Thursday, April 9, 2015

Smart technology, smarter wells

EU funds UNICEF/Cambodian Government partnership to map wells with smartphones to enable access to critical information during emergencies

By Martina Tomassini

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini
Ly Khun tracks a well with smart technology in Prek Changkran Kram village, Prey Veng province.

PREY VENG, Cambodia, 9 April 2015 – Build an app to collect information on wells in a user-friendly way; train 80 district officials to use it; send the officials to five provinces across Cambodia to map key wells with a smartphone or tablet; and you have a cutting-edge web-based well assessment system to help save lives next time a flood hits.

The Water Point Mobile Data Collection System is a mobile well-mapping project jointly promoted by the European Union, UNICEF and the Cambodian Government to strengthen preparedness and build resilience in flood-prone areas. When floods occur, knowing which wells require assistance in a timely manner is critical. If data is aggregated in an easy-to-update well-monitoring system, authorities can make informed and timely decisions regarding relief and assistance. With an efficient data system, locating and identifying a well that needs repairing, and consequently the people who have lost access to water, is only a click away.

“The biggest benefit of using a mobile well mapping system is how much time and money can be saved in the process,” says District Rural Development Officer, Ly Khun, one of 80 district officials who participated in a two-day event across five provinces to learn how to use a smartphone or tablet to collect, analyse and monitor information on 1,000 selected wells “You don’t have to carry loads of paper with you anymore and with this system the information is more specific, reliable and easier to monitor. Sometimes paper forms are destroyed during floods or eaten by bugs.”

The app prompts users to enter photos and detailed information that classify wells by type; usage (e.g. drinking, cooking, irrigation, etc.); number of times flooded; and water quality. A GPS feature helps users locate the well during monitoring visits.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini
In Prek Sandek village, Prey Veng province, Sean Sun shows how to use the well mapping app to select the right type of water pump when tracking wells.

 “This system makes it easy to see which wells need to be rehabilitated at any given time so that community is not cut off from the water supply,” says Ly Khun. The mobile system means more comprehensive data analysis – thanks to a systematic way of collecting data – rapid data transmission in real time; and less error when compared to paper-based data collection.
Borey Ratana, Provincial Department of Rural Development Officer in Prey Veng province, mapped the wells in Prek Changkran Leu village. The five wells each serve an average of three households. “It takes about 20 minutes to fill out a form for one well,” explains Borey Ratana. “What I enjoyed the most about the training is discovering how easy it is to use mobile phones to collect information; paper can be lost in the rain.”

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini
Borey Ratana tracks a well with a smartphone in Prek Changkran Leu village, Prey Veng province.

Chea Maly, a farmer and mother of four, explains that the village wells are critically important to the community: “We use the water for washing, cooking, drinking (we boil it first) and for watering mango and banana trees.” The well next to her house was built in 2004. Prior to that her family used a nearby open well which had no water in the dry season. “It’s important for us to have the well functioning: this way we don’t have to go to the river anymore to fetch water,” says Maly.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini
In Prek Changkrean village, Prey Veng province, Borey Ratana talks to villagers Yean Yun (right), Chea Maly (centre) and 15-year-old Yean Siyr, (left), and finds out how the well near her home is used by the community. 
Sean Sun, new mobile mapping Provincial Department of Rural Development Officer, explains how are wells selected for mobile mapping: “The well at the Prek Changkran Health Centre, which I tracked, has been selected because it meets the criteria set forth by the project: it is located in an area with a high risk of flooding and is a community well used by the local school, pagoda [temple] and health centre. Since it benefits so many people it is particularly important to keep it monitored.” Asked about the major benefit of the mobile well mapping system, he responds without hesitation: “The digital format of the system! You just need to click on buttons!” Adds Borey Ratana, “[Even] when there is no Internet connection, you can save the information and send it [to the central database] later. All you need to do is press ‘send’.”

In September and October 2013 several areas of Cambodia were severely affected by flooding, leaving many rural water supplies unusable and unsanitary. Unclean water and lack of sanitation and hygiene are one of the leading causes of diarrhoea – a preventable disease that kills an estimated 2,300 children in Cambodia every year.

With funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), UNICEF joined forces with the Cambodian Government to reduce the risk of water-borne diseases for vulnerable children and their families, during and after a flood emergency. Carried out in five different provinces throughout Cambodia, this initiative has also supported the training of community members in basic sanitation and hygiene, and has taught sub-national officials how to carry out proper well rehabilitation (such as well chlorination, disinfection and elevation). Some 98,000 households in flood-prone areas are expected to benefit from the initiative.

Learn more about the EU-UNICEF partnership at:

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