Access to clean water and sanitation—taken for granted in affluent countries—is a daily problem for over one-third of the world’s population. The problem is exacerbated by the absence of effective water management in developing countries. An innovative response to this critical problem developed by Akvo.org is Akvo FLOW—an open source sensor-based platform that monitors wells and pumps in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East to create a real-time reporting systemthat is revolutionizing the way authorities manage water quality and water supply issues.
I recently visited Mark Tiele Westra, Product manager of Akvo FLOW, in their Amsterdam head office. One of the most exciting new developments is the Akvo Caddisfly suite of water quality tests. They use an inexpensive plastic card showing calibration colors (see photo). A test strip is placed in water, then a smartphone with an Android app compares the results to a central database. At launch time, the system supports measurement of chlorine, phosphorous, iron, nitrate/nitrite, arsenic and pH. The software can be updated to support new tests.
The brilliance of this program is that the cards are inexpensive and low-tech while the engine dwells in a smartphone – so the overall costs are low. In addition, the test can be done on the spot without the expense and trouble (and possible contamination) of shipping physical water samples. When the Caddisfly indicates a problem level in a sample, officials can mark that position for follow-ups when necessary. The overall impact of the program is that water quality tests can be undertaken more quickly and efficiently, meaning that more data will be collected. Since water quality is fundamental to so many health factors, this innovation can be transformational. From a jobs point of view, the Caddisfly strip can support employment both for people to collect the data, and also for those who analyze it.