A new mobile app is set to revolutionise the way Papua New Guinea thinks about water, sanitation, and hygiene.
The unprecedented mWater app gives local district representatives the ability to easily survey the number of people with access to adequate sanitation and record the proximity of clean water to rural communities and hospitals. The logged data is then relayed to a regional interactive map, allowing government officials to review and make precise, evidence-based policy decisions on water and sanitation for the first time.
"Currently there is no data," Tim Davis from WaterAid Australia stated in a WaterAid report. "When officials pull out a map, they can’t point and say 'these communities have access to services and these don’t'."
The introduction of the app marks the inauguration of WaterAid Australia’s five-year Water for Women program. The Australian government-backed project begun by educating forty local officials in Papua New Guinea’s northern Wewak district to use the app to gather data from the regions 366 villages, 90 schools, and 30 health care centres.
"Some areas have roads, some don’t; some are only accessible by boat and then a long journey by foot; some communities have access to electricity; some have access to healthcare; some places you have to walk for days to get to school,” Davis explained. “There are varying degrees of challenges that this data will bring to light.”
Icons signify the geographical location of various villages. The different coloured water drops represent varying levels of water access. WaterAid Report.
Sixty-three percent of Papua New Guinea’s population, some 4.8 million people, live without access to clean water. According to a 2016 World Bank report, access to clean water has only improved by 6% since 1990. Improved sanitation coverage dropped by 1%.
"Papua New Guinea’s lack of infrastructure, weak sector institutions, accountability, and monitoring have severely constrained developments in water and sanitation," Karl Galing of the Global Water Practice of the World Bank wrote in a recent World Bank research report.
"These are immense challenges to overcome, and policies must be designed with these challenges in mind," he added.
In the coming months, WaterAid and the Wewak district government will review the collected data and establish a five-year improvement action plan. The mobile app will then incrementally be introduced throughout the rest of the nation.