After 14 years in civil war, Liberia faced a breakdown of infrastructure and basic needs. During this time, most of the data that contained information concerning functional water points was lost. As of 2005, two years after the end of the war, only half of the population had access to safe drinking water, as most water points were contaminated by fecal matter.
The World Bank is helping to improve the conditions in Liberia with a project that has cost around US$300,000 to create and is based on using data collection via an Android-based application. It is best explained by MobileActive.org as “an open-source, Android appplication that allows field workers to use mobile phones to document how well water pumps and sanitation points in the developing world are functioning, then transmit that data to create an online tagged map of target regions.”
Known as FLOW (Field Level Operations Watch), the application has three basic functionalities: data collection, data analysis, and visualisation. The developers of FLOW, Gallatin Systems, have provided back up and continue to adapt FLOW to the requirements of the project.
Data collection allows are digital storage, meaning that water locations can be surveyed and then added to the application. This also means that cell phones (which are more accessible to the majority of the population than a GPS device and a camera), can be utilised by more people in Liberia.
Data analysis means that the data can be stored in an online database, and then downloaded as needed. FLOW can also perform statistical analysis, and generate charts and graphs.
Visualisation shows a map of water points which can be clicked on individually, displaying more information. Pictures also allow for people to see the actual spot where the water is, so they know what to recognise when in the area. The images are accompanied with vital facts such as quantity and quality of the water at that site.
The training that is needed to use the Android application is quicker than the training need for the water point surveying. Yet the biggest limitation encountered was the battery life on the smartphones, as there was inconsistent electricity to charge them. This was temporarily corrected with battery powered cell phone chargers. Most of the data was then stored on the devices and uploaded online upon returning to the headquarters, using computers. Despite the challenges faced by The World Bank, it has still managed to provide necessary information to the masses which will contribute to build Liberia’s journey back to stability.