Designing a cell phone application to alert and report drinking water quality to South Africans

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Title: Designing a cell phone application to alert and report drinking water quality to South Africans
Author: Brown, Deana
Abstract: Drinking water quality, especially in many parts of South Africa, is far below acceptable standards. With an annual estimate of 43, 000 deaths from diarrheal diseases, 3 million cases of illness and treatment costs of over half a billion US dollars, the impact is critical (Mackintosh & Colvin, 2003). To address this issue the Aquatest project seeks to develop a simplified low-cost water quality test kit and information management solution. This would allow Water Service Providers, especially in rural areas, to monitor water quality and distribute test data to the necessary parties - Water Service Authorities and consumers. This research addresses the challenge of reporting complex and critical water quality information in a way that is accessible to all South Africans as law requires. In a country with high illiteracy rates, 11 official languages and limited-to-no access to technology in many areas, this is no easy feat. We propose that the use of appropriate information and communication technologies (ICT), coupled with culturally appropriate ways of presenting scientific data, would allow water quality information to be accessible to South Africans. With the penetration level of cell phones exceeding 100% of the South African population (ITU, 2008), the low cost of Mobile Internet access and the popularity of cell phone applications such as MXit used for social networking, mobile technology seemed promising. This led to the design of Water Alert!, a cell phone application that alerts and reports critical water quality information to consumers who subscribe to it. Our assessment and evaluation of this design with users suggested that such an application would help to improve the consumers' level of understanding of water quality information since the use of a tool and interface design that they are familiar with would lower the learning curve, while symbol-based messages would make critical water quality information more accessible to all regardless of their literacy level or language spoken.
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Date: 2009

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