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Toilets: There’s an App for That

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture

It’s no secret that the rapid rise in access to mobile phones has created a new vehicle for the delivery of information and services, particularly for people at the base of the pyramid – or those who live on less than $1.25 a day. The challenge we, as development practitioners, face is understanding how to leverage mobile phones in ways that empower citizens as agents of change who can influence and drive development processes in their communities.

The Sanitation Hackathon, which culminates today in a high-level award ceremony as part of the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings, is one example of this approach.

Globally around 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation, leading to a host of public health, environmental, economic and social problems. For example, limited access to toilets is the number one reason that girls in the developing world miss school once they hit puberty. 

Over the past year, the World Bank has worked together with local partners and citizens around the globe in an intensive process to identify sanitation challenges, and work with software developers to build mobile apps and other technology-based solutions that can help address these challenges. By working across sectors and bringing together experts who don’t normally sit at the same tables, we are using the World Bank’s global reach to support new partnerships and innovation in the developing world.

On December 1-2, 2012, over 1,000 mobile app developers participated in hackathon events in 40 cities worldwide to generate ideas for and prototype technology-based tools that can help meet public service delivery needs. After 48 hours of creativity, collaboration and coding, over 700 individuals went on to register online to continue developing their tools as part of the Sanitation App Challenge.

In early March, the Challenge closed with 28 apps making it to the final round. After a round of public voting and voting by a high-level panel of judges, on World Water Day the World Bank announced the Top 10 Finalists and the People’s Choice Winner. These finalist apps ranged from citizen feedback tools that enable tracking and reporting on the usability of public toilets, to educational games designed to teach children the importance of handwashing and trash disposal.  

Today we recognize the top three mobile app developer teams from around the globe for their winning uses of mobile and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve access to sanitation services. They are:
 

  • mSchool, developed by Manobi, a mobile and internet services firm headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, is a SMS reporting tool that enables students, parents, and teachers to monitor and report on school sanitation facilities. mSchool includes a geographic information systems (GIS) component that maps all complaints, and a back-end dashboard that enables the Ministry of Education, regional government, and civil society to track when and where complaints are made and met.
  • Sun-Clean, developed by a team of students at the University of Indonesia, is an app designed to teach children good sanitation and hygiene practices in an entertaining way. The Sun-Clean app, which was built at the December 1-2, 2012 Sanitation Hackathon event in Jakarta, includes two games: Disposal Trash and Hand Wash for Kids.
  • Taarifa, created by a team of developers based in England, Germany, Tanzania, and the United States, is an open source web application for data collection, visualization and interactive mapping that was initially developed as part of the London Water Hackathon in 2011 and adapted at the Dar es Salaam Sanitation Hackathon in December 2012. The code base includes a back-end system that enables governments or other service providers to match citizen complaints with job ticket numbers, and the app enables citizens to collect and share information through SMS, web forms, mobile app, email or Twitter.


You can learn more about these and dozens of other apps addressing sanitation sector needs at www.sanitationhackathon.org. We look forward to watching these apps being used to meet sanitation needs, including through the World Bank’s own implementation of the Taarifa app as part of the Punjab Water Project in rural India.