Water Currents: WASH and Mobile Technologies


Mobile devices, technologies, and services have the potential to improve service delivery to remote populations and the bottom line for water and sanitation service providers. In addition to monitoring how water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems function, mobile technologies can be used to deliver financing and payment solutions, to collect reliable data on usage and operations, and to identify gaps and inform policy decisions.

USAID works on building the capacity of local governments and utilities to apply these new technologies to enhance data collection for decision-making, monitor the quality and quantity of water resources, improve forecasting, and support overall monitoring and evaluation efforts. This issue contains recent studies on how mobile applications are being applied to financing, water utilities, humanitarian WASH situations, and other areas.

We would like to thank staff from the GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Initiative for contributing content to this issue.

Draft USAID Digital Strategy. USAID, October 2019. USAID’s first ever Digital Strategy charts an Agency-wide vision for development and humanitarian assistance in the world’s rapidly evolving digital landscape. The strategy is open for comment through November 3, 2019.

How Can Online Data Platforms Improve Management of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services? WaterAid's Experience Using mWaterWaterAid, February 2019. Increased access to mobile phones has allowed for a shift in how information is gathered, shared, and used. WaterAid staff discuss how this access can benefit the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector, and explore the benefits of the online data tool mWater in monitoring the quality of WASH services.

The Future of Water: A Collection of Essays on 'Disruptive' Technologies that May Transform the Water Sector in the Next 10 YearsIDB, April 2019. Experts identify what they believe to be the key technological changes that will transform the sector and whether they have the potential to become “disruptive.” The authors also discuss which enabling conditions would be necessary to encourage the adoption and mainstreaming of each technology.

Mobile for Development Utilities Perspective – Our Quarterly Insights – Issue 1GSMA, August 2019. In this first issue, GSMA explores the digitization of water utilities in Africa and Asia. Water utilities in countries with poor access to clean water are stuck in a cycle of huge operational losses, making it impossible to invest in infrastructure that would serve more people and leaving many to rely on unsafe alternative sources of water. Can digitization help solve the problem?

Access to Water and Sanitation in Emerging Markets: The Impact of Mobile TechnologyGSMA, November 2018. In this video, grantees of the Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund—CityTaps, Loowatt, and Wonderkid—discuss what they are doing to solve the access gap and what the future of these sectors looks like.

Key Trends in Mobile-Enabled Water Services: What’s Working and What’s NextGSMA, August 2018. This report discusses three key trends in mobile-enabled water delivery that have been tested and explores these in light of broader industry trends.

Financial Technology 
Testing the Waters: Digital Payments for Water and SanitationCGAPGSMA, March 2019. Research found that digitizing payments in the water sector can have a positive impact on the financial sustainability of water service delivery models for low-income populations. Specifically, digital payments reduce operational expenses and enable more efficient service delivery.

Digitizing Payments for Household Water Connections in GhanaSafe Water Network, August 2018. Prepaid, mobile, money-enabled meters for household connections improve water service provider financial viability and consumer satisfaction. However, robust consumer training is needed to realize full financial, operational, and consumer benefits.

The Potential of PAYGo for Achieving Water and Sanitation for All (SDG 6)BFA, March 2019. This report explores how digital tools (e.g., smart meters and mobile payments) developed as part of PAYGo solar in East Africa can be combined with new business models to scale in-home water connections in pursuit of clean water for all.

Fintech for the Water Sector: Advancing Financial Inclusion for More Equitable Access to Water. World Bank, January 2019. The emerging field of financial technology (fintech) can help address barriers to financial inclusion in the water sector while potentially reducing or eliminating the need for subsidy. This paper explores how fintech can support expansion of market-based solutions for water, sanitation, and irrigation, identifying several case studies where fintech is already being used to address financial inclusion and access to water.

Performance-Based Funding for Reliable Rural Water Services in AfricaUptime; University of Oxford, May 2019. A graveyard of failed water supply infrastructure across Africa points to the legacy of well-meaning but poorly executed investments. The enduring problem is that providing maintenance services to rural and remote populations is not financially viable in many contexts. Without credible data on observed delivery costs, government, donors, private finance, or other investors cannot allocate current funding efficiently.

Humanitarian/Health Applications 
Mapping and Analysis of the Disaster Risk of Water Supply Schemes by Using Mobile Application41st WEDC International Conference, 2018. As part of a risk mapping study to determine the functionality and status of water supply schemes following the Nepal 2015 earthquake, researchers used a mobile-based tool, KOBO, to collect the data and information. The findings were linked with Google Earth.

Formative Research for the Design of a Scalable Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Mobile Health Program: CHoBI7 Mobile Health ProgramBMC Public Health, August 2019. The pilot findings indicate that the CHoBI7 mHealth program has high user acceptability and is feasible to deliver to diarrhea patients that present at health facilities for treatment in Bangladesh. Both text and voice messages were recommended for program delivery.

The Digital Lives of Refugees: How Displaced Populations Use Mobile Phones and What Gets in the WayGSMA, July 2019. Humanitarian services are increasingly digitizing, and mobile phone penetration and use among refugees is growing. The transition to mobile-based services can offer significant protection dividends and other wide-ranging benefits for refugees who are digitally literate and can access and engage with mobile services effectively.

