Many developing nations face drinking water shortages, and municipal water rationing has become increasingly common in large urban centers. In Accra, Ghana, this has led to substantial variation in service levels among residential customers at a geographic scale that is too fine to be captured by top-down water service reports issued by local Water Districts. Analog household surveys that collect basic water service metrics have demonstrated the potential to better inform service providers, but they are increasingly cost-prohibitive to implement in a resource constrained setting.
Improving Quality of Urban Water Service by Engaging SMS Technology (IQUEST), is a new open-source tool and geographic decision support system that harnesses crowdsourced water data for monitoring residential water service quality by Ghana Water Company Ltd (GWCL). IQUEST provides the ability for water customers to submit water quality reports to GWCL via SMS and then parses the coded text submission into a database. A management dashboard then aggregates this water quality data across all reporting areas as well as for a specific neighborhood.
The benefits of IQUEST are multifaceted. First, crowdsourcing the data collection reduces the burden and cost for GWCL. Second, it allows for an extended reporting period and therefore provides a richer set of data points. Third, the IQUEST dashboard allows management to quickly see overall reported trends as well as a breakdown of each water quality factor (color, appearance of particles, odor/taste, and hours of water flow) by day and/or neighborhood. By providing a spatially explicit reporting system, IQUEST informs water resource management and district managers of possible leaks and/or water piracy and identifies areas that are in particular need of non-emergency infrastructure maintenance. The IQUEST source code is open source and therefore freely available so it can be adapted by other developing nations with residential water monitoring issues or any other critical issues that benefits from citizen reporting.