SMS texting is today’s most widely used mobile data service, especially in some of the most rural and marginalized communities around the world. SMS traffic reached 7.8 trillion messages in 2013 globally. As text messaging has grown ubiquitous, so, too, has its potential as a simple, inexpensive way for organizations to reach rural communities and address the global water and sanitation (WASH) crisis.
Professionals in the WASH sector understand that there are more mobile phones in the global South than toilets. The need for utilizing mobile technologies to design sustainable water and sanitation systems is clear.
Blue Planet Network created its SMS reporting tool to help its members improve their effectiveness while making it easier for anyone anywhere to engage with their work. We connect organizations, funders, academics, governments and community members around the world to plan, implement, monitor, and collaborate on safe drinking water projects. Field notes are automatically added to projects to ensure all staff is updated, can identify and resolve issues quickly, and can build on great new ideas wherever they emerge.
Project Well utilizes Blue Planet Network’s SMS reporting tool to provide status reports on water projects that use modern bore-dug wells. Photo by Rudi Dundas
In 2012, Blue Planet Network began a pilot of its SMS-based monitoring system in India. India’s population of 1.2 billion is made up of 929 million mobile phone users — a colossal 77% of the population. Blue Planet Network’s service enables communities, and our member organizations equipped with basic cell phones, to monitor and report on safe drinking water and sanitation installations. If a problem arises, our network members can provide immediate assistance in the form of expert advice to remedy a challenge. Since deployment, 5 of our members: Ekoventure, Gram Vikas, Palmyra, Project Well and Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) have utilized the tool to increase the impact and sustainability of more than 13 water and sanitation projects across India.
Blue Planet Network CEO Lisa Nash explains that, “The challenge in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector is that a great deal of attention is paid to project implementation — the new ecosan toilet, the new hand-washing station, or the new arsenic-free well. But unfortunately up to half of these projects can fail within the first five years — not because of poor implementation, but because there wasn’t enough thought about sustainability at the outset.”
Villagers in Endiyur, from the Marakkanam Block of Villupuram District, Tamil Nadu, India, are assessing the durability of toilets during a Palmyra working group training on sanitation and hygiene. Photo by Palmyra
Palmyra, a WASH implementer in the Villupuram District of Tamil Nadu, India, has partnered with Blue Planet Network since 2010 and uses our platform and SMS mobile texting services to improve their water program monitoring and analysis. Palmyra’s program managers send in weekly field status project reports via SMS texting. These messages are captured and uploaded onto our platform for peers, funders, and WASH implementers to view and monitor project effectiveness and impact.
Blue Planet Network has dedicated a staff person to work with each SMS participant. We have learned that ongoing communication builds user confidence and usage. We also had to ensure that our service could be viewed in English (so the entire network could learn) and in the local language (so that field staff and community members can add value and input).
“The power of SMS is the power to let anyone participate,” says Lisa. “We've already seen text messaging in fundraising, but now we’re seeing how it is enabling communities to take charge of the sustainability of projects and increase transparency across the sector. And this can happen anywhere in the world. Simplicity is power.”
With the launch of BPN 2.0. our SMS service is available to any Blue Planet Network member organization anywhere in the world. Individuals passing by member projects also can use our SMS service to text in their impressions of a project and how clean water is helping the community.
Abigail Solis, Community Projects Coordinator for Community Water Solutions, speaks with Maribel and Jessica Sanchez at their home in East Orosi, California. The sisters have been fighting for clean water for several years through Youth For Agua. Photo by Sara Cozolino
One million people in California lack reliable access to clean water; and 1 out of every 10 people living in California's agricultural areas is at risk of exposure to harmful levels of nitrate contamination in their drinking water, according to a report released in March 2012 by the University of California, Davis.
Blue Planet Network is supporting the efforts of Community Water Center to create a community-driven water solution to mitigate the threat of high levels of nitrate and arsenic groundwater contamination. The program provides alternative water filtration solutions, sustainable support, and financing for low-income communities in San Joaquin Valley.
The San Joaquin communities receiving access to clean water through this program utilize our SMS texting service to ensure that their clean water system is delivered and used accurately, and is sustainable and economic to operate.
Our SMS functionality allows more than a thousand low-income San Joaquin families to send in text messages about the status of their safe drinking water, a service never before provided in the region.
Blue Planet Network’s SMS texting service empowers communities to take charge of their own water systems and allows entire organizations to learn and share efficiently. We have much to learn to make this service even more valuable. In the next few years, we hope to launch our SMS texting service in all 27 countries so that all of our members can increase the long-term impact of their water programs.