if they are not easily accessible for those in need. More than 200 million people must walk more than half an hour to reach a safe water source.

The U.N. recognizes access to water as a universal human right. In the effort to solve this crisis, the General Assembly argues that water must be safe, acceptable and affordable and has to be within 1,000 meters of the home. The value of water is a key reason why Goliathon has chosen to work with charity:water.

charity: water

Founded in 2006, charity: water is committed to providing clean drinking water to developing nations. The majority of its work has been centralized in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with a few projects located in Central America. These projects include well construction, water purification systems and rainwater harvesting.

Founder and CEO, Scott Harrison, recognizes the opportunities offered by technological advancements. He sees the solution to the water crisis as a possibility. He believes “It’s just a matter of getting the right resources to the right people.”

Charity: water prides itself on transparency, promising that 100% of proceeds go toward hands-on development of the projects.

Goliathon

Goliathon was founded by a group of friends who value athleticism and altruism. Their mission statement is “It’s not a race. It’s a mission.” This mission statement reflects that the water crisis is not one problem to fix but a collective mission to undertake. Goliathon’s fundraising for charity: water has resulted in several completed water projects in Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Malawi. Three more water projects have been funded and are currently under construction.

By signing up to take part in Goliathon obstacle courses, participants raise money for charity: water efforts. The courses are not a competition but a challenge that encourages everyone to be an advocate for global issues like water access.

The obstacle courses are open to all and vary in difficulty to appeal to both beginners and the more experienced. The Goliathon team has created several different obstacles for participants to overcome, each unique in design and requiring equally clever solutions. A particularly notable challenge in the course is the water carry challenge, which has participants cart jerrycans full of water as a way of connecting to those in developing nations who must do the same.

Impact of Goliathon and charity:water

Goliathon’s October 2017 event resulted in $50,000 raised for charity: water efforts in Ethiopia. Completed in September 2019, the project oversaw water spring protection and the creation of safe pipe systems. Over 1,600 people in Ethiopian communities were helped.

The most recent Goliathon event held in October 2019 had $34,000 raised for BioSand Filters in Cambodia. These BioSand Filters offer a simple and low-cost solution as a form of filtration. Their effectiveness is amplified by charity: water committing to educating the families that use them, ensuring a healthy cycle.

COVID-19 has prevented Goliathon from hosting any events in 2020. However, the Goliathon team is optimistic and is planning for a possible event in June 2021, with protocols in place if necessary.

– Kelli Hughes
Photo: Flickr

The One WaSH National ProgrammeGlobally, at least 2 billion people do not have access to clean water. The ability to access clean water supplies and sanitation is a vital aspect of a country’s development. Improved water supply and sanitation positively affect economic growth and poverty reduction as water is essential domestically and agriculturally. Furthermore, clean water and sanitation are imperative to human health. Contaminated water can cause diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid. The issue of clean water is present worldwide and demands preventative action. Thankfully, the One WaSH National Programme is here to help.

Ethiopia is one country where the water crisis needs to be addressed. Close to 33 million people in Ethiopia lack access to a safe water supply and nearly 89 million don’t have access to basic sanitation. This lack of access is responsible for 90% of diarrheal disease occurrences, which is a leading cause of child mortality in Ethiopia. To fight this, the Ethiopian government along with partners developed the One WaSH National Programme in 2013. The goal was to drastically improve access to safe water and sanitation services throughout the country.

The ONE WaSH National Programme

The One WaSH National Programme aims to improve the health and well-being of communities in rural and urban areas. Their strategy to achieve this is to increase equal and sustainable access to clean water supplies, sanitation services and good hygiene practices. As explained by the IRC, “It combines a comprehensive range of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions that include capital investments to extend first-time access to water and sanitation, as well as investments, focused on developing the enabling environment, building capacity, ensuring the sustainability of service delivery, and behavioral change. It has rural, urban, institutional WaSH and capacity building components.”

Impacts of The Programme

Phase one of The One WaSH National Programme in Ethiopia began in October 2013 and lasted till July 2017. It boasted great results. In four years, 18.7 million people gained access to water supplies and the practice of open defecation reduced from 44% to 29%. Additionally, 1,280 school WASH facilities were constructed.

