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IBM Mobile App to Help Solve Water Challenges

IBM has launched a crowdsourcing project to help capture, share and analyze information about the water distribution system in South Africa.

The project, called WaterWatchers, is driven by a free mobile phone application and SMS capability that will enable South African citizens to report water leaks, faulty water pipes and general conditions of water canals. Every update will provide data points to an aggregated WaterWatchers report to create a single view of the issues challenging South Africa’s water distribution system.

The app was made available for Android last Friday to commemorate World Water Day.

After taking a photo and answering three questions about the particular water canal or pipe, the data is uploaded in real-time to a central database. After 30 days, the data will be analyzed and aggregated into a “leak hot spot” map for South Africa.

IBM began exploring crowdsourcing to address water-related issues in San Jose, Calif., with its CreekWatch mobile app, which is still available and currently being used in more than 25 countries.

WaterWatchers was adapted from the CreekWatch concept to include additional capabilities such as SMS and the ability to share photos on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Under-spending on water in South Africa has seen the department of water affairs increase spending by 20 percent to R9 billion ($900 million) in 2011-12, according to IBM. Similarly, spending on water sector management has increased by 28.8 percent year on year over the same period and spending on water infrastructure management has risen by 13.2 percent year on year, the company says.

But the pressure of urban population influx continues to place more strain on aging water infrastructure. According to the 2011 Census, 93 percent of South African households had access to safe water in 2010 but only 45 percent of those with access to water actually had it in their homes.

IBM says a WaterWatchers report will be made available to local municipalities, water control boards and other water system stakeholders once the data is filtered. This is intended to help local municipalities visualize and prioritize improvements to city water infrastructure.

Similar mobile phone apps applications could be used to monitor and report on other environmental issues such as wildlife, air quality and weather, the company says.

Also on World Water Day, Ford announced it has reduced the average amount of water used to make each vehicle by 8.5 percent between 2011 and 2012, putting the company more than halfway toward its goal of using an average of 4 cubic meters per vehicle globally by 2015.

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