Dick de Jong asked days ago whether I could provide with some examples of ICTs contributions to solution of water problems. I must admit I am in no way a water expert. And I must admit too that my knowledge in ICTs is not comprehensive or absolute at all. This said, I will nevertheless try and give some examples that do come in mind when talking about water and ICTs. Not magic solutions, just humble contributions. Some of them are common ideas already working, some others are just little variations of the former ones, some are just… just ideas. On the other hand, I’d like to keep this list as a brainstorming, so feel free to use the comments section.
In my limited knowledge of the issue, I guess that there are three ways of looking at the water problem, the so called 3R measures or actions: Reduction, Reutilization and Recycling. Honestly, I think ICTs can act, over all, in Reduction, a little bit in Reutilization and, maybe — but I don’t see how — in Recycling (besides computerized industrial plants, which is not exactly the issue treated here.
Concerning ICTs, I’d take this 5 step approach:
So, with this framework (on one hand the 3R model, on the other hand the 5 step approach), these are things that ICTs could do to work for a better use of water resources:
We understand by infrastructures everything to provide support where to run content and services. In ICTs, we can group them in hardware, software and connectivity.
- Domotics (I): devices to optimize the use of water in taps or find leaks. Besides trivial control to avoid leaving taps open, I’m thinking on gathering data on consumption for all and every water source by date and time. Data analysis could show who’s bathing instead of showering or whether we’re using the toilet bowl as a trash bin. [reduction]
- Domotics (II): as lots of energy come from water, everything related to energy consumption. There’s zillions of examples in this field. [reduction]
- Artificial intelligence for irrigation systems (I): not just programming to water at night, but also to test soil and ambience humidity, plant real needs according to species, etc. [reduction]
- Domotics (III) and irrigation systems (II): once used water is collected, ICT assisted water analysis could provide more efficient reuse depending on the degree of water cleanliness, from clothes washing to irrigation to bowl use. [reutilization]
- Office software: not a joke. Taking into account the huge water needs to produce paper, working digitally really makes a difference. Web 2.0 apps just go deeper into this issue. [reduction]
- Connectivity: if all the previous solutions/contributions can work in a digital network, there is no doubt that some synergies will arise. On the other hand, [reduction][reutilization]
- Wireless sensor networks (I): related to the previous issue and with irrigation systems, wireless technologies to
- Wireless sensor networks (II): for flood prevention. [reduction?]
This section deals with the existence of an ICT sector in any of the three (hardware, software, connectivity) infrastructure fields.
- Free software community: this is the typical south-south collaboration. Only with a strong software community of developers, truly localized solutions, based on free software, can be possible. Take “south” in the sense you want. I take it as “anywhere where water optimization is required”, which is everywhere. The “south-south” philosophy is, nevertheless, more widely known. BTW, same applies to the closed software sector — just wanted to stress that open is better, specially when there is a need for open communities to provide more/collective wisdom. [reduction][reutilization]
- ICT devices for water optimization: this should be placed before the previous example, but the free software community is a better known issue. So, same thing, but with hardware: localized hardware solutions for local water needs. [reduction][reutilization]
While digital literacy is quite a broad concept (technological literacy, informational literacy, e-Awareness…), we take it here in an even broader sense, including ICT driven training. This last aspect clearly belongs to the Content and Services section, but I think it is more pedagogical to deal with it in this section when talking about ICTs as water optimisation tools.
- Digital literacy: as itself, to train citizenship on (a) infrastructure issues, so an ICT sector can emerge and (b) use of digital content and services, so people can benefit from the resources about water in the Net. [reduction][reutilization]
- Advocacy: digital places (websites, brochures, blogs…) to raise awareness on the water problems. [reduction][reutilization][recycling]
- e-Learning: virtual training to develop capacity building in the management of water resources, 3R policies, etc. [reduction][reutilization][recycling]
Content and Services
In other words: the finalist uses of the Internet.
- Digital content: open educational resources to help you reduce, reuse, recycle your water. [reduction][reutilization][recycling]
- Sort of a corollary of the Connectivity issue in the Infrastructures section, a virtual clearing house for second uses of water could be built, thus easily matching supply and demand for used water. Depending on how intelligent is your installation, demanding, supplying and matching could be done with no human intervention at all. [reutilization]
- Geographical Information Systems (GIS): to locate and better analyze field data [reduction]
- Mashups: corollary of the previous one, but somehow more in the web 2.0 trend. Web supported, collectively created/authored/maintained, etc. [reduction]
- Online volunteering: online mentors to help manage your water resources. If payed, volunteering becomes professional consulting: same thing but more expensive. This example is somehow similar to the e-learning one, but the difference is in the means and the hows. [reduction][reutilization][recycling]
Of course, this legal framework refers to everything to describe the rules of the game in the ICT arena.
- ICT fostered water policies: provided all (or some) of the previous ideas are good, they can be fostered through public water policies or, even stronger, public regulation. Some quality regulations in other sector, all in all, just end up inducing determinate technology adoption by pursuing higher quality levels or industry standards. [reduction]
So, please feel free to contribute in the comments.
Contributors so far:
- i4d, Vol. II, No. 7, July 2004. Monographic on Water and Agriculture
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2006) “ICT contributions for water crises v3.0” In ICTlogy,
#38, November 2006. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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