Keep It Simple, Sanitation – experiences of app development

Keep It Simple, Sanitation – experiences of app development, by Rosie Renouf, Research Officer, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP). WASHfunders blog, July 25, 2019.

Going to the toilet hasn’t changed much over the last few millennia and the nuts and bolts of the biological side of it are unlikely to change anytime soon. What has changed over the last 20 years of so, though, is our ability to collect reams of information about where we go to the loo, what we do when we get there, and what happens afterwards. Tools like Shit Flow Diagrams give a clear picture of where human waste goes, while organisations like mWater or Gather are pioneering ways of sharing real-time data about WASH. washfunders

While the act of going to the toilet hasn’t changed, removing waste safely is getting much more complex as urbanisation pushes more people closer together. WSUP works in crowded, low-income areas that lack adequate water or sanitation, and we recognise that information about residents and the services they can access is needed as much as infrastructure – perhaps even more so.

This blog shares our experience of developing a mobile phone application for the people who work in sanitation in those cities: the business owners who own the tankers that travel across the city emptying full pit latrines and septic tanks, and the employees who drive and operate them. Our main recommendation: keep it simple!

Tech and toilets

The FSM5 conference held in Cape Town earlier this year showcased a wealth of examples of data being captured, analysed and used to improve urban sanitation services around the world. For example, Sanergy, the container-based sanitation company operating in Nairobi, explored using sensors in their Fresh Life Toilets to record use and estimate toilet fill level as a way of improving waste collection.

In two cities in Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme is tracking and scheduling regular desludging online, with households automatically scheduled for a vacuum tanker visit based on the date that their facility was last emptied. They have also developed an app that monitors urban local bodies’ progress in improving septage management.

The overarching aim isn’t to produce something shiny or to reinvent the wheel – it’s to help sanitation service providers do their jobs and to ensure that as many people as possible can access safe sanitation services. So the real question is: how do we not only collect data but how can it be made useful to those who need it?

Read the complete article.

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