25 March 2013
Multinational technology giant IBM has launched a crowdsourcing project to help capture, share and analyze information about the water distribution system in South Africa.
The project, called “WaterWatchers,” is driven by a new mobile phone application and SMS capability that will enable South African citizens to report water leaks, faulty water pipes and general conditions of the country’s water infrastructure for 30 days starting from World Water Day, 22 March.
“Every update will provide vital data points to an aggregated ‘WaterWatchers’ report to create a single view of the issues challenging South Africa’s water distribution system,” IBM said in a statement on Friday.
The free app, which is currently available for Android and available for download at www.ibmwaterwatchers.co.za, and the SMS capability together provide an easy way for anyone to collect and report issues on local waterways and pipes to a centralized portal.
After taking a photo and answering three simple questions about the particular water canal or pipe, the data will be uploaded in real-time to a central database. After 30 days, the data will be analyzed and aggregated into a meaningful “leak hot spot” map for South Africa.
“This project is about analyzing use, predicting demand and managing the future of our country’s water,” said IBM South Africa Smarter Planet executive Ahmed Simjee.
“It’s a unique exercise in crowdsourcing for South Africa, and we encourage every person to become a ‘citizen scientist’ – to engage with the environment and help create a big picture map of our water leaks and issues,” Simjee said
“By enabling countless individuals to gather and submit data, WaterWatchers represents a new kind of data aggregation, analytics and visualization for water planners in South Africa – and is exactly the kind of ‘big data’ challenge IBM excels at solving.”
Under-spending on water in South Africa has seen the Department of Water Affairs increase spending by 20% to R9-billion (U$900-million) in 2011-2012, while spending on water sector management increased by 28.8% year-on-year over the same period, and spending on water infrastructure management rose by 13.2% year-on-year.
But the pressure of urban population influx continues to place more strain on the country’s ageing water infrastructure. According to the 2011 Census, 93% of South African households had access to safe water in 2010 – but only 45% of those with access to water actually had it in their homes.
According to IBM, a WaterWatchers report will be made available to local municipalities, water control boards and other water system stakeholders once the data had been filtered appropriately. This could help local municipalities vizualise and prioritize improvements to city water infrastructure.
“This project is a natural extension of the work we have done to address non-revenue water in Tshwane with IBM, and as the capital city we will lead the roll-out of this program nationally,” said Tshwane Executive Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa. “We challenge other cities to join the initiative and help manage this precious resource as best as we can.”
IBM says it believes the WaterWatchers platform holds huge potential for similar applications that can be used to monitor and report on just about any aspect of one’s environment: city services, wildlife, noise pollution, air quality, weather and more.
“Interest in IBM’s Smarter Planet strategy to transform growing cities and address massive urbanisation in the South Africa has grown rapidly,” IBM said. “The City of Johannesburg has strategically addressed its 2030 vision and partnered with IBM to develop a roadmap for smarter public safety.
“The City of Tshwane has led the way in addressing water challenges, addressing ever increasing water scarcity and the requisite water conservation with a nine-point plan developed by IBM Corporate Service Corps in 2011.”