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In Haiti, RFID Tracks Drinking Water

Deep Springs International is using NFC-enabled phones provided by Nokia Research Center, as well as software designed by a U.C. Berkeley professor, to track chlorine levels in household drinking water.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 10, 2011Since 2007, Deep Springs International (DSI), a nonprofit organization based in Pennsylvania, has been providing water-treatment kits to Haitians. Each kit consists of a five-gallon plastic bucket with a lid and a spigot, as well as a chlorine solution and written instructions regarding how to use the kit.

As part of that program, DSI sends water technicians to the homes of those who use its kits, to check whether those households are utilizing them properly, and to provide additional chlorine solution, if necessary. To help it better manage its technicians and the data they generate, the organization has begun employing RFID technology—namely, Near Field Communication (NFC) passive 13.56 MHz RFID passive tags attached to buckets, as well as NFC-enabled phones to collect data and forward it to a back-end system.


A DSI technician tests a Haitian household’s water and then taps the phone against the NFC tag on the Gadyen Dlo water bucket, capturing its unique ID number.

The phones are being provided by Nokia Research Center (NRC), located in Palo Alto, Calif., with software developed by David Holstius, a student and Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health.

DSI contracts with Haitian companies to produce the buckets, which it then distributes free of charge to Haitian families, who can fill the buckets with water and add some chlorine solution to kill any pathogens that might be in it. (It takes approximately 30 minutes for one 7-milliliter [0.2-ounce] capful of solution added to 19 liters [5 gallons] of water to kill enough microbes to make that water potable.) DSI charges $1.25 per bottle of chlorine solution, says Michael Ritter, the company's program manager in Haiti, with the proceeds from the chlorine sales helping to fund the employment of water technicians who regularly visit the homes in order to test the water to determine whether it is adequately chlorinated, and to sell more chlorine solution to any homes running low.

In 2009, Joseph "Jofish" Kaye, an NRC senior research scientist and ethnographer—while discussing projects using Nokia technology to improve the tracking of clean-water consumption with a colleague at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—learned of DSI's accomplishments in Haiti. DSI claims that its chlorine-based water-treatment system, known as Gadyen Dlo (Haitian Creole words meaning "water guardian"), has reduced the incidence of diarrhea among users by about 50 percent, by killing the pathogens that can make people sick. Since the country's 2010 earthquake, as well as more recent cholera outbreak, the Gadyen Dlo system has gained the interest of multiple agencies, including the Haitian government.

USER COMMENTS

Monto Kumagai 2011-04-02 06:30:16 AM
Tracking water quality using NFC phones I recently returned from a trip to Tokyo, Japan and I am interested in documenting and sharing information about water and food quality in earthquake affected areas. The technology developed by Mr. Holstius and Deep Springs International for monitoring water quality in Haiti can be applied and used in other relief efforts. The challenge will be in the rapid, massive deployment of the mobile technology in adverse conditions such as the ones that have been seen in Japan.

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