At a time in which 2 billion people around the world lack access to safely managed drinking water, the top prize this year of the Call for Code Global Challenge went to Saaf Water, an accessible water quality sensor and analytics platform created, in particular, for people living in rural localities.
Saaf Water built a solution using IBM Cloud and IBM Watson services to address the need for making water quality information accessible and easy to understand. The hardware-software platform, once installed, is designed to monitor groundwater and provide a water quality summary along with suggested purification methods. Saaf Water will receive $200,000 and support to incubate, test, and deploy its solution from the IBM Service Corps and expert partners in the Call for Code ecosystem. The India-based team will also receive assistance from The Linux Foundation to open source their application so developers around the world can improve, scale, and use the technology.
Call for Code founding partner IBM and its creator, David Clark Cause, announced the winner of the 4th annual competition, which invited innovators across the globe to combat climate change with open source-powered technology. The Call for Code Global Challenge brings developers and problem solvers together in teams to fight against climate change by building and deploying open source solutions in the cloud. The Challenge looks for solutions that address specific problems in unique, clearly demonstrable ways, with special focus on those that have the greatest community impact with the smallest technological footprint.
Each finalist created a solution to problems addressing the climate change competition’s 3 sub-themes: clean water and sanitation; zero hunger; and responsible production and green consumption. A panel of some of the most eminent leaders in sustainability, business, and technology, including former President Bill Clinton, awarded Saaf Water the grand prize.
Why is Water a Global Concern?
Today, 771 million people – 1 in 10 – lack access to safe water and 1.7 billion people – 1 in 4 – lack access to a toilet. Achieving universal coverage by 2030 will require a quadrupling of current rates of progress in safely managed drinking water services, safely managed sanitation services, and basic hygiene services. Least developed countries have the furthest to go, and it will be especially challenging to accelerate progress in fragile contexts. Many more countries are facing challenges in extending services to rural areas and to poor and vulnerable populations who are most at risk of being left behind.
On the demand side, the vast majority — roughly 70% — of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture, while the rest is divided between industrial (19%) and domestic uses (11%), including for drinking. Water scarcity happens when communities can’t fulfill their water needs, either because supplies are insufficient or infrastructure is inadequate. Climate change will likely exacerbate water stress worldwide, as rising temperatures lead to more unpredictable weather and extreme weather events, including floods and droughts.
Even though the team members are all from different villages, they all have friends or family members impacted by contaminated water. Moved to prevent further suffering in their community and around the world, the Saaf Water team knew that, in Bihar, India, 9 members of the same family died over the past 20 years due to sicknesses linked to arsenic contamination of groundwater. More have experienced illness, including the mother of one of the Saaf Water team members, who lives in Goa, India.
They realized that communities need data and information about their local drinking water to be able to make safe decisions about purification and consumption.
The Technology Behind the Saaf Water Winning Concept
The Saaf Water 2021 Call for Code Global Challenge winning solution is an IoT and AI platform designed to regularly monitor the quality of groundwater and clearly communicate any issues — not just to the authorities, but to local citizens as well.
A low-power, cellular-enabled hardware component, designed to be universally compatible with various community pump types, monitors water characteristics such as total dissolved solids, turbidity, pH, electrical conductivity, and temperature. Then a Node-RED back end on IBM Cloud collects these parameters via MQTT for water quality estimation, and the data is then stored in an IBM Cloudant NoSQL database. If water problems are detected, the back end sends data back to the hardware device to activate an onsite visual indicator, as well as to an intuitive Saaf Water dashboard that can be viewed in a web browser, and out through text message to subscribed users. This makes it easy for community members to receive warning of contamination issues, even if they don’t have an active internet connection.
The Saaf Water dashboard displays water quality estimations and recommended purification methods and includes an interactive map powered by Esri’s ArcGIS that helps users understand neighborhood water quality. The team hopes to build in features to predict seasonal groundwater quality anomalies and to perform onsite biological contamination detection that would reduce the need for lengthy and expensive manual lab tests.
Other CleanTech Ideas to Note from the Code Global Challenge
Four climate solutions were honored in addition to Saaf Water at the Call for Code Global Challenge.
- Green Farm, an app to make agriculture more sustainable by, among other things, connecting local producers and consumers to each other, was awarded second place and $25,000.
- Project Scavenger, an app to enable individuals to responsibly dispose of their devices, was awarded third place and $25,000.
- Honestly, an online browser extension aimed at passing supply chain transparency to consumers, was awarded fourth place and $10,000.
- Plenti, a mobile application designed to make inventory tracking and waste measurement processes user-friendly and easy to do at home, was awarded fifth place and $10,000.
In total, 42 regional finalists and the local winners among them from Asia Pacific, Europe, Greater China, India, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, and North America were celebrated at the event.
Last year’s winner Agrolly helped small farmers better understand what to plant, based on weather patterns and crop characteristics. Since winning the 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge, Agrolly has scaled its personalized farming technology app to more than 1,600 rural farmers across India and Mongolia.
To date, more than 20,000 Call for Code applications have been built using open source-powered software such as Red Hat OpenShift, IBM Cloud, IBM Watson, and IBM Blockchain, as well as data from IBM’s The Weather Company and developer resources and APIs from partners like Esri and Twilio. Fourteen Call for Code projects have been adopted into open governance by the Linux Foundation. Call for Code global winning solutions are further developed, incubated, and deployed as sustainable open source projects with support from the community to ensure they can drive positive change.
About Call for Code Global Challenge
Developers have revolutionized the way people live and interact with virtually everyone and everything. Where most people see challenges, developers see possibilities. That’s why David Clark, the CEO of David Clark Cause, created Call for Code in 2018, and launched it alongside Founding Partner IBM and global partner United Nations Human rights.
This $30 million global initiative is a rallying cry to developers to use their mastery of the latest technologies to drive positive and long-lasting change across the world through code. The Call for Code community includes United Nations Human Rights, The Linux Foundation, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Clinton Foundationand Clinton Global Initiative University, Arrow Electronics, Ingram Micro, Intuit, Caribbean Girls Hack, Kode With Klossy, World Institute on Disability, Esri, Samsung, Black Girls Code, Heifer International, The Nature Conservancy, and many more.
Images courtesy of IBM