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5 potential benefits of integrating ICTs in your water and sanitation projects

Fadel Ndaw's picture
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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[1]. According to a Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) report[2], 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
 

[1] 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
[2] The synergies between mobile, energy and water access: Africa – GSMA 2014
 

Comments

Submitted by Jema Sy on

Thanks Fadel. What were the findings on how to help clients cope with the fast pace of change in ICT? Should they be looking to develop in house capacity or improving outsourcing?

Submitted by Fadel Ndaw on
This is a very important question and an ongoing concern within the sector. In the majority of ICT implementation we have seen that the change management required to introduce the technology is substantial and organizations require time to adapt to the new way of doing business. Since some of the tools chosen were within an operational context (low cost and hard wearing device) the ICT change is not as substantial. We also found that high-end phones are not that common and that there is a limit to what people would like to spend on new technology. Therefore the pace of change is somewhat limited by the economic ability to implement new technologies.

Submitted by Laye Kanté on

Merci Fadel
following Jema sy question... je peux ajouter que le renforcement des capacités internes des agents publics dans un sens de mieux comprendre les choix technologiques en vue d'anticiper sur leurs effets à long terme est un vrai challenge. En effet la plus part des applications phares dans le domaine de l'eau notamment dans l'inventaire des ressources en eau et leur cartographie se font sur des plateformes qui échappent pour la plus part aux autorités locales et souvent sur des formats qui ne facilient pas leur réutilisation en soutient à l'innovation.
Cela tend à "piéger" les admnistrations publiques en les enfermant dans des logiques de "fidélisation" envers un nombre trés réduit de prestataires informatiques.
Cela ne favorise pas l'innovation ni l'éfficacité des politiques publiques car ne s'adossant sur des données d'accés faciles.
Alors comme recommandé dans beaucoup d'études de cette nature et dans cette étude que vous mentionnez il faut rapidement aller vers l'ouverture des données publiques dans le secteur de l'eau cela permettra aux acteurs publics d'avoir une approche et analyse systémiques des données collectées tout en permettant le renouvellemenr rapide des solutions informatiques via le développement d'APP innovantes et profitables au secteur WASH.

Submitted by Samuel Njogu on

Your proposal is a viable solution to the water and sanitation problem and can drastically change growth in Africa and the world.The World Bank estimates that lack of access to sanitation costs the world about US $260 Billion annually. The system you propose will definitely cut this cost leaving almost everyone healthy. Have there been challenges to reception of ICTs by the consumers? Are there any substantial human resource or cost implications in the installation, operation and maintenance of such technologies?

Submitted by Fadel Ndaw on
There have been challenges to ICT implementation by consumers; there have also been organizational challenges – and any change implementation requires management of that change. Regarding the HR and cost implications of implementation, we have seen costs in training, upscaling, support and maintenance that were not expected or planned for but they are manageable. For more information, please read the report: Unlocking the Potential of Information Communications Technology to Improve Water and Sanitation Services.

Submitted by Pheona Wall on

Dear Fadel,
I totally agree with you on the ease and affordability of ICT tools in water management. In NWSC we have benefitted greatly from automating certain systems. Even basic erroneous omissions in the past have been eliminated using ICT applications to manage payments, estates cases etc Looking forward to seeing how NRW is managed with prepaid smart water meters and district metering.

Submitted by Femi Aluko on

I read this applied document with keen interest. First, it is a panacea to WASH reporting, from multiple rural communities toa LGA database, onwards to the State and National Databases respectively with graduated access at various levels.

Now, How can ICT be used for field data research and baseline surveys in various developing countries, through android based phones. Are there freely available platforms that hosts and support data uploading in multiple sites and downloading at a central platform? I am just curious.

Submitted by Dr M L Gaur on

Its really a wonderful publication. congratulation to authors and implementing agencies. it will pave a new path for smart water by smart researchers for our smart future generation.

Submitted by Dr M L Gaur on

The biggest users of global water are the farmers. Mostly it is used for irrigation. The overall hydrological water balance and thereafter its micro level budgeting keeping in view the issues of local climate change, local water needs, local crop-vegetation demands, locally available volumes/parcels of water (on surface or under the surface), flow dynamics of rain water to cater water needs of lands which are often thirsty in terms of water and hungry in terms of nutrients, sharp and intensive alterations in land uses by farmers at one hand while equally sharp and intensive changes in input rainfall or irrigation water sources ; makes the situation extremely complex in nature and large in its dimension. Who will solve it and when with what way? is a big question here. The only answer at this stage when world is becoming digital and smart , is the It and ICT based tools and technologies for water resource data, management, and use . this is a good platform to discuss and churn out some food for thought on it. I am finding myself extremely please here as it is the futuristic way to deal our fast depleting water resources specifically in agrarian sector, and in particular for tropical situations like India, which has almost highest number of humans as well as animals and all needs a smart management of water with smart IT and ICT based tools.

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