Water monitoring ‘easier’ with free mobile phone app

The application can be used on low-cost mobile phones Copyright: Flickr/kiwanja

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[CAPE TOWN] A mobile phone application that enables users of low-cost phones to submit water quality results quickly and easily is having a positive impact among users.

The Water Quality Reporter (WQR) application was developed by the iCOMMS team at the civil engineering department at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, under the leadership of Associate Professor Ulrike Rivett.

The application was developed under the auspices of Aquatest a multi-disciplinary international research programme conducted by a University of Bristol-led consortium which is developing affordable water-testing hardware and software for use in developing countries.

The reporting application means people with entry-level mobile phones can submit water quality test results via SMS.

As well as developing the WQR software, the iCOMMS team have also developed mechanisms for integrating water quality results into existing information systems, and a feedback loop between communities and supporting authorities.

The system is being used to carry out residual chlorine water testing, and to carry out hydrogen sulphide tests, which check for microbiological contamination in water destined for household use.

"All of the programming [used to develop the application] is open source and locally developed," she said, adding that WQR can be downloaded for free from the iCOMMS website.

Gazi Xolile, from the Water Care unit of Amathole District Municipality, which covers rural areas of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, praised the application.

"The cell phone device is … convenient to use as you can click to the application at any time and view the water quality results without needing to be at the office, " he said.

"We are also looking at expanding the scope of using this system to conventional water treatment works where the plant operators will log in the dam levels, reservoir levels, rainfall, turbidity and ph information.

The application is also being used in the Chris Hani Municipality around Queenstown, according to Francois Nel, assistant director of municipal health services and environmental management, who said it was easy to use and required little training.

"The live report back system gives immediate indication of non-compliance at sample points that can be immediately followed up," he said, adding that it was also being used to monitor the performance of environmental health practitioners.

A broader range of water quality tests will be possible in future, said Rivett.

Separately to her work on WQR, Rivett is also exploring the application of mobile phone technology to other health-related settings, including the provision of support to people with HIV, through a non-governmental organisation she has established called Cell-Life.

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