Why Are Pakistani Students So Excited About Discussing ‘Open Defecation Free Status’?

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ImageAfter 29 hours of working without break, followed by presentations and a tense six hour wait for results, Agam Saran excitedly announced on Facebook that his team was one of two winners of the Water and Sanitation Hackathon Pakistan.

The 21-year old student at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, on a team with four friends, was one of 106 students, aged 21 to 26, who spent the December 1-2 weekend in Lahore, developing mobile and web based applications for water and sanitation utilities in Pakistan. They came from various universities across the country to participate in the Sanitation Hackathon 2012.

Twenty five teams presented 27 solutions to 13 problems that covered various water and sanitation problems (read the problem statements). Similar events were held simultaneously in 14 cities in South Asia and around the world, in which 1151 coders participated, working on 125 problems, and presented 181 solutions.

The Pakistan event was organized by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) in partnership with the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and the Urban Unit, Government of Punjab. The Hackathon was groundbreaking in that it was the first time a code fest was arranged to tackle development challenges in Pakistan.

The coding began at 8 AM on Saturday continuing without break till 1 PM on Sunday. The teams of hackers worked through the night as they debated and designed their applications.

After six hours of intense and interesting presentations, the judges announced the results. Team FAST INNOVATERs from the Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology National University and team PROTOTYPE from COMSATS Institute won the coveted first and second place, while team BNU took third. FAST INNOVATERS and BNU both used codes provided by tech partner SMSall.pk. FAST INNOVATERS designed an application to improve the monitoring of complaints redressal using mobiles in the Peshawar Development Authority’s jurisdiction. PROTOTYPE developed an application to facilitate municipalities in certifying Open Defecation Free status in rural areas of Pakistan.

Twitter, Facebook, and SMS played a vital role in communicating with participants. Beginning weeks before the event, with over 100 updates and SMS through participant groups, all relevant communication was shared with participants and organizers alike. It was also an integral part of participant feedback.

The winning teams will now work with Peshawar and Punjab municipal institutions to implement their developed solutions, and have won a six month incubation contract under PITB's PLAN 9 incubation program. Two participants will also be selected as IT Ambassadors for Water and Sanitation by the WSP to promote the use of ICT in Pakistani utilities.

The Hackathon also helped forge relations between university programmers and government departments. The faculty and administration of most participating universities have expressed a desire to continue working with the PITB, the Urban Unit, and WSP to develop a culture of research and development in their respective departments. With 121 million mobile connections in Pakistan, the ICT sector provides enormous potential for applications to development problems beyond water and sanitation to other sectors, especially health, education, and energy.

At the World Bank, our Water and Sanitation unit hopes to further use the relationships built and ideas generated over that weekend in Lahore to continue our work on finding innovative solutions to Pakistan’s development problems!

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Masroor Ahmad

Senior Water & Sanitation Specialist

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