Sanitation app wins World Bank competition

02 May 2013 13:08:57.137


A mobile phone app designed by a University of Nottingham PhD student to give people in Africa the power to improve sanitation in their communities has won a major competition organised by the World Bank.

The app, called ‘Taarifa’, is the brainchild of Mark Iliffe, a doctoral researcher at the University’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute and Nottingham Geospatial Institute. It is one of three grand prize winners in the World Bank’s Sanitation Hackathon – a global drive to engage researchers in communication technology in real-world problems relating to health and sanitation.

Taarifa is a novel mobile phone app which allows people to input and share their own sanitation problems using SMS, web forms, email or social media. The reports can be monitored by local authorities and acted upon to carry out repairs, improvements or new infrastructure, giving citizens the power to affect changes in their own communities.

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'Positive impact'

Mark, the Taarifa community and his colleagues who developed the app have won the chance to travel to Silicon Valley in California for meetings with venture capitalists and other investors who can help turn the ideas into sustainable businesses which have maximum impact across the world. Reacting to the win, Mark said:

“It’s great to be honoured in this fashion, it belies the work of the Taarifa community and its potential for positive impact in improving sanitation. However, for Taarifa the work starts now to improve the lives of the 2.5 billion people without adequate sanitary facilities.”

Taboo of poo!

Commenting on the win for Taarifa in the New York Times, manager of the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme, Jae So, said:

“People don’t want to talk about poo! There’s the ick factor. In addition to the deaths and health problems, poor sanitation causes a variety of other problems in the developing world. In designing the app competitions, we wanted to know what can we learn from the tech industry? Why is it that pretty much everyone who wants an iPhone can get one? How do they get this kind of rapid scale-up and how can this be used to help people who have a mobile phone but poor sanitation infrastructure?”

The Taarifa team plans to use the momentum given from the sanitation hackathon to build out the volunteer community, harnessing vital expertise. Additionally, through listening to citizens in rural and urban environments we will ensure that Taarifa remains relevant and appropriate to the monumental tasks ahead.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

More information is available from Mark Iliffe on +44 (0)7549 928802, or Amanda Cooke, Marketing, Communications & Events, Horizon Digital Economy Research, on +44 (0)115 823 2554,

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