Here's what I can tell you about the drinking water situation in the tiny Rwandan village of Mwite. The few closest spring catchments--basically cement basins with a pipe of flowing water--are working, but not producing as much water as they should. The catchment further to the west, a handmade system nearly a century old, is no longer functioning, so the best bet will probably require a walk to the northernmost safe water source in the area, the newest cement-encased spring catchment, built in 2007.
I didn't speak to anyone in Rwanda for this story, or to anyone who had recently been to Mwite, north of the capital city of Kigali, but I can confidently relay details about the water situation in that far-flung rural village thanks to...what else? An Android-based app.
The agencies and nonprofit organizations that work to ensure that places like Mwite have clean drinking water will tell you that infrastructure is just one challenge, among others being highlighted today on World Water Day. After the pipes and pumps are installed, there's the never-ending task of monitoring and maintaining thousands of sites spread across the challenging terrain of places like Rwanda, Liberia, or Bolivia.
For years, teams would go into the field with pounds of paper questionnaires, cameras, and maybe an expensive GPS, and gather data on individual sites--all of which would then be stuffed in a file cabinet somewhere back in the capital city, spending most of its time collecting dust.
Today's high-end smartphones combine all those monitoring tools into a single, inexpensive, convenient device that not only collects data on water projects but can also analyze, map, and share it--tasks that would have in many cases taken an unthinkable amount of time just a year ago.
That's when Water for People, a Denver-based nonprofit working on water and sanitation projects in 11 countries, started thinking about an easier way to monitor its projects. The group brought in developer Dru Borden of Gallatin Systems to design an application that could handle survey results, photos, and geolocation data in a single package. The result is Field Level Operations Watch, better known as FLOW. Water for People deployed a team equipped with smartphones loaded with FLOW for the first time in Rwanda last August. … Read more