The One WaSH National Programme approved its second phase in 2018. This time, the overall growth and transformation of the program was the main target for improvement. Another objective was to diminish vulnerable infrastructure in drought-prone areas in Ethiopia. Doing so would create a climate-resilient water supply system that provides the community with safe and sustainable access to water. Results for this second phase are still being collected as it was expected to run through July 2020.

The Importance of Clean Water in Poverty Reduction

Access to basic water and sanitation are vital parts to improving the economy. As such, it is essential for eradicating poverty. Many health issues faced by the poor arise because of the consumption of contaminated water. Increased availability of basic water and sanitation services can aid in general public health and assist in reducing health care costs.

The ONE WaSH National Programme has not completely satisfied their goals of extending safe water supply to 98% of the country’s rural population and 100% of city dwellers. Nevertheless, they have made many great strides toward improving sanitation services. Overall, the program has contributed significantly toward improving the standard of living within these Ethiopian communities.

The ONE WaSH National Programme and similar endeavors have the power to greatly improved the population’s access to a safe water supply and reduce poverty in Ethiopia and worldwide.

Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Engineers Without Borders
Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is a foundation that partners with poor communities to help provide them with basic human needs. Its mission is to build a better world with engineering projects that will help solve the world’s most urgent problems. It builds to save lives.

Building Safe Structures

Many people are without a home in poverty-ridden countries, often living without so much as clean water or electricity. Due to environmental disasters, forced refugees and internally displaced people, many must roam the streets. Back in 2015, estimates determined that there were 100 million people facing homelessness. The need for durable and permanent refugee camps and homes is more pressing than ever. This is where EWB-USA saves the day. It addresses the challenges in engineering associated with “transitioning emergency infrastructure to more permanent systems,” which helps boost host communities who take refugees in.

Engineers Without Borders often takes on villages’ needs for bridges to aid in safer and easier travel. It found that one Guatemalan village had to walk three hours on dangerous mountain roads just to reach the capital. Access to capitals or bigger towns can be dire as they encapsulate hospitals, schools, markets and so forth. So, the Engineers Without Borders project team and volunteers decided to create bridges for these communities. The foundation takes up to several weeks to construct these bridges to make sure they are sturdy, safe and dependable for these villagers.

Engineers Without Borders also discovered the need for schools. It found out that a native Guatemalan girl had biked over an hour to reach her school. As a result, the foundation started building schools and improving the schools’ infrastructures, making them safe and durable. It has brought education to places like Guatemala, Lat Cantun II, Santa Eulalia and more.

Installing Solar Panels

Electricity is a luxury that not many homeless or poor people get. However, it is a necessity for the safety and well-being of many people. This is why EWB-USA not only makes solar panels for villages in need but also introduces and installs them. The solar panels bring hot water, better food storage, increased phone access and light to homes and schools alike. Engineers Without Borders also installs solar street lights to help keep the residents and refugees safe.

University students in EWB-USA even built a solar charging station for villages. These stations could be used by all, specifically to charge phones. It found that cell phones were extremely important for youths to apply for jobs, apply for housing and communicate with friends and family.

Engineers Without Borders helps bring electricity to these areas by partnering with foundations like IKEA and UNHRC. Its partnerships have been a key way to faster and more efficient help for these communities. Currently, Engineers Without Borders is working on over 55 projects located in more than 20 states and two territories, trying to make a difference.

Providing Clean Water

Clean water is yet another widely inaccessible luxury in many poverty-stricken countries. In Uganda alone, over 23 million people must walk over 30 minutes a day to get water that is often contaminated, bringing disease and even death. Engineers Without Borders saw how water brings life and found creative ways of providing clean water for villages. The foundation has dug and repaired wells, built rainwater catchment systems and constructed water filters. Additionally, it has built gravity-based water supply systems in phases for those in the mountains.

In Cyanika, Rwanda, the villagers benefited from one of the Engineers Without Borders’ creative rainwater catchment systems that consisted of two single tank systems. It allows the villagers to save time as well as their lives. One villager even sent a letter of thanks, expressing their gratitude as it bettered many lives, health and well-being of all the villagers.

