S4W-Nepal is a collaboration between SmartPhones4Water (S4W), a US based non-profit organization, Himalayan Biodiversity and Climate Change Center (HimBioCliCC), Tribhuvan University Institute of Engineering, Kathmandu Institute of Applied Sciences (KIAS), Delft University of Technology, the Swedish International Development Agency, and Stockholm University. Collectively, we are passionate about (1) people in the margins and (2) wise stewardship of our natural resources. We believe that water links these themes in a most profound way.

Water is our most precious resource. Lord Kelvin, a famous Scottish mathematician, once said, “you can’t manage a resource you don’t measure.” S4W-Nepal’s goal is to generate the data necessary to support wise water management decisions. We accomplish this with our three pronged approach of Research, Education, and Employment. Our first project in Nepal focuses on the Kathmandu Valley, where extreme population growth has led to extensive stress and degradation of water resources and associated ecosystems.

The traditional approach to collecting water data (e.g. rainfall, water flow in streams, groundwater levels, water quality, etc.) requires permanent sensors and is expensive, easily disrupted by corruption and vandalism, is reliant on often unstable political institutions, and simply doesn’t work in many cases. In many places of the world, not least the rapidly developing portions of Africa and South and East Asia, the traditional approach has consistently struggled to produce the data water managers rely on to make good decisions.

Citizen Science + Mobile Technology?

S4W = citizen science + mobile technology. S4W uses an Android application called Open Data Kit (ODK) to collect data about water with citizen scientists. Advances in mobile technology (e.g. GPS, cameras, etc.) have drastically improved the accuracy and reliability of citizen science observations. In many cases, our approach is more cost effective than traditional methods, and more rapidly scalable. All data collected by S4W is public domain.

S4W-Nepal has a strong emphasis on educational training of our local citizen scientists and scholastic partners. We have partnerships with over 30 schools in the Kathmandu Valley, and have dozens of Nepali and foreign undergraduate and graduate students involved as interns and volunteers.

During the 2017 monsoon we engaged with over 100 local citizen scientists to measure precipitation. In 2018 we are aiming for even more sites in order to further characterize spatial and temporal variability.

The first step to solving any problem is thoughtfully characterizing it. Once the problem is characterized, a plan can be developed, and then implemented. Many parts of the developing world have huge issues with sustainable water management. S4W-Nepal aims to generate the data that are necessary to characterize these issues, so that solutions can be developed, and ultimately implemented.