Access to clean drinking water is something people living in developed countries oftentimes take for granted. All it takes is a trip to the kitchen sink or a drive to the supermarket. However, the same cannot be said for those living in developing countries where access to clean drinking water is frequently a challenge. As of 2017, a joint program between the UN and WHO estimated up to 785 million people worldwide lack access to an ‘at least basic’ water service.
While people have increasingly received access to rural water points, it’s estimated that at any given time about 25% of the world’s water points are not functioning. Unfortunately, proactively understanding which water points need maintenance is extremely challenging for public health officials. The downtime between when a water point breaks and gets fixed means that communities are cut off from an essential source of life, must resort to unhealthy water sources like streams or rivers, or walk a long distance to find clean water.
Founded in 2006, Global Water Challenge (GWC) is a coalition of leading organizations committed to achieving universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene and women’s empowerment. GWC provides strategic leadership in developing and managing the Water Point Data Exchange (WPDx). A global framework for openly sharing water point data, WPDx compiles various datasets from water point mapping efforts around the world to create inventories that can be easily shared, accessed, and used to drive evidence-based policy and funding decisions. WPDx hosts the world’s largest inventory of rural water point data, with over 500,000 water point records from over 50 countries.
WPDx provides advanced analytical tools which use this data to predict likely water point breaks so that local governments and NGOs can proactively identify at-risk waterpoints and better manage water-related budgets and programs for repairs and new construction.
AI is able to infer the future by discovering patterns using historical data of the characteristics of both functional and broken water points. Visualizing these predictions in a dashboard has allowed public health officials to make data-driven decisions on where to install new water points, prioritize repairs, and paves the way for prioritizing preventative maintenance in a resource constrained environment.
Working with the Ministry of Water Resources in Sierra Leone, GWC has empowered government officials to make better informed decisions about which water points should be prioritized for routine and preventative maintenance. Reducing water point downtime not only ensures that communities have consistent and reliable access to clean water, but also allows those communities to thrive in other ways. As the task of collecting water primarily falls on women, time savings associated with efficient water collection allows women and girls to pursue more equitable opportunities in work and education.