NextDrop: Using SMS to inform citizens when water would flow from municipal taps

Water. A basic amenity needed by all of us. Yet, in most towns and cities across the country, the municipal taps are unreliable. Water supply being sporadic in nature, thousands of people queue up in front of these taps not knowing when the water would flow. Households lose immense amounts of time waiting for water to arrive, with the costs borne disproportionately by women and by the poor.

A PhD student, Emily Kumpel, was doing her dissertation research regarding intermittent water in Hubli. She saw that people waited for long periods of time for the water to trickle out of those taps.  Wanting  to do something about this, she took the problem to her class at Berkeley. This class was called the ICT for Social Enterprise and was run by Tapan Parikh. A group of interdisciplinary graduate students came together in this class to create a solution to the water problem.  That’s how NextDrop was born.

The Solution

NextDrop provides households with accurate and timely information about local piped water delivery, over cell phones already widely in use in India. This information comes from water utility employees who call their interactive voice response system when they open valves to distribute water. These reports are used to generate real-time water availability updates and notifications 30-60 minutes in advance of water delivery. In addition, NextDrop uses crowd-sourcing to verify the accuracy of utility reports and create a feedback loop, introducing much needed visibility for engineers in the water utility.

Crowd Source Data Flow of NextDrop

Crowd Source Data Flow: a) The Valve Engineers call the Interactive Voice Response whenever they open the valves b) The Residents get SMS alerts 30-60 mins prior to the delivery of water c) Engineers are able to track the status of valves on a Google map d) The feedback from residents is used to create a feedback loop.

At the end of fall 2009, Next Drop won a grant from the Gates Foundation and in the July of 2010, the pilot was officially launched in Hubli in collaboration with Hubli-Dharwad Water Board and local residents.

We interacted with Anu Sridharan, the Co-Founder & CEO of NextDrop .  Here’s an excerpt:

What were the initial hurdles that you came across once you started working on the project? Especially the collaboration with Hubli-Dharwad Water Board?

The Hubli water board has been incredibly cooperative.  I think the hurdles are just trying to figure out who to talk to, but after you figure that out and you get the necessary approvals, the government officials have been incredibly cooperative and helpful.  We are still in the early stages, but given the support we have received from the utilities, especially from the Hubli water board, we know that when we do encounter more significant hurdles, we will be able to work through them together.

What has been the socio-economic impact of the project ? Any particular example that comes to your mind.

It’s still to early to say definitively, but we do have some quotes from our initial pilot in Hubli:

“Once they supplied the water at 6 am.  I was sleeping but, when I got your SMS we came to  know that water was flowing” – Alugundi

“I go to college, and my parents are employees.   When I get the SMS from Nextdrop, I inform my parents and then they come to home and fill the water” – Ashwini

Once all the family members went to a marriage party near to Hubli (one hour journey).  When I got the SMS from Nextdrop   I came to know that water is flowing , so I immediately sent my younger brother home to fill the water because next day all the relatives were coming to the home. If we missed the water we have to wait again for 6 to 8 days. Your service is very useful at that time” – Ganga

Policy recommendation/suggestions that could help municipal authorities give timely information to the citizens ?

All we want to do is work WITH government officials/utilities, because we know that sometimes they really ARE trying to give people better service, they just aren’t sure how – given the monetary restrictions and other issues they have to deal with.  That’s how this idea came about – to provide a cost effective solution to help governments help their citizens.

Future plans for Next Drop ?

We would love to expand to other cities in India, and provide other services (such as alleviating intermittent power problems, helping governments alert citizens about when food rations will come, weather the teachers they are paying are actually showing up in schools, and other related services).

To know more about how they work and what more they do, check out NextDrop’s website.

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