Engineers Without Borders continues to fight to provide people their basic rights and needs. It continues to live up to its mission of building to save lives through the power of engineering. For more information about this organization, check out its website.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Pixabay

apps improving access to clean waterThe United Nation’s sixth Sustainable Development Goal is devoted to enhancing clean water and sanitation. Specifically, it calls for equitable access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation for all by 2030. However, nearly one-third of the global population lacks access to clean drinking water. Some companies are making solutions to this problem in the form of apps improving access to clean water.

The Problem

The World Health Organization defines safe water as 20 liters per person per day of accessible, clean drinking water within one kilometer of a household or business. Without safe water, families must spend more time caring for sick loved ones and fetching water from far-away sources. This often prevents them from joining the workforce and earning an income. Businesses and schools that are unable to provide safe water often struggle to retain staff and students. Overall, communities without safe water are more susceptible to illnesses and destruction from natural disasters. Indeed, diarrheal diseases stemming from unsafe water usage and poor sanitation kills nearly 1,000 children per day.

Thankfully, technological innovation for accessing clean water is on the rise. New technological solutions range from fog-to-water conversion systems to easy-to-use water filters. Below are three apps improving access to clean water by collecting, harnessing and sharing important water systems data around the world.

mWater

John Feighery, a former NASA employee, and his wife Annie Feighery created mWater in the mid-2000s for Android devices. After working for a company testing well water in El Salvador, Mr. Feighery learned that the process of testing for clean water was cumbersome and expensive. He collected samples with heavy machinery, transported them to a far-away lab for testing and recorded locations by hand. Mr. Feighery decided he could simplify the process using technology he used with the International Space Station.

He and his wife created mWater, which records the results and precise locations of water quality tests on a mobile device. Anyone with the app can view the data. Users can add pictures and write notes on scent and appearance. Additionally, they can add data from new tests they’ve conducted using the $10 water testing kit available from the app.

With its global water quality database and expedited process of identifying safe water, mWater is one of the most comprehensive apps improving access to clean water. Today, more than 75,000 governments, NGOs, health workers and researchers use mWater for free in 180 countries. They include UN-Habitat, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and The Water Project. Altogether, mWater receives and records 250,000 water surveys per month for public use.

Akvo Flow

One of the few apps improving access to clean water is Akvo Flow. Peter van der Linde and Jeroen van der Sommen founded Akvo Flow after meeting at the World Water Week conference, in Stockholm. They wanted to improve the way that water quality data was presented via open-source technology. This allows governments and organizations to better address the issue of finding safe water. Akvo works with users to design projects, capture meaningful data, understand the data and act to improve conditions. To date, Akvo has implemented software in 70 countries by working with more than 20 governments and 200 organizations.

It aims to increase accountability, transparency and productivity for each partner organizations. Akvo Flow does this by streamlining the data collection process, which allows for quicker decision making. Some of its partnerships include setting up a sanitation monitoring system in Mauritania and working with Water for People in Peru to design solutions. Additionally, it works with UNICEF and the Ministry of Water Resources to test water quality nationwide in Sierra Leone.

Open Water Data

As the name suggests, Open Water Data makes water data available to the public. Founded in 2017 by a group of software engineers and data scientists from Datameet, Open Water Data only applies to India, where it is based. Extreme flooding followed by water-source depletion in India led the group to question the country’s water management systems. They found that the public is unable to access much of India’s water data, despite the fact that local governments need extensive data to implement water management systems.

In response, the founders created an easy-to-use map-based web app with available data from Google’s Earth Engine. It includes datasets from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Now, the app is one of a few improving access to clean water. It is a one-stop-shop for information on daily rainfall, soil moisture, groundwater and reservoir shortages. Researchers and local governments can create simple models in water-scarce regions and plan for flood mitigation using Open Water Data’s tools. Additionally, plans are in place to create a database that all parties can contribute to.

The Future of Apps Improving Access to Clean Water

In July 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern about the progress of Sustainable Development Goal 6. Specifically, he cited climate change, pollution and increasing demand as obstacles. If clean water and sanitation remain problems in 2030, global health, education and climate change will suffer. These apps improving access to clean water through data management are just one way that technology can crowdsource solutions to the global water crisis.

