NFC phones help provide clean water to Haiti earthquake victims

Thousands of families in the poverty-stricken island nation of Haiti are receiving life-saving clean water with the help of near field communication technology.

Clean water buckets in Haiti
HAITI: The RFID-tagged water buckets in action

Some 35,000 households in Haiti are receiving ‘clean water’ buckets — which consist of a chlorine solution and an RFID-tagged five-gallon bucket to treat and store water — from the charity Deep Springs International (DSI).

On each bucket is an RFID tag which is read during regular visits by community-based health workers who carry NFC-equipped Nokia 6212 phones. Just holding the phone up to the bucket reads the tag and records the visit, then they measure the amount of chlorine in the water and key it in to the handset.

The health worker then answers an on-device questionnaire and transmits the data back to the DSI headquarters via SMS. Previously, this task was done using paper forms which was time-consuming and error-prone.

Given DSI’s limited funding and personnel, more accurate tracking of which families need careful monitoring (as opposed to those that are more diligent in cleaning their water) is expected to help the organisation better allocate its resources.

Haiti has long had difficulty supplying clean drinking water to its more than 9.7 million inhabitants, a situation made worse by last January’s devastating earthquake and more recently by a cholera outbreak which the United Nations says has claimed more than 2,500 lives since October.

Whereas the most promising short-term solution to this problem has been treating household water with chlorine, getting this life-saving chemical to families in a country held back by poor transport and communications has proved very difficult.

Aid agencies such as Oxfam have concentrated their efforts in make-shift camps set up for the tens of thousands of people who lost their homes. But for those who remain in more rural inaccessible areas, simply getting to them is a challenge in itself.

Aid workers have said that without regular visits — every month or so — rural Haitians revert to drinking unclean water, which promotes the spread of cholera and diarrhoea.

Scientific American reported that Nokia has contributed to the project by providing the 6212 model specifically for this project because it is equipped with NFC, and also because it does not have desirable high-end features such as a touch-screen interface, making it less likely to be stolen from DSI workers.

More recently Nokia has provided an additional US$24,500 to expand the project beyond its initial pilot phase. The mobile phone giant is hoping to decide soon whether to stick with the now-discontinued 6212 phone as the project grows or to provide DSI with the newer C7 NFC-equipped handset, which has a touch screen.

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