Battling cholera with NFC RFID-tracked drinking water in Haiti

(UPM RFID, Tampere, 31 March 2011) – Deep Springs International (DSI), a non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania, USA, and Nokia Research Center (NRC), Palo Alto, California, are teaming up to ensure the supply of clean drinking water in Haiti with NFC technology.

Water treatment kits are being provided to track chlorine levels in household drinking water using NFC-enabled cell phones. NRC provided the health workers with approximately 50 Nokia 6212 NFC-enabled phones while UPM RFID supplied UPM BullsEye™ NFC tags with NXP Mifare Ultralight chip. Joseph “Jofish” Kaye, Senior Research Scientist, NRC, initiated the project together with David Holstius, a student and Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health, who developed the software application for mobile phones.

Families in the most rural areas in Haiti will have one water treatment kit consisting of a five-gallon (19 litre) plastic bucket with a lid and spigot. The RFID tags are attached to buckets for storing the treated drinking water and delivered to families together with a chlorine solution and written instructions for using the kit. When DSI’s water technicians visit their homes, they check whether they are using the kits properly and provide additional chlorine solutions. The technicians will read the tags using NFC cell phones loaded with software guiding them to ask relevant questions about the water being tested. They then send the data to DCI’s headquarters via SMS. The software application uses the Frontline SMS platform.

Due to Haiti’s mountainous terrain and poor transportation and communications networks, supplying clean drinking water to all inhabitants has always been challenging. Since the devastating earthquake in January 2010 and the cholera outbreak the following October, it has become more critical to rapidly organize and manage the fresh water supply system during natural catastrophes or serious outbreaks of infectious disease. DSI and NRC are now aiming to solve the problem on a short-term basis by treating household water with chlorine. Using RFID, the report information is current, more reliable and properly detailed. The system also verifies that control visits have actually been done. Taking time-consuming paperwork out of the process means the technicians can visit many more households.

According to DSI, using this chlorine-based water treatment system, known as Gadyen Dlo – Haitian Creole for “water guardian” – has reduced the incidence of diarrhea among users by about 50 percent. However, if the aid workers don’t visit the households regularly, the locals easily revert to drinking unclean water, which promotes the spread of cholera and other diarrhea infections.

The organization is currently reaching 35,000 families throughout Haiti and aims to reach even more by directing its resources more efficiently.

“After a catastrophe, it’s critical to get quickly organized while saving time and resources to protect citizens’ health. NFC technology is a fast and cost-effective way of shoring up or totally taking over maintenance functions in post-catastrophe environments left with a fragile or non-existent infrastructure. From the system point of view, it doesn't need significant investment or overly complicated processes. Simple control, track and trace functionalities can be created rather easily between an NFC phone and RFID tag, sometimes even without network support”, says Mikko Nikkanen, Business Development Director, UPM RFID.

For further information please contact:
Mr Mikko Nikkanen, Business Development Director, UPM RFID, tel. +358 400 766 979