Water Quality

Water scarcity and water pollution are major environmental issues in India. While a number of cities are struggling to cope with increasing water scarcity due to declining groundwater levels, water quality continues to be a major problem posing a serious risk to health and lives. A recent Water Aid report finds that India is among the countries with the worst access to clean water close to homes.
As part of this theme, we want participants to build efficient and low cost solutions for providing clean drinking water to unserved communities, and for testing of water quality.
Below are a couple of example problem statements that can be addressed under this theme. Feel free to use these as the problem areas to propose your ideas/solutions, or pick any other problem area which aligns with the work domains of the NGOs.

Rapid Detection of Bacterial Contamination

Unsafe water and food containing harmful microbial pathogens are the major source of illnesses and mortality across the world. It is estimated that infectious diseases cause about 40% of the approximately 50 million total annual deaths worldwide. Contaminated drinking water alone affects a tenth of the world’s population, with bacterial contamination estimated to cause over 500,000 deaths each year. Similarly, microbial contamination in the food industry costs many millions of dollars each year. Thus, detection of potentially threatening bacteria in water and food is of utmost importance for preventing the spread of diseases that result in unwarranted deaths and illnesses.

Effective control and prevention of such diseases needs rapid detection and precise monitoring of these pathogens. However, current methods of bacterial detection rely upon expensive and time consuming laboratory based techniques which require trained manpower and take at least 24-48 hours. This waiting time prevents quick action, and the consequence can be severe. Thus, there is an urgent need for:
● Easy-to-use, rapid detection tests for infectious pathogens in water and food (within 1-2 hours).
● Portable solutions which can be used directly at a site and geotag/upload results.

Rapid and Continuous detection of Fluoride

There are times when ground water at a particular location is affected with Fluoride. Effective control and prevention of fluorosis need rapid detection and precise monitoring of fluoride contamination to assure that any water treatment system is properly removing the same from ground water. However, the current method of detection requires human intervention each time the contamination needs to be tested. There is a need to build a sensor-based or any other automated mechanism for testing fluoride contamination rapidly (in real-time) and continuously.



The Aquasafi Rural Development Foundation (ASRDF) mission is to provide clean drinking water to unserved communities through a sustainable model. ASRDF’s vision is to transform village dependence for daily water requirement, from groundwater to sustainable surface-water sources.
ARDF is using technology to minimize human dependence and help reduce overhead and build a sustainable operation model, via:

● A partnership model between AQUASAFI and panchayat, wherein Aquasafi provides the machinery and village provides land, building, water source and electric connection for the treatment unit. A demand driven approach ensures that there are sufficient number of people for the product who are willing to pay.
● Operation and maintenance is taken care of with a human independent process and has in-built protection for voltage fluctuation, dry-running, over and under voltage. In case of problems the machinery sends an SMS informing the relevant party about the fault before putting the plant into shutdown mode. This helps in preventing breakdowns that would interrupt a continues, 365 days of water supply, and in achieving break-even faster.
● Quality of water being supplied can be monitored real time and is programmed to stop production if the quality falls below the required standard.
● RFID based water dispensing prevents revenue leakage to save money for repair & maintenance.
More detailed information about AquaSafi’s work can be found here : www.asrdf.org.

FFEM’s mission is to make environmental data open and easily available to all. Improved access to crucial data on environmental parameters helps improve lives and livelihoods.
FFEM started by designing a low cost water quality test kit. The kit uses the camera and flash of a smartphone as a colorimeter to perform simple tests for inorganic compounds such as Fluoride, Nitrate, Arsenic III, Iron, Chromium VI, pH level, Copper, etc. Though this test was designed for drinking water parameters, it finds application in lake and river water monitoring as well for compounds such as Chlorophyll A and Dissolved Oxygen.
The cost of testing has come down significantly. For example, a Fluoride test which would cost INR 500 in a laboratory can now be performed for INR 20. FFEM’s tests are within 10% of a laboratory test and make an ideal screening tool.
Similarly, in urban lake monitoring, tests that would take days to perform can now be done by interested citizens on the spot using their own smartphones.
More detailed information about FFEM can be found here : www.ffem.io

Urban Livability

Location based, data-driven approaches can go a long way in tracking and improving the quality of life (QOL) indicators in urban India. QOL data can be used to build powerful decision-support systems for city administrators to solve liveability challenges with street and rooftop level precision. However, most Indian cities are data scarce today. Where data is available from sources such as the government it often lacks location intelligence, though text-format addresses are available in most cases. Hence, there is a need to think innovatively about how to generate location-tagged data on QOL in cities.
As part of this theme, we want participants to build effective and scalable solutions to collect location-tagged data around the quality of life indicators. We present below a few examples of problem statements to be solved for under this theme. Feel free to pick these as the problem areas to propose your ideas and solutions to, or pick any other problem area which aligns with the work domains of the NGOs.

