Nearly 2.5 billion people have no access to toilets and poor sanitation contaminates food, drink and the environment, leading to disease. According to the World Bank, more people in the developing world have access to cell phones than to adequate toilet facilities, and global sanitation problems are costing both lives and billions of dollars.
In a bid to develop solutions to the problem, this weekend computer geeks, sanitation experts and journalists in Cape Town will be joining ten other such groups around the world to participate in the in the first ever global Sanitation Hackathon.
Other cities hosting such groups, dubbed Hacks/Hackers include Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Helsinki, Jakarta, Pretoria, London, New York and Manila.
A hackathon is an intensive brainstorming sessions held between sanitation experts and programmers.
“The subject experts will make problem statements to the technical programmers who will then choose an issue they find particularly interesting or challenging,” explains David Schaub-Jones, co-founder of SeeSaw, a company that focuses on how technology can strengthen water and sanitation provision in developing countries.
World Bank is one of the global sponsors of the event. “I’m very excited to convene this hackathon,” says World Bank President Jim Kim. “It’s great to see people round the globe putting their heads together to create life changing solutions. We believe there are technological solutions that can help us provide sanitation for more poor people. A solution that helps families, villages and even whole countries tackle the sanitation problem on a large scale.”
“The problems that the Cape Town hackers look at will be mostly Southern African, but we are linked up closely to what’s going on in Tanzania and in Dakar, Senegal and are aware of what they are likely to work on. And if any useful solutions come out of Cape Town we can see where else in the world they can be applied,” says Schaub-Jones.
“We are testing the limits of what you can do with a physical problem – sanitation and sludge – with technical ideas. We have two different audiences, the government and the people responsible for monitoring the waste. And then there is the general public. We want to improve the relationship between the two groups.”
The hackathon participants could create ideas for how people who have sanitation problems can signal more effectively to those who can fix them, or develop programmes that collect information to who has what level of access to sanitation.
“Games that can be played on computers and phones can also be effective ways of raising awareness, be informative on hygiene and motivate people to invest in sanitation,” says Schaub-Jones.
35-40 people are expected to participate in the Cape Town Sanitation Hackathon. To register go to www.capetownsanhack.