Mobile and Web Apps Tackle Sanitation Challenges | Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation, May 9, 2013
Mobile phone and web applications that enable people to talk to local policymakers and allow children to learn through games have won a competition for technological innovations that address sanitation problems in developing countries.
One in three people today have no toilet and the global economic losses due to lack of access to sanitation amount to US$260 billion a year, according to the World Bank.
The three winners of the World Bank’s Sanitation App Challenge were announced on Friday (19 April) during the 2013 Spring Meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, United States. Representatives from each team were invited to the event and are now on a week-long tour of Silicon Valley, California.
The three apps — mSchool, SunClean and Taarifa — were chosen from ten finalists announced last month (22 March). The winners were chosen by a combination of public votes and scrutiny by a group of tech experts and World Bank members.
One judge, Jesse Shapiro, thewater, sanitation and hygiene adviser of the US Agency for International Development, tells SciDev.Net that each app was assessed on its originality, quality of user interface, technical feasibility, economic viability, how it tackles an identified problem and the team effort involved in its development.
“A lot of the apps that came out of this initiative were about accessing information and were based on the idea of transparency and the public providing information to decision-makers,” says Shapiro.
One of the winners, mSchool, works along those lines. This text-messaging tool from Senegal allows students, parents and teachers to report sanitation breakdowns and repairs required in schools.
“We set up mSchool as a platform for monitoring [sanitation] conditions in schools,” says Daniel Annerose, CEO of Manobi, the Senegal-based IT firm that developed the app.
“It’s a system that can teach children to defend their basic rights and services,” he says.
Another of the winning apps, called Taarifa, allows people in developing nations to link up with their local government, and is already in use in Uganda.
It is an open-source app that allows communities to report and address local sanitation issues by collecting and visualising information, and enables public officials to respond.
One of its developers, Florian Rathgeber, a computational scientist at Imperial College London, United Kingdom, tells SciDev.Net: “The idea was to provide a platform which one could use, especially from mobile devices, to report infrastructural issues and to get feedback on how they were processed and dealt with.”
The last of the winners, SunClean, was developed by students at the University of Indonesia. It uses games to teach children about waste disposal and hand-washing.
Jaehyang So, manager of the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program that developed and funded the competition, says that they did not expect an entry that featured a game about sanitation.
“But we thought it had a very strong messaging purpose and captured a part of life that is so common to everybody,” she adds.
The app contest was an offshoot of the two-day Sanitation Hackathon events held simultaneously in 40 cities around the world last December. During these, programmers worked intensively with subject matter experts to find innovative solutions to local sanitation challenges.
“Each of these hackathon events was very local to the cities. We wanted to create a global, virtual community and the App Challenge allowed us to do that,” says So.