Youth as Scientists – Monitoring South Asia’s Water Health

Water is one of the most important and scarce resources for every animal and human being in the world. This may seem odd to most of the people as 70 % of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. About 97% of all water is seawater in the oceans which humans first have to process before consumption. The majority of the rest is mainly stored as frozen solid in the Antarctica and Greenland. Water for human use is either stored in rivers, lakes or below the surface called groundwater.

South Asia offers habitat to more than 20 percent of the worlds population. India itself is home to more than 1.24 billion people with a potential growth rate of 1.4% per year (25 million people). Inhabiting so many people naturally has a huge impact on the environment and the water quality too. Agriculture as well as big cities have a huge necessity for clean water. Many years ago clean water was provided by the rivers which have their springs in the Himalayan-Hindu Kush mountain range. Nowadays these rivers are extremely polluted which leads to South Asia being the world’s most water-stressed region in the world. Water availability fell by 70% per capita since 1950. This process is further expedited by dropping groundwater tables and increasingly unpredictable hydrological cycles.With ongoing population growth and current utilization patterns the water quality will continue to diminish. Additionally the standards of living will increase within the next years meaning the people are looking for better access to drinking water, energy and food. As a matter of fact water, sanitation and hygiene has the potential to prevent at least 9.1% of global disease burden and 6.3% of all deaths.

KLL with support of the American Embassy know about the present and future problems and want to help. The major goals are:

  1. Encourage and empower students to engage in understanding the health of their drinking water and issues related to water health,
  2. Create a GIS platform for students and citizens to compare water health in various locales, and
  3. Support environmental and educational outreach programs.

KLL believes that with increased social awareness and with public help any problem is solvable. The main idea was setting up a website which allows youths from all over South Asia to contribute. These “citizen scientists” should monitor the water quality of their area and upload the data into the website developed by KLL.

Water quality or the “health” of water can easily be analyzed with inexpensive and easy-to-use testing kits. These kits analyze the water on the following parameters:

Acidity, Dissolved Oxygen, Arsenic, Turbidity, Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Nitrates, Phosphates, Coliform Bacteria, Benthic Macro-Invertebrates.

Students download the KLL Collect app on their mobile phones and use it to collect data. The outputs are uploaded to a GIS platform. This platform provides the opportunity for citizens to better understand the quality of their water. Additional to that the website allows the user to compare water data from different countries and cities to another. The gathered knowledge should gain a better appreciation of South Asia’s water resources.

First data was collected on November 4th in Nepal. Cities in India and Sri Lanka will follow soon.

  • David Max is a student in the University of Heidelberg, Germany and is currently an intern at Kathmandu Living Labs.
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