When environmental engineer John Feighery got an internship at NASA in the 1990s, he wanted to be an astronaut but he was given a job working with a team designing the US bathroom for the space station. The small, closet-like space needed a toilet and room for hand washing, bathing and a place to keep toiletries. Feighery also worked on a project to fix equipment designed for monitoring crew health, which included testing water and air quality. After the Columbia Space Shuttle accident in 2003 left seven crew members dead, the Space Shuttle programme was suspended and further work on the International Space Station was delayed. Feighery turned his focus from managing water, sanitation and health problems in space to those on Earth. “I’d been working on supplying clean water to three or four people in space, and meanwhile there are a billion here on earth that don’t have it,” Feighery said in an interview with AlertNet, the global humanitarian news service. “The world that my kids are going to grow up in has this huge problem that I felt like I could work on.”
Work on the ground
mWater – an Android app that records the data results of water quality tests and maps them. The application allows people to track water quality tests at any given water source over time, providing instant results which are put in context with other tests.
The app, which is available in the Google Play Store, also allows users to leave notes for other users about the appearance of the water, its scent, and how the water is flowing from the source, building up an archive of information over time. A photograph of the water source can be uploaded and location details are registered automatically using a GPS reading from the mobile device. UN Habitat funded a study in Tanzania to test mWater’s capacity to provide local health officers with a simple way to see the quality of water using a mobile phone with an Android operating system.”It’s a very novel approach to water quality monitoring,” said Lars Onsager Stordal, who works for UN Habitat’s water, sanitation and infrastructure department. “It makes it possible, affordable and manageable at the local level.”Health workers can use the data or even go with a sick patient and easily test the water where they live.