By now I'm probably known to longtime readers as the information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) skeptic guy due to my Foreign Affairs contribution casting doubt on the US state department's digital diplomacy efforts as well as the MIT Media Labs' One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. Well, that's not entirely correct, I must say. For instance, I have been following the cutting-edge innovations in sending remittances through these very technologies. As with most things, ideas to harness ICT for development differ in the quality of execution. Many will fail, but some will succeed.
So it is with quite some interest that I read a new contribution in Global Policy concerning the use of mobile phones for water security in Africa, where several countries with the most extreme shortages of this valuable resource lie [click to enlarge image above]. Especially now when the finitude of water is becoming increasingly recognized, this previous resource benefits from being made more available in a timely manner. Not only are conflicts over water increasing, but the realities of climate change make it more important.
Hearteningly,many of the most advanced mobile telephony services are found in the African continent due more to necessity than anything else. Rob Hope, Tim Foster, Alex Money and Michael Rouse offer the following abstract and policy implications of their work:
Water security aims to provide safe, reliable, affordable and sufficient water for people, agriculture, industry and ecosystems, subject to societal choices across related trade-offs and risks. Managing resource risks, delivering effective governance, promoting financial sustainability and achieving social equity are central to achieving water security. We explore how innovations in mobile communications have created an inclusive, secure and low cost architecture for financial and data flows to reduce risk and enhance water security. In Africa, water security challenges associated with climate extremes and population growth outstripping improved water services’ access are juxtaposed with its global lead in mobile commerce innovations, including mobile water payments. Market driven expansion of mobile network coverage and low cost, mobile handsets mean more Africans will be connected to mobile phone services than those receiving improved water services in 2012. The confluence of rapid mobile network expansion, mobile phone ownership, mobile water payments and smart metering technologies offer new policy pathways to water security to accelerate progress on sustainable, safe water access, particularly for those in the greatest need and those most difficult to reach. We chart emerging mobile water innovations in Africa and policy implications in the region and beyond.
- Mobile communication innovations offer an inclusive, secure and low cost architecture for financial and data flows that can reduce or share risk to enhance water security.
- The confluence of mobile network coverage, mobile phone ownership, mobile water payments and smart water metering technologies has significant but uncharted potential to enhance water security.
- Innovations are being driven by the commercial interests of mobile network operators with the distributional impacts and implications yet to be evaluated or shaped by policy and governance regimes.
- Living in rural and remote areas may no longer be synonymous with a higher risk of water insecurity as mobile connectivity could permit innovative management models at scale
At this point in time in the climate change game, all innovations of this sort that can actually address a significant problem are certainly welcome.