Page 6 - Innovation at UCT

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Saul Maans, of Middelpos in the Northern Cape, using an H2S testkit to take a water sample. Saul tested water samples
using the H2S kit as part of the Aquatest 2 Project, and then sent the results using the WQR (Water Quality Reporter)
application, which was uploaded on his cellphone.
Testing the waters
The Aquatest Research Programme was started in 2007
with the primary aim of developing a low-cost, rapid-
response water test kit that could be used in rural or
under-resourced areas. Led by the University of Bristol, the
project team developed a device that would alleviate the
need for complex and time-consuming laboratory tests.
As part of this project, UCT’s Information for Community
Oriented Municipal Services (iCOMMS) team, led by
Associate Professor Ulrike Rivett, worked on a set of mobile
phone applications. “This allowed for water quality test
data to be collected remotely, using low-cost cellphones,
and transmitted back to a central database where it could
trigger real-time SMS warnings, and be aggregated into
periodic reports for managers and the community,” says
Associate Professor Rivett.
The team produced three applications: two mobile phone
tools, and a back-end web application, which provided an
interface with the database. The data collection application,
developed using Java technology, was targeted at low-
end Nokia cellphones, which were distributed to water
supply caretakers. An Android application was developed
for local municipal managers to access daily information
summaries while in the field, as the managers often did
not have time to browse reports from their desks. The
back-end application provided an administration console
where SMS warnings, email reports, and staff lists could
be managed. This application also contained an interface
with Google Maps to provide an overview of data being
collected in the field.
The mobile applications were piloted for two years,
in seven sites located within South Africa, Vietnam,
Cambodia and Mozambique. Caretaker incentivisation,
work and information flows, manager decision processes,
and municipal hierarchies were studied during this time.
This pilot period ended in November 2011, although one
testing site remains operational in the Eastern Cape.
The team’s initial analysis of the pilot sites shows that
the managers found benefits in having greater and more
immediate access to the water quality test data. An
area of research that Associate Professor Rivett’s team
is currently investigating is how to incentivise workers
or community members to report problems with their
drinking water supply, without resorting to monetary
rewards. “Caretakers received increased social standing
in the community through the programme, and we hope
a greater community understanding of the importance of
water testing through the caretakers’ explanations,” says
Associate Professor Rivett.