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

Five female students from Makerere University in Uganda have developed a smartphone app for women’s health. The test kit will help rural women with little access to regular health care detect vaginal infections that may increase the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Her Health BV kit is a combination of hardware and a software application. It comes with a test kit, which is connected to the smartphone app through Bluetooth. Users place urine or vaginal discharge sample onto the kit and pH values can be sent through the cell phone app. The app interprets the results and recommends visiting a local health clinic if unhealthy levels of bacteria are present. The app also informs the user of the closest nearby clinic.

Vaginal infections, known at bacterial vaginosis, are caused by a bacterial imbalance in the female body and can lead to an inflammation of the pelvic area. The condition is not especially dangerous, but it can make the infected woman more susceptible to a number of ailments. In pregnant women, vaginal infection has been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage, as well as uterine infections after giving birth. Vaginal infections also increase the likelihood of pelvic infections and complications during gynecological procedures such as cesarean sections.

These bacterial infections have also been cited as a risk factor for the contraction of HIV/AIDS: a recent study in the journal Sexual Transmitted Infections, part of the British Medical Journal, showed 88 percent of women found to be at high risk for HIV had experienced vaginal infections during the course of the study.

As vaginal infections present no obvious symptoms for the patient, diagnosis depends on regular pelvic exams, which can be difficult for rural women to obtain.

The group of five that created the kit call themselves Team Code Gurus. They hope to partner with various NGOs and nonprofits to distribute the testing kit in rural areas of Uganda. They also plan on raising awareness for this self-diagnostic kit through local clinics and pharmacies.

Atifah Safi

Sources: Chronicle, Europe PMC, Nejm, Mayo Clinic
Photo: frontlinesms