mSewage

 

mSewage is a new app that helps save lives by addressing the number one way that water sources become contaminated: raw sewage flowing onto the ground and seeping into water sources. mSewage provides a platform to map sewage outflows and sanitation infrastructure. This helps empower communities to identify water sources that are at risk and track efforts to improve the situation. Because mSewage is free and open source, it also helps people working on this important problem coordinate with one another.

 

The problem

Throughout the world today, vast amounts of raw, untreated sewage enter our waterways resulting in disease outbreaks and environmental degradation. For example, the 2011 cholera outbreak in Haiti began when sewage from a camp for UN security personnel contaminated a river upstream of where people were getting their drinking water. Failing or inadequate sanitation systems cause water supply contamination and disease outbreaks, but there currently is not a good way to map and track this problem in real time.

 

mSewage: tracking sanitation status in real time

mSewage provides a global database and mapping platform that can scale to millions of points. The mobile app, modeled after the successful mWater app, allows anyone with a smartphone to add new sites, view sites near them and add status updates to existing sites. Users have the ability to join groups, meaning that governments or organizations can choose to view only their own trusted data or include crowdsourced reports from anyone.

 

The mSewage mobile app

Built using mWater’s HTML5 code base, the mSewage app works on any platform with a web browser (desktop PCs, mobile smartphones, tablets) and can be used in offline mode when there is no data connection. The app provides a human-readable, unique ID code for every new source and uses the onboard GPS to automatically add the location. These ID codes can be physically written on a toilet or septic tank to allow users to easily update or obtain data using basic, or ‘dumbphones,’ via text message. The primary interface of the mSewage app is a list of nearby sites, but users can also select a map-based interface. Once a site is selected, the user can add updates regarding the functional status or other observations, including photos.

 

Open-source and open-access

Like the mWater platform, mSewage reflects a commitment to the idea that anyone should have access to data about sanitation problems in their community and that this data should be freely available. The code is open-source (GPLv3) and we welcome the contributions of any interested developers. The database is exposed through our industry-standard, RESTful Application Programming Interface (API). This allows other developers to use the mSewage database and location engine in their own applications.

 

How will mSewage be used?

We envision several use cases, but since the API is open for anyone to use, we expect that other developers will invent entirely new uses that we have not even imagined yet.

●      Sanitation facility monitoring The ability to easily identify nearby sites and add new updates means that health workers, local government or concerned civic groups can use mSewage to track the operational status of household or community-level sanitation systems. This data can be used to make community-level access maps, plan the use of resources, and monitor the performance of sanitation projects.

●      Identifying maintenance issues Many sewage outflows are the result of inadequate maintenance. The app can be used to map leaking sewer pipes, overflowing latrines, cracked septic tanks or any other problem causing raw sewage to enter the environment. We can also combine this data with water quality monitoring programs to determine the sources of contamination and monitor the effectiveness of cleanup efforts.

●      Connecting sanitation businesses to potential customers The status updating feature of mSewage could allow households or governments to broadcast requests for maintenance or installation of new systems. Sanitation businesses providing services such as pit emptying or septic system repair could use this data to identify customers, plan their routes and maximize their responsiveness.

●      Building community awareness of open defecation The most effective approaches for eliminating open defecation have relied on engaging community leaders to map open defecation sites and trigger awareness of the negative impacts resulting from this behavior. mSewage could be a tool to build maps, calculate the cumulative impact of open defecation and most importantly, monitor the improvement that results from eliminating this behavior in a community.

 

mSewage at the Sanitation Hackathon

mWater developed the mSewage platform and related problem statement in response to the 2012 Global Sanitation Hackathon. mSewage was used by the winning team at the New York event, lead by Dan Shemie, to map open defecation sites in India. 

 

Impact

Our ultimate goal in developing mSewage is to reduce the suffering caused by diarrheal disease. By creating free and easy-to-use technology to map and monitor sanitation problems, we can leverage the time and enthusiasm of local community groups to produce sophisticated data on environmental contamination while promoting awareness of these issues. This data can be used by governments and local communities to identify high risk areas for diarrheal disease or stop water contamination before outbreaks can occur.

 

Key features 
Map sanitation systems, sewage outflows and open defecation sites using a cross-platform, mobile app
Guaranteed unique, human readable identification codes for tracking facilities
Scalable and secure database, accessible via open API
Groups allow users to view only trusted data sources or all crowdsourced reports