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Tapping Innovation for the Sanitation Sector

Jae So, WSPBy Jae So, Guest Columnist

Did you know that around the world, 2.5 billion people lack access to sanitation? This causes billions of dollars of economic losses every year, and claims the lives of 4,000 children each day. Yet of these 2.5 billion people, who make up one-third of the world’s population, 1 billion have access to mobile phones, creating an important opportunity to mobilize innovation for the sanitation sector.

A year ago, the World Bank asked: How can we work with partners to use these 1 billion connections to promote healthier behaviors and improve access to sanitation services, such as containment of waste water? The result is the Sanitation Hackathon, a yearlong strategic process that is a project of the World Bank’s water practice and ICT sector, working together with governments and citizens around the world with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Last Friday, in celebration of World Water Day, we announced the Top 10 Finalists of the Sanitation Hackathon App Challenge. The Challenge has sourced some of the best ideas that address sanitation problems through the use of tech tools that enable data collection, SMS broadcast, serious games, behavior change communications, and much more.

Here are the Top 10 Finalist apps, in alphabetical order:

Empowering Girls monitors girls’ school attendance to track appropriate sanitation facilities.
LION Sync provides decision-makers with access to real-time data online and offline.
LooRewards promotes sanitary behavior by rewarding safe sanitation practices.
mSchool monitors the status of water and sanitation infrastructure in schools.
mSewage crowdsources the identification of open defecation sites and sewage outflows.
San-Trac reminds users about hygienic practices and gathers real-time data for trend analysis.
Sanitation Investment Tracker tracks investment and expenditure in sanitation at the household level.
SunClean teaches sanitary and hygienic behavior through games for children.
Taarifa enables citizen reporting and tracks decision-makers’ feedback.
Toilight finds toilets in a smart and easy way.

More information about each app, the teams, and the technology used can be found here. The Grand Prize Winners of the Sanitation App Challenge will be announced during the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings on April 19.

We are grateful to the many Sanitation Hackathon participants and partners, and to the over 1,000 mobile app developers who participated in a two-day hackathon event held simultaneously in 40 cities around the world. Those hackathons generated over 700 concepts, and led to 70 teams continuing to work on these ideas in a virtual environment and registering via the Sanitation HackAtHome website.

The Sanitation Hackathon is sourcing entrepreneurial, citizen-centered and technology-enabled to help address a longstanding development challenge. We think it’s a smart way to tap innovation for the sanitation sector, and we are honored to acknowledge our Top Ten Finalist teams. You can watch a video of each of the Finalists here.

Ms. Jaehyang So is Manager of the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank.

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