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IBM and ‘Big Data’ tackles SA’s water challenges

On World Water Day, IBM in collaboration with the City of Tshwane, will launch a crowdsourcing 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.

‚”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,‚” says Tshwane ExecutiveMayor, Councillor Kgosientso Ramokgopa.

The free app is available for download at for Andriod OS and other operating systems will be made available. Reporting can also be done via the SMS facility on 45946(conditions apply) 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,‚” said IBM South Africa Smarter Planet Executive , Ahmed Simjee.

‚”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. 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 R9 billion in 2011- 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, ninety-three percent 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 (reporting potholes, late buses), wildlife, noise pollution, air quality, weather and more.

With technology like this in place cities can improve current service delivery capabilities, as well as lay the foundation for new and expanded services by making their core systems like transport, public safety, government services, education and health ‚”smarter.‚”

Interest in IBM’s Smarter Planet strategy to transform growing cities and address massive urbanisation in the South Africa has grown rapidly. The City of Tshwane has led the way in addressing water challenges, addressing ever increasing water scarcity and the requisite water conservation with a nine point plan developed by IBM Corporate Service Corps in 2011.

* SMS 45946 – cost per SMS is R1.50, T’s and C’s and ‚’Free SMS’s do not apply’)


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