IBM to help with SA water challenges

2013-03-25 14:08
Water (Picture: <a href=\\\\>Shutterstock</a>)

Water (Picture: Shutterstock)

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Cape Town – IBM in collaboration with the City of Tshwane launched a project to help capture, share and analyse information about the water distribution system in South Africa. 

The project will be driven by a new mobile phone application and SMS facility that will enable South African citizens to report water leaks, faulty water pipes and general conditions of water canals.

Every update will provide vital data points to an aggregated “WaterWatchers” report to create a single view of the issues challenging South Africa’s water distribution system.

"The city of Tshwane is encouraging staff, family and friends to take the lead to make sure that the city have the most comprehensive report after the 30 day period as possible. This will give authorities the best indication where the issues are and how to tackle them," Ahmed Simjee, IBM South Africa Smarter Planet Executive, told News24.

He said they expect Johannesburg, Cape Town and eThekwini to be involved as they can benefit from the visual mapping the analytics will deliver after the 30 day period.

“This project is a natural extension of the work we have done to address non-water revenue in Tshwane with IBM, and as the capital city we will lead the roll out of this programme nationally. We challenge the other cities to join the initiative and help manage this precious resource as best as we can,” said Tshwane executive mayor, councillor Kgosientso Ramokgopa.

The free app is available for download at IBM Water Watchers for Android OS and other operating systems will be made available.

Reporting can also be done via the SMS facility on 45946 as well as the website. These provide multiple ways for anyone to collect and report issues on local waterways and pipes to a centralised portal.

After taking a photo and answering three simple 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 analysed and aggregated into a meaningful “leak hot spot” map for South Africa.

“This project is about analysing use, predicting demand and managing the future of our country’s water,” Simjee said. 

“It’s a unique exercise in crowdsourcing for South Africa and we encourage every person to become a ‘citizen scientist’– to engage with the environment and help create a big picture map of our water leaks and issues. 

According to Simjee their first milestone for downloads and registrations numbers will be one week from kick off.

By enabling countless individuals to gather and submit data, ‘WaterWatchers’ represents a new kind of data aggregation, analytics and visualisation for water planners in South Africa – and is exactly the kind of big data challenge IBM excels at solving.” adds Simjee.


IBM began exploring the idea to use crowdsourcing to address water related issues in the city of San Jose, California, 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 the SMS facility 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% to R9bn between 2011 and 2012.

Similarly, spending on water sector management has increased by 28.8% year on year over the same period and spending on water infrastructure management has risen by 13.2% year on year. But the pressure of urban population influx continues to place more strain on ageing water infrastructure. According to the 2011 Census, 93% of South African households had access to safe water in 2010 but only 45% of those with access to water actually had it in their homes.

A “WaterWatchers” report will be made available to local municipalities, water control boards and other water system stakeholders once the data is filtered appropriately. This could help local municipalities visualise and prioritise improvements to city water infrastructure.

The “WaterWatchers” platform holds enormous potential for similar applications that can be used to monitor and report on just about any aspect of one’s environment: city services by reporting potholes, late buses, wildlife, noise pollution, air quality, weather and more.

– Follow Chantelle on Twitter.
Read more on:    ibm  |  water

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