Issues We Work On
Mobile Phone Solutions for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)
Rapidly growing populations, decreasing water availability, and more erratic precipitation due to climate change are causing a crisis among the urban poor: millions of city dwellers in developing countries don’t have access to regular, reliable, safe, or affordable water and sanitation. The urban poor are willing to pay for water and sanitation services, and often are paying many times more for water from private sources. Water and sanitation utilities around the world have demonstrated that providing service to the urban poor can improve the financial health of utilities, yet many still don’t have access to information to help them make this case.
The widespread and rapidly growing use of mobile phones throughout the world offers an exciting opportunity for enabling information to flow between communities, governmental entities, water and sanitation service providers, and NGOs and to support rapid and informed decision-making. Mobile connectivity is outpacing 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.
Mobile phone technology is making it easier for people to access information – and it is spurring demand for information access and transparency. Communities can report conditions such as poor water quality and sewage backflow, register lack of infrastructure to aid in network expansion, view information on the status of service provision and problem resolution, and connect and work together around issues of concern. Utilities and governments can increase service provision to underserved and vulnerable communities, alert residents to service changes, and 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. NGOs, community-based organizations, and media can develop alternate and transparent sources of information to highlight situations where little or no formal information exists.
The Pacific Institute’s WASH SMS Project is creating a highly accessible communication and monitoring system that uses readily available mobile phones to collect and disseminate information that can fill multiple data needs – for poor residents, utilities, local governments, NGOs, as well as the average customer – and is designed to be accessible both to resource-strapped utilities and poor residents. Through crowd-sourcing it helps develop rich, actionable data that addresses critical urban WASH needs, and informs better policymaking, budgeting, and planning.
By enabling information about water and sanitation problems to flow among communities, governmental entities, and utilities, 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.