Environmental engineer John Feighery always wanted to be an astronaut, but instead he ended up designing the bathroom for the International Space Station. That project gave him a unique perspective on managing water, sanitation and health, and since leaving NASA in 2003 he has devoted his time to creating innovative solutions to these issues on Earth. One such solution is mWater, an Android app that identifies safe water sources, checks on water quality data, and adds new test results.
The free and open-source app was originally intended as a tool to make it easier to record and share the results of low-cost water tests. However mWater also provides powerful Water Point Mapping (WPM) tools that allow residents to report maintenance issues or service outages.
As such, the app lets users add new water points, known as sources, to the cloud-based database and view a map of nearby sources that are color-coded based on their most recent test results.
Speaking to AlertNet, Feighery said: “I’d been working on supplying clean water to three or four people in space, and meanwhile there are a billion here on earth that don’t have it. The world that my kids are going to grow up in has this huge problem that I felt like I could work on.”
The app, which is available from the Google Play Store, also allows users to leave notes for other users about the appearance of the water, its scent, and how the water is flowing from the source, building up an archive of information over time.
The app has been a success and U.N. Habitat have funded a study in Tanzania to test mWater’s capacity to provide local health officers with a simple way to see the quality of water using a phone with an Android operating system.
“Anybody can look at it and see what’s going on to see if anyone else might get infected,” Feighery said. “When fecal contamination occurs somewhere it is the first precursor of disease in water systems. Before cholera spreads, there’s usually some failure in the sanitation system.”
Next, Feighery will be working with U.N. Habitat and Rwanda’s ministry of health to help equip health workers to use mWater and help save the 2.5 million people in the world that die each year from water-borne diseases.