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[liberationtech] Need Help: Water quality monitor for African sensorweb project

Justin Arenstein justinarenstein at
Tue Apr 22 04:13:19 PDT 2014

Hi everyone.

One of the grassroots data journalism projects that our Code for
Africa<> and
Hacks/Hackers Africa <> teams
support urgently needs some help.

They're trying to find a cost-efficient digital imaging / microscopy
solution for a sensorweb they're building that will use SMS messages to
alert rural communities to e-coli and other contamination of local rivers
that communities use for drinking water. The projects are in an area that
is South Africa's epicenter of the HIV/Aids pandemic (with up to an
astounding *46%* of pregnant women in the area testing HIV positive), and
where there are regular cholera outbreaks ... which are fatal for anyone
with a compromised immune system.

The sensorweb idea stems from a Liberation Technology presentation on
mobile phone hacks at Stanford in 2008/9, where some students demonstrated
a smartphone they'd converted into a microscope using the inbuilt camera &
flash. The presentation unfortunately wasn't part of the official speaker
programme, so we're struggling to track the team.

The African project intends using the sensorweb for two purposes:

1.) To create a public SMS alert service for villagers, that warns when
rivers are dangerously contaminated so that villagers can go elsewhere for

2.) To create the region's 1st real-time database of water quality for
journalists, activists, and the authorities to track sewerage and other
spills into local rivers.

We have a small ($10,000) seed grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation and World Editors Forum to test the idea for citizen-run
sensorwebs in impoverished rural communities. The local partner is a
grassroots muckraking newspaper, Ziwaphi <>,
which has dedicated a reporting team to the project for 1yr but doesn't
have many other resources. We therefore need really cheap & easy-to-deploy

Any ideas or suggestions or leads would be much appreciated.

Hope someone on the list can help.


Justin Arenstein

SA Mobile: +27.82.374.0812
US Mobile: +1.650.336.5878
Skype: JustinArenstein
Twitter: JustinArenstein <>

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