enabling water data use in emergency water service, infrastructure, and health decision-making



enabling water data use in emergency water service, infrastructure, and health decision-making


a system to collect and disseminate water quality information to reduce water-borne illness rates by enabling strategic WASH infrastructure investment and public health program targeting in developing cities.  Learn more below.



Due to limited resources, drinking water infrastructure in developing cities is often composite in nature, featuring components installed by a range of organizations.  As well, it is often in need of significant repair.  In Burkina Faso, it is estimated that over 25% of water points are nonfunctional [1].  This demonstrates incomplete infrastructure monitoring, meaning that while some water points are monitored for their water quality, others are not.  


Water quality monitoring is a crucial public health monitoring tool.  Through it, health officials can determine areas of poor water quality before disease outbreak occurs.  Lack of this oversight leads to high rates of water-borne disease.  In Burkina Faso, prevalence of these illnesses is as high as 48% in children; that's 1 in 2 [2].  

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As well, piped water is unlikely to be extensive in these areas and will often service only those households in city center zones.  In regions outside of this network, individuals will commute to sources that are usually within a 5-10 minute walking radius from their home.  In many urban areas, the density of these water sources is high enough that individuals can choose from which source they collect their water. 

By monitoring each of these sources and by providing this information to high-level organization and to water consumers, we can not only direct and engage in infrastructure repair and investment, but also advise that water be collected from only the cleanest nearby sources.

The System

The System

WASHMobile is designed to monitor water infrastructure to enable identification and repair of failing water points to reduce water-borne illness rates in developing urban areas.  Through these activities, we ensure safe water for thousands of individuals and that developmental aid and public funding are maximally effective.  To do this, the system:



Trained individuals regularly measure five indicators for each water point according to Standard Methods [3].  These tests measure:

  • turbidity: a metric to gauge the presence of physical matter
  • E. coli and total coliforms: indicators of contamination with fecal matter 
  • nitrates: to assess nitrogen contaminants resulting from agricultural activities and poor sanitation infrastructure
  • residual chlorine: a metric to gauge protective disinfectant levels

Each test can be completed off-grid, meaning each can be conducted in resource-poor and emergency settings.  Sampling is conducted in technical replicates and with proper controls for data certainty.



Test results are submitted via browser-based KoBo Toolbox survey, which enables both online and offline submission via smartphone, tablet, or computer.  Following submission, data are processed differentially for two purposes:

  • Water point comparison - data for each water point are weighted and combined to yield a single quality grade indicative of overall risk allowing for easy comparison between water points [4].

  • Trend analysis - data is analyzed for trends between type of water point, water quality, seasonality, and geographic location, among others, using well-established statistical methods to test for correlation.

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Data is leveraged through two key stakeholder groups: a) water consumers, and b) high-level organizations like governmental agencies, public utilities, and NGOs engaged in infrastructure and urban development, and WASH programming.

  • For water consumers, data are made available via online map interface, and SMS “push” and “pull” services. Use of SMS allows us to provide this information to all mobile phones, not just smartphones.  With this information, individuals can make educated water decisions and can choose to source their water from safe water points. As well, with access to this information, individuals can increase their civic engagement, using this data to advocate for fair and reliable water service.

  • For high-level organizations, data are made available via periodic, customized reports. Armed with these data, these bodies are able to identify the geographic areas where and the specific seasonal times when water quality is poorest. This allows these areas to be appropriately serviced though targeted infrastructure expansion and repair, and intelligent public health programming like hand washing and water treatment campaigns.

The Pilot

The Pilot

In order to ensure that WASHMobile is developed in a smart, systematic, and conscientious manner, we are conducting a five-year pilot program of the system to identify and fix any problems before looking to expand the technology.  The pilot consists of three phases:


Three-month trial of data collection methods to resolve remaining questions concerning system design

Status: Completed May 2015 - June 2015

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Yearlong data collection period to accurately assess fluctuations in water quality with small scale information dissemination tests

Status: To be completed September 2017 - September 2018


Two year period of full system roll-out to observe impact on water-borne illness rates in cities featuring the system

Status: To be completed January 2019 - January 2021




[1] Rural Water Supply Network. (2009). Handpump Data, Selected Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Accessed August 14, 2016,

[2] Diarrhoeal Disease. (2016). Diarrhoea treatment: Children with diarrhoea for whom advice or treatment was sought from a health facility or provider.  Retrieved July 20, 2017, from

[3] APHA 2012 Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater.

[4] Srivastava, G., & Kumar, P. (2013). Water Quality Index With Missing Parameters. International Journal of Research in Engineering and Technology,02(04), 609-614. doi:10.15623/ijret.2013.0204035