McKenna Black
Photo: Flickr

sanitation during covid-19COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is often spread through airborne droplets released by breathing or talking and by touching infected surfaces. Good hygiene is therefore an initial line of defense in preventing viral infection. However, hand washing requires access to clean water and effective sanitation. While COVID-19 has changed the way people think about hygiene, the lack of access many people in developing countries have to sanitation during COVID-19 remains the same.

Water Crises and Sanitation During COVID-19

More than one half of people around the world do not have access to high-quality sanitation facilities. Furthermore, COVID-19 has exacerbated this already tenuous water and sanitation situation in many parts of the world. Areas with hotspots, like Cairo and Mumbai, are often crowded with restricted public services.

To manage the immediate effects of COVID-19, governments in developing countries have turned to various short-term solutions. For example, Rwanda has installed mobile hand washing stations, while South Africa has begun to use water trucks. The Chilean government has also suspended water and sanitation charges for citizens. In a pandemic, automated water management systems are especially helpful in reducing loss, expanding access and preserving social distancing. In addition to these governmental reforms, many companies have used technology to shore up water and sanitation during COVID-19 in developing countries. Here are five organizations looking to improve sanitation during COVID-19.

Five Companies Improving Water and Sanitation During COVID-19

  1. Wonderkid: This start-up delivers smart solutions to the city of Nairobi, Kenya. The organization supplies water management software to utility companies to help address customer problems, billing, payments and running water meters. Wonderkid’s smart water meters track non-revenue water that does not reach the customer or leaks out of faulty pipes. Thus, Wonderkid allows water utilities to function more effectively and service more people. As of 2018, Wonderkid had expanded to help 36 utility companies in Mozambique, Nigeria, Malawi and Liberia.
  2. CityTaps: This organization provides poor families in Niger access to water at a much cheaper price than water vendors. Its smart water meters give water utilities more financial stability. Importantly, they can then expand their services to more poor families. This allows companies to meet the current needs for effective hygiene to fight COVID-19.
  3. Drinkwell: Impoverished people in Dhaka, Bangladesh often rely on illicit or expensive water sources. The social enterprise Drinkwell, a brainchild of American English Fulbright fellow Minjah Chowdury, provides water through ATMs. Drinkwell works with mobile service provider Robi Axiata and Dhaka WASA, a local water utility, to do so. It is also collaborating with Happy Tap, a mobile hygiene provider, to provide hand-washing services to people in Bangladesh.
  4. Sangery: Container-Based Sanitation (CBS) like Sanergy are an up and coming sanitation alternative for people in low-income areas. These systems are simpler and cheaper than sewer systems, but they are also cleaner than latrines and open defecation. CBS systems use a container to capture waste, which then turns into fertilizer. Sanergy uses this technology to resolve the sanitation crisis in Nairobi, Kenya. Run by three M.I.T. students, the company provides Fresh Life Toilets that fit into cramped urban dwellings and empty safely. The ability to have a private toilet is essential in practicing social distancing during the pandemic. During COVID-19, Sanergy has also provided 18 hand-washing stations that allow residents to practice good hygiene.
  5. Mosan: Similar to Sanergy, Mosan is a sanitation project based in Guatemala that provides container-based system toilets to people’s homes. The toilets have a durable, urine-diverting design, which keeps urine and feces in separate containers. They cover feces with dry materials like ash instead of water and eventually recycle them into usable fertilizer material. Such innovations make it more likely that people will stay at home during the pandemic. Additionally, Mosan is providing contactless pickup of containers to encourage people to stay home and social distance.

The Future of Sanitation in Developing Countries

COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in global abilities to provide safe, clean water and sanitation in developing countries. Now, many people lack the water they need to combat the coronavirus. While it is not clear if COVID-19 can spread through human waste, proper sanitation also stops the spread of infectious disease in general.

By shoring up water services and sanitation during COVID-19 in developing countries, governments and other organizations in have provided stop-gap solutions to water and sanitation issues. Technologies like digital water meters, water ATMs, container-based toilets are now saving lives in a new way. Because they help people stay home and keep clean, these solutions allow developing countries to better fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Joseph Maria
Photo: Flickr