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Tech way to water and sanitation

Simple technologies are helping affordable, safe and sustainable access to water and sanitation services in neighbouring Bangladesh and the models can be replicated in developing countries like India, where a significant percentage of the population face the same problem.

Mirva Tuulia Moilanen, communications specialist, Water and Sanitation Programme, World Bank said on Friday on the sidelines of Infocom 2013, an initiative of the ABP Group, which publishes The Telegraph.

“We have organised hackathons in Bangladesh where geeks have taken part to find solutions to these problems…. The response had been phenomenal,” said Miolanen, who shared the experience of Hackathon at the Innovators’ Conclave in Infocom 2013 on Friday afternoon.

The word hackathon has been derived from the words hacking and marathon as the aim has been to throw the challenge to information, communication and technology experts to work out solutions to this problem through new software, mobile or GPS applications.

“The spread of mobile phones has helped us in the mission,” she said, citing how residents of remote parts have been using their phones to click pictures of hazardous effluents of textile factories and sending them to the authorities.

Water and Sanitation Programme is one of the key developmental initiatives of World Bank, which was launched in 1978 as a co-operative effort between the bank and the United Nations Development Programme to look at cost-effective technologies and models for providing safe water and sanitation in countries like Bangladesh.

Data available from the Bangladeshi authorities reveal that around 81 per cent of the population have access to proper sanitation, much more than the corresponding figures in India and Pakistan.

“Several problems like arsenic contamination in water, malnutrition are common both in Bangladesh and India…. A lot of these problems can be addressed by involving local people and seeking their suggestions on how to solve these problems. That’s why we had organised hackathon in Bangladesh by listing the problems and inviting suggestions,” said Moilanen. According to her, World Bank is planning to hold a hackathon in India in six to eight months to address some developmental problems, but the venue is yet to be decided.

“Given the enthusiasm among the people from the ICT sector here, Calcutta can also be a venue… If the universities show interest, we can think about it,” she said, while adding that World Bank would also try to involve venture funds, incubation centres in the exercise so that some of the solutions can be developed into products.

“The hardest part of the pre hackathon period is presenting the problem in such a way that it is understandable for the ICT sector…. A lot of work goes into that preparation. As the problems here are similar to Bangladesh and so we can bring the same problem statements in Calcutta,” she said.