Disruptive Technologies and their Use in Disaster Risk Reduction and ManagementITU, March 2019. Technological advancement and innovation have created new opportunities for enhancing disaster resiliency and risk reduction. Innovations in such areas as robotics and drone technology are transforming many fields, including disaster risk reduction and management.

Global Report on Water and DisastersHigh-Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP), July 2019. Water-related disasters in 2018 resulted in a death toll of 6,500, more than 57 million people affected, and economic losses of $140 billion worldwide.

Monitoring Applications 
The Digital Dividend: Information Technology Improves the Delivery of Water and Sanitation ServicesUNICEF, January 2019. This article discusses a registered key informant for the Mahole water point in Insiza South District, southeast of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Her duties include ensuring that information on water infrastructure (including the pump functionality of boreholes, water yields, and water quality) reaches the area enumerator in real time.

Leveraging Satellites and the Internet of Things, SweetSense Facilitates Water Service Access in Kenya and Water Resource Management in CaliforniaAgrilinks, May 2019. SweetSense is a social enterprise that integrates and leverages cutting-edge technologies to improve the quality and value of water services. This article discusses SweetSense’s partnership with USAID in Kenya and with the Freshwater Trust in California.

Mobile Crowd Participation to Root Small-Scale Piped Water Supply Systems in India and BangladeshJournal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development, January 2019. To identify the relevance and acceptability of piped water supply and smartphone monitoring, this study conducted four surveys with potential end users. Based on these surveys, the authors concluded that there is a desire for piped water systems, that households already own smartphones with Internet access, and that there is an interest in smartphone monitoring.

Mobile Communities in Ethiopia Seek Fixed Solutions to their Water and Sanitation Challenges. USAID Global Waters, July 2018. Working with USAID’s Lowland WASH Activity, SweetSense, a private-sector partner, has installed 107 sensors to conduct real-time data monitoring of each water scheme’s operations. These sensors rely on the same technology that enables many people in the United States to program their thermostats remotely from an app on their phones.

Handpump Data Improves Water AccessThematic Research Network on Data and Statistics, November 2018. The Smart Handpump Project illustrates how new information flows from innovative sensor data can improve key services. Such low-cost and scalable data interventions strengthen the governance and management of resources critical to sustainable development.

A Review of In-Situ and Remote Sensing Technologies to Monitor Water and Sanitation InterventionsWater, June 2018. It is hoped that improved monitoring of water and sanitation interventions will reveal more cost-effective and efficient ways of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this paper, the authors review the landscape of approaches that can be used to support and improve on the water and sanitation targets of SDG 6.1 and SDG 6.2.

Sanitation Services 
Integrating Mobile Tech into Sanitation Services. Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, June 2019. This Topic Brief is a useful guide for those in the WASH sector with an interest in integrating mobile phone technology into sanitation service provision in sub-Saharan Africa.

Supporting Waterless Flush Sanitation Through Mobile Technology–LoowattGSMA, April 2019. This video showcases how Loowatt  is leveraging mobile technology and mobile payments to more efficiently deliver container-based sanitation services in Madagascar.

Water Utilities
Seeking Sustainability in Water Service Delivery in HaitiUSAID Global Waters, October 2019. This blog discusses the use of the mWater platform by the USAID’s Water and Sanitation (WatSan) Project in Haiti. mWater is an open-source platform that helps water utilities to better map and manage water systems.

Digital Water Industry Leaders Chart the Transformation JourneyInternational Water Association, June 2019. This paper—largely based on interviews, surveys, and inputs from nearly 50 utility executives and more than 20 subject matter experts—examines how digitalization is transforming the water sector through the experiences of water and wastewater utilities. The aim of this report is to provide an overview of the current state of digital in the water sector, the potential value for digital solutions, and the lessons learned from those on the digital journey.

Mobile for Development Utilities Annual Report: Intelligent Utilities for AllGSMA, March 2019. The Mobile for Development Utilities program improves access to basic energy, water, and sanitation services in underserved communities using mobile technology and infrastructure. Its work encompasses any energy, water, and sanitation service provided to a community that includes a mobile component.

Delivering Water to Urban Homes Through Smart Metering and Mobile PaymentsCityTapsGSMA, February 2019. This video showcases how GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund grantee CityTaps’ prepaid smart meter solution is enabling the urban poor in Niamey, Niger, to access affordable and safe running water at home. Their prepaid smart meter incorporates machine-to-machine technology, which allows households to make micro-prepayments for their water at any time using mobile money.

Digital Innovations for WASH in Urban Settings – UNICEF, Arm, the African Academy of Sciences with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched a Global Grand Challenge Exploration—Digital Innovations for WASH in Urban Settings—with the aim of improving access to safe, clean, and affordable water in urban areas. The website contains descriptions of the grantees from Kenya, Uganda, Vietnam, and other countries.

GSMA Mobile for Development – This program stimulates digital innovation to deliver both sustainable business and large-scale socio-economic impact for the underserved.

GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Programme – The goal for this GSMA program is to unlock commercially sustainable business models that leverage mobile to deliver affordable and improved energy, water, and sanitation services in emerging markets.


Water Currents
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USAID Water Team
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