Faisal Chohan

Charting a course for better sanitation

Faisal Chohan is a small guy with a big belief: “There is no problem too large to be solved.” This native of Gujranwala, Pakistan should know. Following the devastating floods in his home country in 2010, he immediately used his technological prowess to create an open mapping project to document the damage that affected nearly 20 million people. He also volunteered during the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Chohan, a Senior TED Fellow and TEDxIslamabad organizer, will now continue his mapping work with a related mission: Improving sanitation in order to prevent the spread of cholera—a bacterial infection in the small intestine, primarily caused by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated by feces of an infected person. The rapid dehydration and electrolyte imbalance that can lead to death if left untreated. In fact, cholera is the second leading cause of death in South Asia. “Sanitation is one of the least talked about topics in today’s world, especially in places where poor sanitation is one of the biggest challenges,” says Chohan.

Rawalpindi, home to two million people and the fourth largest city in Pakistan, will serve as the pilot city. It is one of the oldest cities in Pakistan, without some of the same infrastructure as a place like the capital, where Chohan lives now. Only 18% of Pakistanis have access to proper sewerage infrastructure there. “Seventy percent of the city does not have any sanitation network, and 85% of the water is not safe for drinking,” writes Chohan, adding that more than 30% of the deaths are directly caused by contaminated water.

In the short-term, Chohan wants to showcase poor sanitation conditions in one city by building an open source mapping platform that highlights open drains, sewerages and water routes using online maps. Chohan and his tech team will train everyday citizens to map the flow of water in their local areas, give them bicycles so they can get around, and mapping devices so they can register their findings. Not only will citizens benefit from new job skills and increased public health literacy, but potential spots of contamination will be identified and targeted for clean up. Subsequent stages will include mapping hospital reports on water borne diseases, replicated this mapping work in additional cities, and involving government officials.

This last goal is particularly important to Pakistanis as a new round of elections approach. Chohan explains, “By putting these maps on the ground and making them available to voters, we can equip them to demand better sanitation. It’s a basic right.”

Ultimately, what’s starting out as a local experiment in Pakistan will be replicated globally with the help of this award – as the matter at hand is pressing. “We correlate sanitation with slums and villages, but the situation on ground is different,” explains Chohan. “The world’s mega-cities in developing countries do not have adequate sanitation infrastructures. This means that more than half the people living in these cities do not have access to a proper sewerage network,” writes Chohan.

Training everyday citizens to map the flow of water in their locale to prevent the spread of cholera.

About Faisal Chohan

TEDx Organizer Faisal Chohan, the first Pakistani to be selected as TED Fellow in 2009 and a Senior TED Fellow in 2010, is a self-described technology entrepreneur, geek, and innovator. He spends time building solutions and services with intrinsic social benefits for millions of users. He has led initiatives in online recruitment, disaster mapping, open data, social games, and virtual economy domains. He is co-founder of Cogilent Solutions, a company that focuses on digital innovation. At BrightSpyre.com, he focuses on online recruitment, connecting 1 million users with opportunities. He is also working on bringing work opportunities to people with basic computer skills, with the aim of reducing unemployment and increasing the income levels in the developing countries through crowd-sourcing opportunities in digital economy. During 2010 floods in Pakistan, Faisal built a team of 50 volunteers from all over the world and launched pakreport.org, ultimately leading to his 2012 City 2.0 Award.

Jason Sweeney


Alaster Parvin & Nick Ierodiaconou