A new study was recently carried out by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank on how to unlock the potential of Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) to improve Water and Sanitation Services in Africa. According to a Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) report, in 2014 52% of all global mobile money deployments were in Sub Saharan Africa and 82% of Africans had access to GSM coverage. Comparatively, only 63% had access to improved water and 32% had access to electricity. This early adoption of mobile-to-web technologies in Africa provides a unique opportunity for the region to bridge the gap between the lack of data and information on existing water and sanitation assets and their current management — a barrier for the extension of the services to the poor.
Additionally, the poorest are lacking adequate platforms to hold their service providers accountable and be heard by decision makers. In analyzing strengths and weaknesses of existing ICT tools in the water and sanitation sector, the study aimed at helping practitioners operationalize ICT usage in their water and sanitation projects.
The study, a global desk review and case studies in seven African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, Benin, Niger and Liberia), provides evidence on how ICTs can be used to leapfrog the water and sanitation sector towards more sustainable service delivery. Among other benefits, ICTs can contribute to strengthening the sustainability of the water and sanitation systems, raising consumers’ voices and improving services to the poor.
Below are some of the potential benefits of integrating ICTs in water and sanitation projects:
- Reduces the duration and costs of monitoring and inventory activities. Accurate data and information management systems are a precursor for sound management and decision support systems. ICTs can help make data transfer more efficient, reduce manual data errors, and increase the frequency of monitoring due to relative cost effectiveness. For example, in Liberia the use of FLOW, an open source mapping software, allowed for the mapping of over 10,000 water points in less than six months in 2011 and supported the preparation of a national WASH sector investment plan from 2012 to 2017. In Liberia, a traditional paper based survey would take at least one year with no guarantee on the quality of data collected.
- Improves efficiency gains of water service providers. ICTs can enable shortened response time, reduce travel distance and maintenance costs, optimize operations (production costs, energy efficiency etc.) and improve quality of service. The establishment of the Senegalaise Des Eaux (SDE) supervision cockpit for urban water supply in Senegal has contributed to increased network efficiency from 69% to 80% within 10 years. In Benin, an ICT based platform (mWater) facilitated access to financing for service providers through documentation of historic data on technical and financial operations permitting financing of investments by local commercial Banks.
- Improves collection rates of water service providers through ICT based-payment systems. Some of the most common ICTs adopted by utilities are e-payment systems which offer payment facilitation and increased reliability in billing and payment recovery, reduced administrative and payment transaction costs, and improved revenue collection. The Kiamumbi Water Trust (KWT) in Kenya established an M-PESA payment system in December 2010, enabling 550 households to settle their monthly water bills via mobile phone. In the first month, 42% of customers had transitioned to the mobile payment channel, rising to 59% by month four.
- Ensure better services to the poor. Mobile phones, especially, are particularly well placed to serve the development needs of the poorest and most vulnerable populations. They represent a widespread and relatively low-cost communication option for rapid information transfer and service facilitation whilst eliminating prevalent issues of distance and time. In Kenya, Jisomee Mita is an application that enables water consumers to use a mobile phone to query and receive current water bills, at a frequency of their convenience.
- Strengthen citizen voice and accountability framework. ICTs can be used to promote public participation and create a system of transparency and accountability. MajiVoice, a platform for communication between citizens and utilities, was successfully tested in Nairobi and enabled complaints rose from 400 to over 4,000 per month and 94% of submitted complaints closed up from 46% in initial months.
 From findings of the study on ‘Unlocking the Potential of Information Communications Technology to improve Water and Sanitation Services’ by Mouhamed Fadel Ndaw, Sr. Water and Sanitation Specialist
 The synergies between mobile, energy and water access: Africa – GSMA 2014