Using citizen science to monitor the health of Nairobi’s rivers
Since 2013, the International Water Stewardship Programme (IWaSP) has been working to combine global best practices in water stewardship with local know-how. Implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), IWaSP provides powerful solutions for water scarcity.
In Kenya, Akvo is involved in piloting a citizen science approach to water quality. Using Akvo’s data platform, citizens are monitoring the health of Nairobi’s rivers in order to gather critical information for evidence-based advocacy.
Above: WRUA members measuring Electrical Conductivity. Nyongara River, Kiambu, Kenya. September 2018. Photo by Sophia Kamau.
The rapid urbanisation of Nairobi has resulted in an increase in population and industrialisation - factors which largely contribute to the pollution of the city’s rivers. While various institutions do test the quality of the river water, these tests are sporadic and the results aren’t shared with the public. Without reliable, consistent, and open data on water quality, citizens don’t have the evidence they need to advocate for clean water.
Local people are key players in the management of their own water resources. In order for water quality to be monitored by the citizens themselves, a user friendly data platform is needed and local people need to be trained in data collection. What’s more, awareness needs to be raised on the value of data for advocacy purposes.
The data collection went really well and since I’m able to access the database, I can create reports myself. The community I work in have also shown interest in data collection and have asked whether they can be trained to measure water quality on their phones themselves. This shows a potential for a wider citizen science approach and the use of this system for large scale data collection and decision making.Luke Odera, volunteer data collector on the Kiu River
With representatives from universities and water resources users associations (WRUAs), IWaSP mobilised citizens to test water quality in various river basins in and around Nairobi. Akvo provided the equipment, data platform, and training to enable participants to collect and visualise water quality data. The goal is to have a low-cost water quality monitoring system which provides a snapshot of the pollution levels. Using this snapshot, the issues that require the most attention, such as dangerous levels of E.coli, can be dealt with immediately. Other priority parameters for this project were Electrical Conductivity (EC), pH, phosphate and nitrate.
Using Akvo’s data platform, water quality data can be tested and visualised at scale and quickly. This means that, at a quick glance, issues that require urgent attention can be addressed. One of the benefits of using Akvo’s system is that data can be compared to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) drinking water standards, enabling citizens to understand the different risk levels themselves.
All of the captured data is publicly available on an interactive map. Using these visualisations as evidence, citizens and institutions can advocate for action towards the restoration of Nairobi’s river systems. Starting small, this project has shown the potential for a wider citizen science approach to water quality testing at scale.