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Using mobile technology to test & map water quality

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  • Using mobile technology to test & map water quality

    Amanda Sperber Independent Journalist, East Africa

    USAID Invests in Open-Source Mobile Tech for Water Sanitation Monitoring
    Posted: 08/22/2013 6:59 pm

    The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)'s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) initiative just announced its investment in mWater. A non-profit tech startup, mWater has created an app for mobile phone users to instantly test and analyze water quality from local sources and share this information on their global, open-source water monitoring database.

    Drinking contaminated water is one of the main causes of diarrheal disease, the second leading cause of death in children under five years old, worldwide. mWater's preliminary work testing over 100 water sources sources in Tanzania's second largest city, Mwanza -- one of the fastest growing urban centers in East Africa -- found fecal contamination in 90 percent of shallow-dug wells and springs. Many of these sources were only a short distance from safer-piped water kiosks. In a baseline survey, mWater found water users choose from up to three water sources each day. The organization believes that more information about the safety of water sources will encourage people to make safer water choices.

    Right now, in Tanzania, more individuals have access to a mobile phone than a safe water source. mWater leverages this mobile technology and open data to simplify the work of water quality testing and allow people to easily find the safest water sources near them. mWater is helping the government of Mwanza acquire low-cost water tests. mWater's mobile app uses the onboard cameras on mobile phones to automatically detect colonies of coliform and E. coli bacteria that are grown on test plates from water samples. The water quality data that is collected is instantly analyzed and shared with local communities through a mapped database of water sources.

    Space station-inspired mWater app identifies healthy water sources

    What if that clear, sparkling stream coming from the ground or a faucet were teeming with contaminants? How would you know? Whether you live in some remote region of Africa, a high rise in New York City or aboard an orbiting laboratory in space, you need reliable drinking water to survive. You now can check for yourself the cleanliness of your water using the mWater app on your mobile phone.

    This handy tool, based in part on International Space Station technology, provides a global resource available for free download as an app or usable via the Web browser version of the app on most smartphones. Governments, health workers and the public all can make use of mWater to record and share water test results. During the first year of the beta release of mWater, more than 1,000 users downloaded it and mapped several thousand water sources.

    John Feighery, mWater co-founder and former lead engineer for air and water monitoring with NASA, was inspired by his work for the space station. There, he and his team created efficient, mobile and ambient testing techniques to test for contamination in drinking water sources without the need for costly lab equipment such as incubators. The resulting Microbial Water Analysis Kit (MWAK)?part of the environmental monitoring Crew Health Care System Environmental Health System (CHeCS EHS) suite aboard station?sparked Feighery's imagination, providing the basis for the mWater testing of E. coli in 100 milliliter (3.38 ounce) water samples.

    mWater android apps
    Twitter: @RonanKelly13
    The views expressed are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other person or organization.