Water Currents: Data for Water Sector Decision Making


Leveraging water data to make decisions greatly improves service delivery, sustains water resources, builds resilience, and ultimately helps us achieve a more water-secure world. Smart sensors and monitoring systems generate a real-time view of water usage and geospatial insights that can help ensure services are reaching the most vulnerable. Data can also help decision-makers understand the amount of available surface water and groundwater, its physical and chemical quality, and who is using water and in what quantities.

USAID’s Sustainable Water Partnership is using data collection in Cambodia’s Stung Chinit River Basin and Kenya and Tanzania’s shared Mara River Basin for water resources management. The USAID Water for Africa through Leadership and Institutional Support (WALIS) project has promoted a shift toward sustainable services delivery through the smarter use of data; better monitoring; greater emphasis on analysis; evidence-building; and strengthened sector policies and strategies in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Senegal, and other countries.

This issue features reports and resources from USAID, recent studies on data management, COVID-19 and data, artificial intelligence applications in the water sector, and sources of water data.

We would like to thank the USAID Sustainable Water Partnership and WaterAid for contributing to this issue.

In Focus

USAID Publications/Resources
USAID Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP)  ­– SWP helps to integrate water security issues into USAID missions’ programming by supporting and accelerating cross-cutting activities to advance USAID’s global water security thought leadership, innovation, and action at all levels. One example of SWP’s work is its collaboration with the Big Data Analytics and Transboundary Water Collaboration for Southern Africa, which is a public-private effort to share groundwater data among southern African countries. New SWP data-related reports include:

Other USAID Resources
Digital Profile: Strengthening Water Utilities Management in Haiti through Digital PlatformsUSAID, August 2020. The USAID Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) Project helps local utilities adopt existing digital technologies to collect and use data on their water network with the use of mWater and digital database for customers’ accounts.

Digital Profile: Digital Technologies Improve Water Access Efficiencies in KenyaUSAID, August 2020. Led by the Millennium Water Alliance, the Kenya Resilient Arid Lands Partnership for Integrated Development (Kenya RAPID) is a five-year USAID program that increases communities’ access to water services in northern Kenya. In response to significant challenges and limitations with community management of water infrastructure, the project has leveraged multiple uses of digital technology to improve efficiency, reliability, and access at scale. A recent evaluation discusses Kenya RAPID’s use of borehole sensor data from automated teller machines and other data applications.

Improving WASH Evidence-Based Decision-Making Program (IWED) Fact SheetWALIS, September 2020. The IWED program encouraged a shift toward sustainable services delivery through smarter use of data, better monitoring, greater emphasis on analysis, and evidence-building to strengthen sector policies and strategies. More information on this activity is available in this videoGlobal Waters In Focus Story, as well as country videos on EthiopiaSenegalGhanaMozambique, and Tanzania.

Is Africa on Track to Achieve the SDGs on Sanitation? African Ministers’ Council on Water, 2019. WALIS supported the development of the methodology and reporting on the Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa. This report is the result of WALIS’s support. Subregional reports are also available that provide regional analysis and break down progress toward the overall vision of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 and the Africa-specific Ngor commitments on the enabling environment for sanitation and hygiene.

Real-Time Monitoring for Improved Water Services in the Ethiopian Lowlands. September, 2018. The USAID Lowland Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Project works to increase access to improved drinking water sources in its target regions with a particular emphasis on sustainable results in areas experiencing chronic water shortages.

Using Citizen Science in Hydroclimate Monitoring for Sustainable WaterIPP Media, December 2020. USAID WARIDI introduced a citizen science approach to help the Tanzanian Wami-Ruvu and Rufiji Basin Water Boards monitor hydroclimate data for sustainable water resources management.

Data for Decision-Making/Data Management
From Data to Decisions: Data Use Planning GuideWaterAid, June 2020. This report focuses specifically on supporting stakeholders to build a critical understanding of the issues that impact the use of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) monitoring data, and helps inform strategies to address these issues within the design of sector monitoring programs.

From Data to Decisions: Developing User-Centred Monitoring Programmes for Water, Sanitation and HygieneWaterAid, June 2020. According to this policy brief, to develop user-centered monitoring systems that drive transformational change through data-informed planning, budgeting, and service delivery, governments and development partners must build a better understanding of data use that draws on insights from political economy and behavioral science.

From Data to Decisions: How to Promote Evidence-Based Decision Making through External Investments in Country-Led Monitoring ProcessesWaterAid, August 2019. Drawing from what is known about evidence-informed decision-making beyond the WASH sector, this synthesis report develops an analytical framework to investigate the use of monitoring data within WASH decision-making processes.

Data for Rural Water Decision-MakingRural Water Supply Network, November 2020. This webinar discusses the benefits of using the Water Point Data Exchange, a platform that provides a data standard for harmonizing datasets, a global data repository, and advanced analytical tools, to support easier and better decision-making for rural water services.

Scaling Digital Solutions in the Water Sector: Lessons from CityTaps and WonderkidGSMA, December 2020. This report examines the experiences of two past Innovation Fund grantees, Wonderkid and CityTaps, whose journeys to scale hold lessons for all seeking to accelerate digitalization.

