Phone-in-a-bottle Project Saves The Day


water_women_000180 Water contamination in Africa is still one of the most serious problems facing the continent. Although noteworthy achievements have been made with giving people access to clean water, there is still a lot that needs to be done.

Located in the far north-east of South Africa, Ziwaphi community newspaper, with very poor resources, decided to embark on a mission to make people’s lives better regarding this water issue.

Think old smartphones have no value? Well, think again, because this small community newspaper has come up with a brilliant idea to check water pollution using those old smartphones you might see as useless. You’re probably wondering how? It’s as simple as putting old smartphones in plastic bottles, placing them in rivers in the area to keep tabs on water pollution.

The Ziwaphi community newspaper distributes to villages in the Nkomazi district, Mpumalanga, an area still facing issues of having to use water contaminated with sewage. This is an area where women and young girls are expected to fetch water from rivers for drinking, cooking and bathing purposes. They spend hours collecting this water from rivers and these very same rivers that they depend on for water supply, are also used for human waste disposal. With the assistance of the African Media Initiative (AMI) which provided them with a substantial grant and the technology to carry out the initiative, Ziwaphi was able to start this project.

The old smartphones are placed inside clear plastic bottles in these rivers where they collect their water, operating as simple electron microscopes, these phones then use their cameras to take frequent flash-lit pictures. These pictures are then magnified and compared with photographs from an existing database to detect dangerous levels of E.coli, a type of fecal coliform bacteria usually found in the intestines of animals and humans and its found in water as a result of recent sewage. The results are then sent to the residents by SMS (Short Message Service) indicating to them where it is the most safest to collect water.

ZiwaphiShowing the big media houses how it’s done, Ziwaphi, has not only pioneered a new era of Journalism but also, found an effective way of empowering regular citizens in the region. Every month Ziwaphi publishes a story on the results of this initiative, which gets shared with other local newspapers and radio stations in the region.

I take my hat off for the Ziwaphi team, you’ve proved that journalists and media houses have more than one responsibility to society. It’s not only about reporting and stories, but finding ways to turn those horrifying stories into good news. Ziwaphi has, without doubts, succeeded in doing just that!