Investigating mobile technology for water monitoring

17 January 2012 | Article

Equitable allocation and efficient of water between different users requires that a variety of information on key environmental variables (such as flow rates, water levels, etc) are needed. This means that accurate and frequent monitoring is necessary, but is often lacking in many river basins. Traditional efforts on environmental data collection rely on the deployment of fixed, in-situ measuring devices, such as gauging stations where flow rates and water levels are measured, as well as meteorological, groundwater and rainfall monitoring sites. However, coverage is often inadequate at best and data most often missing, furthermore there are additional problems including lack of maintenance, difficulty in data recording and transmission that often relies on manual methods, insufficient energy, disrepair and vandalism. These types of limitations are experienced in the Pangani Basin in Tanzania. However, due to rapid advancements in low-cost mobile technology and crowd-sourcing approaches there are opportunities to collect water monitoring data with a cheaper, more efficient approach which also involves communities.

Building on years of experience in the Pangani Basin in Tanzania, IUCN is taking part in a feasibility study - Innovative Monitoring & Modeling for Better Environmental Resources Management or “iMoMo” which looks at the use of mobile technology in collecting, analyzing and dispersing information on water resources which can be used for water resource management planning in the Basin. Project partners include the Haute Ecole Arc Ingénierie in Neuchatel, Switzerland (focusing on hardware and software technology, anthropology), hydrosolutions Ltd. (hydro-climatological modeling, optimizing resources management and planning), IUCN (institutional aspects), and the Zürich University of the Arts (serious gaming and social interfaces). Funding is from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and under the umbrella of their project ‘Water Diplomacy and Governance in Key Transboundary Hot Spots’. The work is being carried out in close collaboration with the Pangani Basin Water Board (PBWB), the Tanzanian Ministry of Water Resources, water user associations and furrow as well as river committees.   The project partners visited the Pangani Basin at the beginning of November 2011, with a follow up visit in 2012 to work with PBWB in developing the project and facilitating input from water user associations in the basin on what is feasible. Hamza Sadiki the Basin Water Officer for the Pangani Basin Water Board stated to project partners that “There is a need for proper data and information to design, plan and implement actions in the Pangani Basin. There are numerous gaps in the data base and data that was not considered and there is a need for collecting river health and socioeconomic information. The project is an opportunity for exchanging information on data gathering and analysis using state of the art technologies, and it will have an impact down to the community level on water resources management.”

The project does not simply use technology for collection and reporting of data, but also creates community ownership. The design, implementation and operation of adaptive technology are also integrated into the social, cultural and political context of water management and planning. The iMoMo project uses basic mobile technology that puts data retrieval and transmission into the hands of communities. iMoMo is looking into how to create incentives to participate in collective data retrieval effort, sustained technology adoption shall be achieved. Several ways for incentivizing people are being explored, serious gaming being among the most promising approach. Serious games are those that are designed for the purpose of solving a problem rather than pure entertainment, this can be educating people about freshwater-related issues or providing information on when is best to irrigate crops. So people send data to receive these incentives. The additional data from communities will complement existing data from the traditional monitoring stations and can subsequently be used for improving information on water resources within the Basin and this in turn will guide decisions that can lead to management of a healthy catchment.

The feasibility study will determine the opportunities and possibilities in the Pangani Basin to help farmers and communities in selected sub-catchments to better determine overall resource needs for the best decisions on water use between rainy and dry seasons and even from year to year. Pilot development, system deployment and testing of mobile technologies at the sub-catchment scale is planned to take place over the course of 2012.

For more information contact:
IUCN Tanzania country Office
abdalla.shah@iucn.org
IUCN Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office
Katharine.cross@iucn.org