Water for Smart Liveable Cities: How Rethinking Urban Water Management Can Transform Cities of the FutureInternational Water Association (IWA), November 2020. Digitalization of urban water management increases transparency, innovation, and livability. New technologies and innovative solutions go hand-in-hand with regulation and organizational development. The report launch webinar is available here.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Applications/Machine Learning
Digital Water: Artificial Intelligence Solutions for the Water SectorIWA, August 2020. This white paper focuses on presenting AI–based solutions for the water sector. The aim is to introduce readers to tangible solutions that were developed to address specific challenges in real-life water systems.

Using Artificial Intelligence for Smart Water Management SystemsAsian Development Bank, June 2020. This publication emphasizes the need for digital transformation in water distribution operations through the use of artificial intelligence, which can help enhance service delivery, reduce costs, and address unaccounted-for water problems.

Strategic Foresight to Applications of Artificial Intelligence to Achieve Water-Related Sustainable Development GoalsSEI, April 2020. This report uses strategic foresight to study applications of AI to achieve water-related SDGs. The report discusses motivations, applications, and opportunities related to the adoption of AI for sustainable development.

Artificial Intelligence in Water ResourcesIHE Delft, November 2020. This webinar covers some of the most recent ideas of applications of machine learning in Hydroinformatics.

Three Ways Artificial Intelligence Can Enhance Water GovernanceGlobal Water Forum, November 2020. The author, Christos Makridis of the National Artificial Intelligence Institute, points out three ways AI could revolutionize how water usage is governed.

Artificial Intelligence in the Water Domain: Opportunities for Responsible UseScience of The Total Environment, February 2021. The use of AI techniques in the water sector is relatively underdeveloped. This paper develops some tentative insights into what “responsible AI” could mean in the water domain.

Assessing Economic Water Scarcity Needs with GIS and AIESRI Blog, September 2019. The Global Water Challenge shares data and analysis to identify needs and record progress. Data exchange fuels applications showing where water projects will have the greatest impact.

Toilet Alarms: A Novel Application of Latrine Sensors and Machine Learning for Optimizing Sanitation Services in Informal SettlementsDevelopment Engineering, August 2020. This study used cellular-connected motion sensors and machine learning to dynamically predict when daily latrine servicing could be skipped with a low risk of overflow.

Leveraging Water Data in a Machine Learning–Based Model for Forecasting Violent ConflictWorld Resources Institute, March 2020. The authors present a methodology to forecast conflict up to a year in advance using a random forest model and also explore whether water-related indicators are useful predictors of conflict.

COVID-19 and Data
Disparate On-Site Access to Water, Sanitation, and Food Storage Heighten the Risk of COVID-19 Spread in Sub-Saharan AfricaEnvironmental Research, October 2020. About 46 percent of the sampled households in 24 sub-Saharan African countries did not have in-house access to basic necessities. Preexisting inequalities in access to water, sanitation, and food preservation compound layered vulnerabilities to COVID-19.

Computational Analysis of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Surveillance by Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Locally and Globally: Feasibility, Economy, Opportunities and ChallengesScience of The Total Environment, August 2020. Scientists are turning now to wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) as a potential tool for assessing and managing the pandemic. Combined use of WBE followed by clinical testing could save billions of U.S. dollars.

When the Fourth Water and Digital Revolution Encountered COVID-19Science of The Total Environment, November 2020. The authors discuss how the digitalization of the water sector can provide useful approaches and tools to help address the impact of the pandemic.

Global Access to Handwashing: Implications for COVID-19 Control in Low-Income CountriesEnvironmental Health Perspectives, May 2020. For populations without handwashing access, immediate improvements in access or alternative strategies are urgently needed, and disparities in handwashing access should be incorporated into COVID-19 forecasting models when applied to low-income countries.

Using Feedback to Improve Accountability in Global Environmental Health and EngineeringEnvironmental Science & Technology, December 2020. The authors propose that the application of smarter, more actionable monitoring and decision support systems and aligned financial incentives can enhance accountability between donors, implementers, service providers, governments, and beneficiaries.

From Data to Decisions: Understanding Information Flows within Regulatory Water Quality Monitoring Programsnpj Clean Water, August 2020. Results suggest that broad reforms are necessary to improve the use of water quality data to manage water safety. These measures could include strengthening enforcement of testing and reporting, building staff capacity for managing and using data, and integrating collection of water quality data with other information systems.

Data Sources
WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) – JMP has reported country, regional, and global estimates of progress on WASH since 1990. The JMP maintains an extensive global database and has become the leading source of comparable estimates of progress at national, regional, and global levels.

Data, Data Everywhere: New World Bank Water Data PortalWorld Bank, October 2020. With support from the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership, the World Bank has launched the World Bank Water Data Portal, which is a curated list of water data from the World Bank and other sources and institutions.

Water Point Data Exchange (WPDx) – The Water Point Data Exchange is an initiative of the Global Water Challenge (GWC). GWC is a coalition of leading organizations committed to achieving universal access to safe WASH and women’s empowerment.

mWater – mWater is a free data management platform used in over 180 countries where users map and monitor water and sanitation sites, conduct mobile surveys, and collaborate with local governments in real-time data views.


Water Currents
Publication Date
Produced By
USAID Water Team