By Dr. Eoin Lane
On World Water Day this year, IBM is exploring how fundamental shifts in technology can help address the world’s water problem. Dr. Kala Flemming from the IBM Research Lab in Kenya is an expert in this area and is working on a water project to solve ground water problems in sub-saharan Africa using something as simple as an app, a hashtag and citizens acting as sensors.
For much of Africa, people rely on boreholes as a source of water. This is a narrow shaft bored vertically in the ground and allows access to the underlying groundwater or aquifer. A borehole will have location coordinates (such as latitude and longitude), depth and also how much water is drawn from the borehole. Aquifer and groundwater constantly get replenished with rain water. However, if the aquifer is being drained faster than is it being replenished there is an issue.
In reality, boreholes should be used more as buffer against drought and not as a primary source of water because the borehole replenishment depends on the geology of the aquifer. In some cases, rainfall today might not get to groundwater until next year. With this very basic understanding of the borehole issues in Africa, analytics software can be used to monitor and help manage the boreholes. An app could provide situational awareness for the boreholes and allow people to visualize and monitor them on a map, the kind of visualizations on City Forward.
This allows the visualization of borehole density in a unit area and from this density we could make inferences around population densities and groundwater or aquifer availability. Leveraging citizens as sensors and crowd sourced information is an important enabler for the app. This can be as simple as taking a picture of boreholes and uploading it to the cloud with a #hashtag.
The borehole app can then monitor this #hashtag and use the geotagging capability to identify the location and the condition of the borehole. This is very similar to the WaterWatchers project in South Africa that was launched on World Water Day last year. From the citizen portal of the borehole app, citizens can be provided some kind of gaming functionality, similar to Risk or Monopoly to provide incentives to get more involved in the project.
With the addition of Open Data, we can now layer on additional information such as population density, geological data, weather data, and waterborne disease outbreak data. From these additional layers of data we can get further insights into borehole density/population density, aquifer use, aquifer replenishment, and potential borehole contamination.
Finally we can leverage Big Data and analytics technology to scale this app to a larger region, for example, a continent such as Africa, and derive significant insights through analytics on the borehole data. The result: something as simple as an app and a hashtag could help monitor the supply of fresh drinking water and make this vital natural resource more sustainable at very little cost.