Is It Possible to Access Clean Water Using Your Cell Phone?

New Media Fellows 2013

By Imani M. Cheers

July 25, 2013

Also published at The Cheers Report

Living in the United States, it’s easy to take for granted access to clean, safe drinking water. After all, when I need water I simply go to a faucet, turn it on and am confident that fresh water will appear. This reality is actually a luxury for the close to 800 million people worldwide who lack access to clean water. According to a Bloomberg article on UN World Water Day, “there are 6 billion mobile phones, according to the International Telecommunication Union, while 1.2 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people lack clean drinking water and 2.4 billion aren’t connected to waste water systems.”

The United Nations Development Program reported in 2006 that “an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.” In the seven years since that report was released the world population has increased by half a billion people and access to water has decreased.

In developing countries where water is scarce for the most vulnerable populations, women and girls, are often burdened with the responsibility of gathering water for their families. Surveys administered by WHO/UNICEF from 45 developing countries show that women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in the vast majority (76%) of households. Gary White, co-founder of Water.org, stated “the lost productivity of people collecting water is greater than the combined number of hours worked in a week by employees at Wal*Mart, United Parcel Service, McDonald’s, IBM, Target, and Kroger.”

So what can be done to ease the burden of collecting and accessing clean and safe drinking water? Columbia Global Centers in partnership with the Earth Institute has a headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya and is in the prototype phase of development for a new water dispensing system called QUENCH. This system acts as a “smart water dispensing solution that ensures all-day access to safe drinking water and transparency.” Addressing the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring environmental sustainability this system provides reliable, 24/7 service to customers while the kiosks are easy to install and maintain for local governments and operators. The system also allows customers to use their cell phones to add credit to their QUENCH card and if a cellular or wireless network is available operators can access the machine for real-time metering and system monitoring.

The Quench kiosk records each transaction and monitors the system for maintenance issues in real-time.

Currently QUENCH requires electricity to operate and is still in development but for communities struggling to find clean and safe drinking water, this type of technology is priceless. Check out the video further explaining the QUENCH method.

The connection between mobile health and technology goes far beyond the standard maternal health, HIV/AIDS and malaria crises. Clean water is essential to the health and safety of women and girls across the world and dispensing kiosks such as QUENCH is helping to merge those two industries within the water sector.  So is it possible to access clean water using your cell phone? Soon many Kenyans will be able to do just that and much, much more.

Imani Cheers is reporting on health and development in 2013 as an IRP New Media Fellow.