SeeSaw is leading on the development of a software platform to help protect the Umgeni River in South Africa.
The Umgeni River
At SeeSaw we develop software to strengthen water and sanitation provision and protect the environment in developing countries. Our software platform “SeeSawSend” has been customised to allow field-workers and local communities to report on the health of river ecosystems.
In partnership with DUCT, a well-established South African foundation, we aim to better protect the Umgeni and uMsunduzi rivers. The Umgeni River is the primary water source for the city of Durban, third largest city of South Africa, which hosts around 3.5 million people. Both rivers are linked to the UNESCO world heritage site, the Drakensburg Mountains.
A recent GIS study showed that approximately 80% of the river length in KwaZulu-Natal occurs within a five kilometre radius of a school. DUCT works with schools to persuade them to ‘Adopt a River’ in which they take on the challenge of improving, maintaining and monitoring a river reach in their area. DUCT appoints local “environmental champions” and equips them with training and small incentives to become local reporters and champions for water protection..
DUCT now have a grant from the Nedbank-WWF Green Trust that will allow them to expand their model of environmental educational, build and provide support to community action groups for improving river health and develop environmental training courses for public sector fieldworkers.
SeeSaw would like to work with DUCT, adding an ICT (Information Communications Technology) component to their work that will make it more effective. This would allow people (nominated environmental champions, as well as members of the public) to report on river-related concerns using cellphones. The aim is to get better data to help protect river ecosystems and establish a feedback loop with local communities, promoting public awareness and bringing about behaviour change that helps protect the environment.
The ICT reporting system, known as SeeSawSend, would combine a customised android application (for environmental champions) with applications that process missed calls and photos sent by the general public. It would help to map incidents that affect the river as well monitor the ‘state of the rivers’ over time. The platform would send alerts to certain people when specific, more serious, incidents are reported.
Both DUCT and the local municipalities have expressed interest and support, but lack the budget to pay for the development of such a tool. Local municipalities are also keen to customise such a system to permit them to monitor and improve their own operations relating to water resource protection..
A similar ongoing project
This is not the first “river project” for SeeSaw. Indeed, since late 2012, SeeSaw is leading on a similar project supporting the Liesbeek River near Cape Town.
.The Liesbeek River
As with DUCT, in the Liesbeek project as well, a partnership has been established with a volunteer group that seeks to protect the river and surrounding ecosystem: The Friends of the Liesbeek.
For FoL SeeSaw has developed a specific mobile application that allows users to record information concerning the pollution hotspots along the Liesbeek River as well as one-off incidents. The software has also been used to map inlet and abstraction points. The platform gathers all the information on a map and allows trends to be seen over time as well as the links between the river ‘architecture’ and the source of pollution. SeeSaw’s “Snapture” application, one component of the wider SeeSawSend platform, features heavily, permitting users to report information by only taking photos.
- A field worker starts by taking a picture of the subject (e.g. inlet point).
Then, using a customised code sheet, he takes a picture of the code matching the situation to report (e.g. size of the inlet point). Each code has a specific meaning (e.g. inlet damaged, high level of pollution in the river, etcetera).
Each report is sent, via the mobile phone network, to a customised website. Here managers and others can view a summary of all information reported, as well as ‘drill-down’ to specific incidents, including photos. Thanks to the GPS on the affordable smartphone that reporters use, all the information is also plotted on a map. It can all be exported for use in other software.
It is possible to customize this application for different projects: reporting the condition of toilets in townships, reporting the condition of boreholes in rural areas, etc.
If you are interested in contributing to the Umgeni River project, or if you want more information, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org