New Mobile Technology Helps Liberia Map Rural Water Points, Informs Strategy

Liberia emerged from civil war in 2003, and the country’s infrastructure is still severely impaired and recovering slowly. In the rural water-sector, the initial post-conflict response involved numerous NGOs in providing critically needed emergency water supplies by sinking boreholes and installing pumps. However, these efforts were not coordinated. Some areas of the country were neglected, and even where water points were built, many are already not functioning. Moreover, the country lacks a nationally coordinated, comprehensive and well-targeted investment program. Household surveys indicate that rural access to safe water is at 50 percent.

Collectors on motorcycles used cell phones to map 7500 water points

With funding from the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), a global partnership administered by the World Bank, a digital map of water points in Liberia was developed using an innovative open-source software called FLOW, or Field-Level Operations Watch.  

With WSP’s help, the Ministry of Public Works deployed 150 data collectors on motorcycles and equipped with phones using the FLOW software to map the rural water points. The month-long exercise – through extremely challenging environments – succeeded in mapping 7,500 safe water points. This data will enable detailed costing and needs assessments, which will feed into Liberia’s poverty reduction strategy and other planning and implementation instruments.

“We must innovate in every area to scale up access,” said Jaehyang So, Manager of the Water and Sanitation Program, a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank.  “Promoting innovation is one critical concept that we think can be applied to ensure scale AND sustainability,”she stressed.

Minimize errors, ease monitoring, secure data

FLOW - which originated from the civil society organization Water for People and was then adapted for use by WSP - addresses three key challenges of any mapping and survey project.  Firstly, it minimizes errors during the data collection phase because it provides an easy-to-use touchscreen interface and combines all key tasks (answering questions, taking a picture and GPS location) into one simple application. Secondly, it facilitates monitoring and evaluation, as project management staff can review incoming data in near real-time (if there is network coverage). Finally, it helps securing data from the field and making it available to stakeholders.

Once uploaded, a zoomable overview map is automatically created using Google basemaps, and the raw data is available for more detailed analysis in an online database. Even if there is no network coverage, data is stored safely on the phone’s secure digital, or SD, card and can be extracted even if the phone itself breaks.

FLOW does all this comparatively cheaply.  The software itself is open-source, that is, free of cost; data hosting costs are minimal; and suitable Android devices are now starting to be priced below the US$100 mark.


Global Costs of inadequate water and sanitation

The costs of inadequate water supply and sanitation are extremely high: 1.6 million children die every year from diarrhea, a disease that could be prevented with clean water and basic sanitation.

More than 1.1 billion people lack access to safe water, and 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation. Although the world is roughly on course to reach the Millennium Development Goal targets for water supply, it will fall short by a half billion people in sanitation.

World Bank’s commitment

The World Bank is committed to helping our client countries build competent, efficient, business-like, customer-oriented water and sanitation services. These services must ensure affordable and sustainable services to all, particularly the poor.

Related links:

Q&A: FLOW Liberia

Project Summary: FLOW Liberia






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