IBM is building an app to help a Kenyan city clear up garbage

The IBM Research Africa project could be launched in a year, as the city steps up garbage collection programme that costs an estimated Sh1 billion per month.

IBM researchers will collect data on the five million residents in Nairobi County, map garbage collection routes and connect them to a mobile application monitored from a main office server.

“This signifies how IBM as an American company is investing big in Africa with a focus on enterprise and job creation. The sectors we are assisting in the county are transport, technology and agriculture,” said IBM Research Africa Vice-President Dr Kamal Bhattacharya.

“When you drive around in the garbage collecting lorry with a mobile phone that has our application, it will automatically monitor and tell traffic and driver behaviour. Through the system, we detect speed bumps and potholes. We also check fuel usage,” said IBM researcher Aisha Walcott Bryant while demonstrating how the app works at the firm’s lab in the Catholic University of Eastern Africa last week.

The data collected by the laboratory could then be used by Nairobi County government to plan an efficient garbage collection schedule.

“We partnered with Nairobi County on (developing) the system. Currently we are monitoring 10 of the garbage collection vehicles with our smart devices. On the first attempt, we were able to tell when all the vehicles were in the garage,” said Ms Bryant.

Congested city

She said the system checks the dump sites in the county to see if they are full and/or not treated. It also captures how long a vehicle takes in traffic and the time the vehicles take to collect garbage.

Before embarking on the project, IBM conducted a research that revealed Nairobi as one of the most congested cities in the world. This is partly the reason why garbage collection has been a headache to the county.

Despite several initiatives, the county government has been unable to effectively deal with mounting garbage.

The population of the 32,000-square-kilometre city has grown from 325,000 fifty years ago to 3.1 million as per the 2009 census. The county government data shows that over five million people live in Nairobi currently.

Nairobi County Executive Committee Member for Environment Evans Ondieki, who is playing a key role in the roll-out of the new garbage collection plan, says the initiative will give the city a new, gleaming face.

“Our plan is to attract foreign direct investments through a clean, well organised city that knows how to manage solid waste and has proper planning,” said Mr Ondieki.

An attempt to organise the city’s garbage collection in 2010 through a Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) funding failed.

Legal framework

Jica, through the county survey, cited insufficient funds for the city’s failure to implement the clean-up plan. The agency also stressed the need for a legal framework for the public-private partnership investments.

Jica outlined what must be done to make Nairobi “as neat and functional as other global capitals”.

Source: Daily Nation

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