Utilizing aerial imagery

Making use of high-res aerial imagery from drones and satellites to detect potholes or overflowing garbage dumps. Note: Mid-resolution aerial imagery data can be made available upon request by the participants and can also be downloaded from open data sources such as Earth Explorer and Bhuvan.

Utilizing low-cost sensors

Making use of low-cost sensors to gather data around the quality of life indicators provided below in the link. For example - Odor based sensors for detecting foul smell (from garbage dumps), or low light detection sensors for detecting faulty or missing street lighting, or smartphone sensors for detecting bumps/slow-downs in road indicating poor road quality.

Utilizing crowd-sourced data

India's 378 million+ urban citizens can act as powerful sources of location-tagged data on quality of life. However, from past research, most types of data collection efforts organized around the idea of grievance data collection have not scaled. Innovative ideas that gamify data collection or frame data collection in a way that doesn't give the impression of a "complaints box" could be powerful solutions.



Lakeer is a tech non-profit focused on improving quality of life in urban India by focusing on economic growth, social inclusion, environmental conservation, and good governance. We work towards this mission by enabling more data-driven governance in cities. At the core of our work is our geospatial data platform CitySight which allows city administrators to:

● IDENTIFY priority action areas across 42+ quality of life and governance indicators
● ANALYSE the current state of each indicator in the city in comparison to global benchmarks, and discover root causes of challenges
● PRIORITIZE indicators to act upon on basis of urgency, feasibility, visible impact and long-term impact
● SOLVE by increasing intra-department collaboration and working off global benchmark solutions and best cases
● REPORT verified success stories using data & maps in accordance with central government schemes and benchmarks

The team developed the geospatial data platform CitySight, which helps:

● Prioritizing action on complex city-wide challenges
A majority of the big pains affecting urban areas – such as mobility, climate change etc., are a complex intermingling of several issues. CitySight unpacks these complex challenges for city administrators and helps to identify concrete action areas,translating action points to lists that can easily integrate into existing government mechanisms for driving action, such as Government Orders (GOs).
Sample analysis question – How might we encourage more people to use public transportation so that there are fewer private vehicles on the road, leading to reduced traffic and overall mobility improvements?
Analysis direction – Can we identify what parts of a given city are not within 500 mt walking distance of access to public transport (via bus stop, metro station etc.) so that we can improve last-mile connectivity of public transport?

● Integrating the urban poor in city fabric of life
81 million urban Indians (1 in 4) live below the official poverty line. Poverty is rapidly becoming urbanized, and while rural poverty is still higher than urban poverty, the gap is closing. However, cities have several unique strengths in combating poverty, such as strong local economies, ease of identifying and reaching the poor given density of population, and strong potential for public-private partnerships to develop & deliver services for the poor. CitySight helps in creating, managing, and evaluating safety nets in urban areas through the lens of “spatial inclusion” that looks at accessibility of different services such as housing, education, healthcare, nutrition etc.
Sample analysis question – How might we achieve zero hunger in cities?
Analysis direction – Can we identify if there is adequate access to government ration shops/fair price shops to access subsidized food items?

● Improving Govt scheme/program delivery
Urban investment by the govt of India is growing exponentially as center and states realize the economic value of cities. In planning period 2014-17 the allocation to cities grew by 315% and is expected to grow again. City Sight helps to unlock the potential of every Rupee invested by identifying how different departments and agencies can combine their efforts and create more citizen-friendly outcomes.
Sample analysis question – How might the affordable housing scheme be primed for success?
Analysis direction – Can we identify if the connection between public transportation and affordable housing developments can be improved?

● Improving urban sustainability
Climate change is increasingly becoming a problem of cities, one caused by cities (which account for 75% of energy use while occupying only 3% of all land) and most visible in cities (think extreme weather events, flooding linked to sea-level rise etc.). The direct and indirect impact of climate change in Indian cities are already visible. Some of these can be seen over longitudinal study periods, such as sea level rise, water scarcity, and heat waves. Others have more immediately visibility and recurring impacts – extreme weather events and forced urban migration of climate refugees. CitySight combines aerial imagery, sensor data, govt data, and crowd-sourced data, and analyzes them through powerful open-source algorithms to identify opportunities for city administrators to take specific actions to fight climate change.
Sample analysis question – How might green cover be improved in cities?
Analysis direction – Can we identify state of green cover at a neighbourhood/ward-level and specific action steps?
More details on Lakeer’s work can be found here: www.lakeer.org