Nelson Wasswa

Real-time monitoring of freshwater pollutants


Nelson Wasswa

Project: Lawuna

The goal of this project is to establish a freshwater contaminant monitoring system and empower Ugandan communities with rich, open environmental data.

“We will never know the worth of water until the well is dry - Thomas Fuller.”

The Big Idea


Lake Victoria in Uganda is the second biggest freshwater body in the world. It is a critical presence in the local ecosystem, with over 40 million people and a countless array of species reliant on its existence. Yet its survival is at stake. Industry polluters, people and climate change cause significant damage to Victoria’s health, and conservationists fear catastrophe is nearing certainty. Inaction is not an option. And we need a better, more profound understanding of the causes.

Nelson is working on Lawuna, an open source monitoring system using image-capturing drones to trace contaminants on freshwater shores. His idea is to build an archive of real-time data of the pollution in Lake Victoria and use it to empower local communities to frame an urgent debate. With evidence of where, when, and how we find water pollutants, there is a higher chance of expediting change by policymakers and industrialists.

Why We Funded


At a time when the world’s water is running scarce, this is critical work. Nelson has an implicit understanding of the communities so reliant on Lake Victoria and has the technical know-how and experience to get up and running quickly.

The fruits of his fellowship will lie within the swathes of data he hopes to archive and present in real-time. By applying openness to his model and proving its value, it could be replicated elsewhere and help innovation flourish; in both alternative locations and other environmental issues of concern.

Nelson’s work focuses on:

  • Combining open source technology with drones to detect and monitor freshwater contaminants
  • Testing open software with real-time image transfer accuracy and creating an accessible, interactive dashboard
  • Establishing partnerships with governmental, environmental and academic institutions