Mobile solution for slum's water woes

Read time 2min 40sec

Residents of Nairobi's largest slum, Kibera, will soon be able to use a mobile service that could help them locate clean water in their area.

Vendors, who sell water in the informal settlement, will be able to notify the service - called M-Maji - via an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) interface, that they have water to sell, the price they are selling it for, and where they are selling it.

The information is then stored on a database, which can be accessed by residents using a USSD interface on their mobile phones. Options are listed by price, quality, vendor ratings and geographic location, with buyers able to rate vendors.

The M-Maji support team on the ground say they will monitor the data quality and conduct random tests of water quality, and flag water sources that fail tests.

M-Maji was created by Weza Tele, a firm that applies mobile technologies such as USSD, mobile Web, and SMS to solve social problems. Weza Tele also partnered with Stanford University students and the Umande Trust, an organisation in Kibera that seeks to address water and sanitation problems, to build the app.

According to Weza Tele, it can take many of Kibera's estimated one million residents, who do not have access to sufficient water infrastructure, a minimum of one hour to locate a water vendor, queue up for water, and carry it back to their homes.

Kibera residents also pay more than the average tariff for water in Kenya, according to the World Bank.

The Nairobi Water and Sewage Company recommends that the price for a 20-litre jerry can should be one shilling. But Kibera residents can pay two to three shillings for a 20-litre jerry can of water from any of the 650 water vendors in Kibera, of which 98% are private enterprises.

The United Nations Development Project reported in 2006 that Kibera households spent 20% of their income on water.

The M-Maji app will let Kibera residents know where they can get the best deal for their water. Weza Tele also plans for the service to be free and accessible on even the most basic GSM phones in Kibera.

“There is a major problem in getting information about water in Kibera,” says Aidah Binale, a coordinator with the Umande Trust.

“Residents in some villages have to walk for distances to get water during shortages and we know with this app it will save travel time. M-Maji is a novel approach to water problems in Kibera. While alternative projects try to alleviate water problems by increasing water supply, enhancing its quality, or encouraging community organisation, M-Maji is different, because it tackles the information side of the problem.”

The app is in the pilot stage in the Kibera villages of Makina, Gatwekera and Kisumu Ndogo. Weza Tel has not disclosed when the app will be available across the whole of Kibera.

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