Published on The Water Blog

What Do Toilets and Cell Phones Have in Common?

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They both hold the potential to help meet the needs of the poor and end poverty. New ideas and innovative solutions are critical to address the 2.5 billion people who lack access to proper sanitation. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills more than 4,000 children a day and a lack of sanitation results in billions of dollars in economic losses to developing countries. Now that more people have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet or latrine, it’s time to leverage technology to help reach development goals.

We already have encouraging examples. In Bangladesh, you can pay your water bill with a mobile phone. Farmers in Nigeria use mobile phones to check crop prices. A mother in the Kibera Slum in Kenya can report a non-functioning latrine to the local authorities, and a salesman in Peru can charge money into his mobile money account.

Last year the World Bank and partners held a Water Hackathon, which brought together water and ICT experts to think of new solutions to address the world’s water crisis. About 60 water-related innovations were created by mashing up data, building on open-source technology platforms, and developing new systems. Some of the apps provided a platform for citizen feedback, while others opened up data never previously made public, introducing a new level of accountability into the sector as is the case in Peru.

The Open Peruvian Water Map was developed to address the need for access to up-to-date information on surface water resources in Peru, includes all water resources: rivers, watersheds, lakes, snow peaks, etc. Open Peruvian Map will allow citizens to report water-related events (pollution, social conflicts, floods, etc.) and makes the data available to the public for the first time, providing a tool to civil society to monitor the nation’s water issues.

Open Data holds enormous promise for increasing accountability and creating more transparency in development. Opening up data also boosts private sector development as new emerging businesses can utilize the data and create new tools and new knowledge. Among other organizations, the World Bank opened a vast amount of data, including dozens of datasets with more than 8,000 indicators. In those datasets lies the potential for new ways of finding solutions to problems we have been working to solve for years.

Along with exposing the power of data, the Water Hackathon also demonstrated the value of 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 encourage new partnerships and innovation in the developing world.

On the heels of the Water Hackathon’s success, and with World Toilet Day Nov 19, we are working feverishly to collect problem statements and prepare for the first-ever Sanitation Hackathon on Dec 1-2. Organized by the World Bank and its partners, sanitation experts and IT professionals will meet in dozens of cities simultaneously to solve problems over an intensive weekend dedicated to creating new solutions to sanitation challenges.

In Jakarta, Lahore, Pune, Dar es Salam, Helsinki, New York, London, Lima, Cape Town and Dhaka, among other cities, people will combine their strength in the global hacking weekend. If you aren’t involved yet, it’s not too late – details available at


Jose Luis Irigoyen

Senior Director, Transport and ICT Global Practice

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