Humanitarian Engineering for Development Workers ERE 496 student, Amanda Kullman discusses solutions to help reach Millennium Development Goal numbers four and seven, to improve child mortality rates and to ensure environmental sustainability by providing safe drinking water.
On March 25th, 2010 CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Dr. Richard Wukich on his work in Haiti with Potters for Peace in a special called “One Filter, One Life”. Dr. Wukich spoke about the importance of providing a water filtration system to the people of Haiti, who were at an increased risk of contracting waterborne illnesses after the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010. The filters made by Potters for Peace are a mixture of 50% clay and 50% sawdust with small additions of silver. The particles of silver kill the bacteria in the water passing through the clay, generating water that is safe to drink. This portable filter can clean 2.5 L/ hour and costs a mere $15 to make.
Water scarcity was already an issue in Haiti prior to the 2010 earthquake and when the disaster hit, the problem reached new levels. In 2007, it was recorded that Haiti had approximately 1300 m3 of freshwater per capita with that number dropping slightly by 2011 (The World Bank DataBank). As a water stressed country, effective infrastructure is key to ensuring that what little water there is, is efficiently delivered to the people. Prior to the event, roughly 50% of the country did not have access to an improved water source and nearly 70% of the population did not have access to potable water of any sort (Water In Crisis). The quake crippled the nations infrastructure, knocking out many of the main water distribution lines, and making it ever more difficult for people to get water when they needed it most.
For a nation in which 50% of the population lives on less than $1 per day and almost 75% live on less than $2 per day (Water in Crisis), improving water sources is near impossible without the help of an external organization or donor. Dr. Wukich and Potters for Peace played an integral role in changing this situation. At just $15, the clay pots provide an appropriate solution to addressing water contamination. While a $15 investment may be monumental up front, the product is capable of providing an abundant source of clean water in a very short period of time. If small communities invest in the filter together, the price per capita becomes more reasonable and the access to clean water increases tremendously. The product was especially appropriate immediately following the 2010 earthquake because accessing water was not necessarily the critical issue. Hospitals had access to water, it was simply not clean enough to provide to patients. The pots dramatically changed that situation and helped save numerous lives.
In terms of where the product falls short of being an appropriate technology, it is difficult to find flaws aside from the cost. As previously mentioned, a $15 up front investment may be monumental if the purchase is made by a a single family. The cost per capita however, can be decreased if a number of families invest in the technology together. The required labor, maintenance, design and cultural appropriateness however are far from flawed. Next to no labor is required to filter the water or to keep the filter functioning at par. Culturally, there is nothing that points to the filter being inappropriate since the technology is composed of just the pot and a five gallon bucket. Materials similar to these are readily accessible and consistently used in developing countries, just not traditionally in this capacity.
Similar to many developing countries, the people of Haiti struggle to obtain an adequate amount of potable water. Waterborne illnesses such as typhoid, cholera and chronic diarrhea cause more than half of the deaths in the country each year (Water in Crisis). Contaminated water is one of the leading causes of childhood illnesses and a major contributor to the extremely high infant mortality rate in the country (57 for every 1000 births) (Water in Crisis). Prior to the quake 16% of child-under-five deaths were attributed to water contamination and that statistic has dramatically increased since the cholera outbreak that was associated with the 2010 earthquake (Clean Water).
The clay filter pots can directly improve the accessibility of potable water and ultimately help achieve Millennium Development Goal number seven, Target C. While the goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation has technically been met, there is still much that needs to be done. As previously mentioned, the availability of potable water directly impacts child mortality rates meaning that this technology also contributes to the success of Millennium Development Goal number four. Improving access to potable water will decrease the incidence of diarreaheal diseases and ultimately improve the child mortality rates.
Per Varkey and Dlamini, “a study aimed at determining the efficiencies of 5 filters, namely, biosand filter-standard (BSF-S), biosand filter-zeolite (BSF-Z), bucket filter (BF), ceramic candle filter (CCF), and silver-impregnated porous pot (SIPP), revealed that SIPP was the most efficient at removing bacteria and hence indicating that it can be an effective household water treatment system (Mwabi et al., 2012).” This study backs up the work done by Dr. Wukich and the claims made above, that the use of silver impregnated clay pots has the power to drastically improve the access to clean water and can therefore directly improve child mortality rates.
While Potters for Peace have worked extensively to develop the silver impregnated clay pot filters, a company called Vastergaard has worked extensively on developing the LifeStraw line of products. Similar to the clay pots, this family of prodcuts filters water, improving the quality and potability. Vastergaard has produced six different LifeStraw products with the LifeStraw 1.0 being the most similar to the product produced by Potters for Peace.
The LifeStraw 1.0 is a 2L water bucket attached to a primary filter, halogen chamber, and a hollow fibre membrane cartridge. Contaminated water is poured into the water reservoir where it passes through a primary filter. The water then enters the halogen chamber where it is dosed with chlorine before passing through the hose and membrane cartridge after which it is finally potable (LifeStraw® Family 1.0.).
While the LifeStraw 1.0 provides the same services as the clay pot filter, the technology is far less appropriate. The product costs nearly $80 (LifeStraw® Family 1.0.), a price that is far to high for people who make less than a dollar or two each day. While the labor associated with the product is minimal, educating people how to use the product is more extensive than the education process for the clay pot product. With the LifeStraw 1.0 there are two taps, only one of which delivers potable water and the filters need to be changed after some time. Neither of these things are readily apparent and the only way people can become aware of this is through an education program. In addition, the maintenance costs and labor are more extensive than those associated with the pots. As previously mentioned, the filter and halogen chamber need to be replaced, creating additional costs and work for the people using the product (LifeStraw® Family 1.0.). As far as the cultural appropriateness goes, it is difficult to determine whether or not the product is acceptable. While it nearly resembles a jerry can with a few attachments, the product is not as simple looking as the clay pot and five gallon bucket. This being said, it may be appropriate but not quite as appropriate as the alternative solution. When finally considering the design, the LifeStraw 1.0 is less appropriate than the filter pot. The product has numerous components, many of which are inherently advanced technologies even though they provide a simple solution to water filtration. If ever something on the product were to break, it is not easily identifiable or fixable while the opposite is true for the filter pot.
Clean Water: A Health Essential | Lack of Clean Water in Haiti | International Action. (2014). Haitiwater.org. Retrieved 18 April 2014, from http://www.haitiwater.org/why/why-clean-water
LifeStraw® Family 1.0. (2014). Vestergaard.com. Retrieved 18 April 2014, from http://www.vestergaard.com/lifestraw-family-1-0
Water In Crisis – Spotlight Haiti. (2014). The Water Project. Retrieved 18 April 2014, from http://thewaterproject.org/water-in-crisis-haiti
World Bank DataBank | Explore . Create . Share. (2014). Databank.worldbank.org. Retrieved 18 April 2014, from http://databank.worldbank.org/data/home.aspx
Varkey, A. J., & Dlamini, M. D. (2012). Point-of-use water purification using clay pot water filters and copper mesh. Water S. A., 38(5), 721-726. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1291945625?accountid=14214