All month long I have been writing about the IoT (Internet of Things) and developing nations. A connecting thread between all of these discussions is infrastructure. For the final column this week, I am focusing on how the IoT can enable water and sanitation solutions in developing nations. As you might recall, in the last column I addressed mhealth and telehealth solutions that can broaden access to healthcare in places where physical infrastructure, such as hospitals, are few and far between. But another key issue in many undeveloped areas of the world is access to clean water and safe sanitation systems.
Safe water and sanitation systems are huge in promoting good health. If developing nations can leverage technology to give their citizens access to these crucial services, it will lessen the burden on their current and future health systems.
For this column, let’s examine a few cool water and sanitation solutions my team and I have come across in our research on this topic. The first water-related solution has less to do with water quality and health and more to do with water and safety; it helps warn people of impending floods.
The Hidrosónico project is deployed in Honduras, where many farms and villages are susceptible to flash flooding because they’re located on the banks of rivers. The solution leverages sonar-equipped water flow sensors that collect key hydrological data about the water level below ground.
The modules then send this data to a cloud application and/or to individuals via SMS or email. The sensors can also monitor precipitation. These warnings are particularly important in developing nations for several reasons. First, emergency response services may not be well equipped to step in and save people from flash floods, so the more time local authorities and citizens have to evacuate an area and prepare for an event, the better.
Second, the quality of homes and buildings in these areas may not be able to withstand flooding like structures would be able to elsewhere. So, in other words, a flood in Honduras could end up being more devastating in terms of property and livelihood damage than it would be in a more developed nation.
Now, we’re a bit early for Global Handwashing Day, which is coming up on October 15, but the next solution is all about hygiene. A program called “RW Siaga Plus+” was developed to increase household access to clean water and improved sanitation in poor urban neighborhoods in Indonesia.
In countries like Indonesia, diseases and ailments like diarrhea are a major cause of sickness and death among children in poor neighborhoods. However, by leveraging the IoT, communities can help improve water supply and sanitation services that prevent such diseases and ailments.
One solution, which was deployed by the Mercy Corps of Indonesia as part of the RW Siaga Plus+ program, collected data from water flow sensors and motion detectors to measure the impact of behavior change training aimed at increasing the rate of hand washing after using the bathroom. The solution involved flow meters installed at hand-washing stations, in addition to motion detector latrine monitors on each bathroom stall.
In this case, the data was analyzed and used for a public health evaluation, which will hopefully lead to creating more effective public health campaigns in the future.
There’s a company called Initial that also offers connected hygiene solutions specific to hand washing, though its focus is not necessarily on developing countries. Initial’s hygiene-connect wireless solution continuously monitors and tracks on-site hand-washing compliance for businesses and organizations like restaurants and hospitals.
What is so interesting about this solution is that realtime feedback can be displayed to people visiting the bathroom via a tablet-like device by the washroom door, saying something like 98% hand washing compliance. Seeing those realtime results staring you in the face, I would bet fewer employees walk out of the restroom knowing they haven’t washed their hands.
This reality is a product of our connected society. When we’re confronted with data about our own behavior, it often encourages us to want to do better—or, at least, it encourages us to be on our best behavior.
There is one more solution that is worth mentioning in the critical infrastructure space. WellDone Intl., is a nonprofit organization that builds technology tools to empower resource-constrained communities with the data they need to provide critical infrastructure. WellDone offers its MoMo remote monitoring technology for a variety of applications including rural water, power, sanitation, and health services.
One potential MoMo application is remotely monitoring flow rates on rural water infrastructure, specifically hand pumps, in places like rural Tanzania.
MoMo uses a GSM (global system for mobile) communication module to transmit the data it collects, which can be used to improve accountability and increase efficiency across rural infrastructure sectors.
Improving accountability and increasing efficiency across infrastructure is also a need here in the United States. The U.S. could do a lot better when it comes to water and sanitation-related infrastructure.
The ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers’) 2017 report card for American Infrastructure gave drinking water a D, solid waste a C+, and wastewater a D+.
So, however crucial IoT solutions can be in the developing world, I’m not ignoring the fact that everything’s not exactly rosy here at home. Looking toward the future, though, I do see IoT solutions bringing key services and advantages to people living in developing nations.
The IoT requires some infrastructure investment, obviously, but as we’ve seen in this segment, it can also be a component in building up and maintaining physical infrastructure that can deliver some of these key services and advantages.
And while America’s infrastructure problem will most certainly affect the United States economy in the future if we don’t find a way to get it up to speed, the stakes in the developing world seem so much higher.
We’re often talking about sickness vs. health—even life vs. death. There’s a lot to talk about in the IoT and even so much more work yet to be done. Where are you in the IoT learning curve—or should I say, IoT contribution stage?
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