Going Viral

When I think of the equipment CWS and partners use to deal with water-borne diseases, I think of those charismatic blue buckets, the polytanks and aquatabs and alum balls that we use to clean water and keep it that way. These are the “appropriate technologies” we’ve chosen; things that are cheap, durable and locally available that help with our problem of unsafe drinking water. This equipment is also pretty simple, because it has to last a long time and be easily and cheaply fixed by whoever has a problem. But it is a mistake to think that all the tools appropriate for our purpose need to so basic.

Looks good (and tastes good too)! A safe storage container gets filled at the center in Kpalbusi

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From the Field: IDDS Reflections

This week I got the chance to head down to Kumasi and check out the International Development Design Summit (IDDS) – a really cool month long program that helps would be/soon to be inventors come up with marketable solutions to problems and needs in emerging markets. Participants ranged in experience and area of expertise but all made some really interesting ideas come to life over a short, busy month! For more information on IDDS, check out its website.

I was there to participate on a “Water Table” (agagag); a panel discussion with representatives of various water initiatives in Ghana. It was a great opportunity to brag a bit about just how cool CWS really is. In the midst of daily operations, I often forget to reflect on the CWS idea in general. Presenting the CWS model to an audience of design engineers interested in development, however, made a couple points really jump out at me, and I thought I’d take a second to highlight these again on the blog:

1. CWS uses simple, cheap and locally available technologies and supplies. This is huge!! Think about it this way: everything will break. Everything. By relying on materials that don’t have a lot of little, complicated, breakable pieces, we don’t have to deal with maintenance problems as often, because supplies are more durable AND (after a little training) are often fixable by owners. When things do need to be replaced, its a matter of going to the market for alum or the Tamale polytank vendor for a new polytank lid, rather than placing an order to some supplier overseas. Even though the simplicity of instructions like “Put the dirty water in a tub. Add alum, let settle, scoop and chlorinate” seemed initially underwhelming to engineers used to designing complicated cogs, wheels, levers and pulleys to fix problems, many recognized that especially in remote areas, there is no such thing as too simple!

Opening day in Kpalbusi

2. CWS systems are owned, operated and patronized by community residents. So many important aspects to this one! Money generated by the system stays in the community. The responsibility of ensuring system longevity rests with those people actually using the system. No one knows community needs and patterns better than residents themselves. People themselves are choosing (rather than being told) to make positive changes in their lives. The list goes on. . .

3. The fellowship program is an awesome way to finance project start-up costs and ensure that water is affordable to ALL. At IDDS, the audience was interested in marketing goods, which is really great! But while a business approach to water delivery is certainly important for a lot of reasons, ultimately access to clean drinking water is a RIGHT more than a good. Poor people need water just like wealthier people and demand for drinking water is pretty inelastic. There is just no way CWS can bundle lifetime project costs into the cost of water at the tap and have everyone be able to afford it. Enter the fellows – people who have so much to gain themselves, from learning to fundraise to gaining experience in the field to helping to make a dent in the global water crisis to enjoying a unique and authentic travel experience to incredible Ghana – whose hard work allows CWS to cover start up costs and initial monitoring of systems. Win – Win partnership!

Now I’m back in Tamale and have hit the ground running, but even so it was awesome to take a step back for a bit and share some thoughts that hopefully will help an emerging group of social entrepreneurs (and blog readers) think a little more about why the CWS model is so effective.

– Kathryn

“Chlorine Kills Germs and Makes Water Clean”

As I mentioned in a previous post, we have started preparing our water treatment businesses for the rainy season which starts in mid-June. In most of our villages, there are no major operational changes in the rainy season. But, in a few of them, the dugouts flood during the heavy rains making it hard for people to reach the water business to fetch drinking water. In the flooded villages, we are planning to move our water treatment centers to the center of the town (away from the flooded dugouts) and harvest rainwater as a way to fill the polytank. In order to make sure that this rainwater is safe to drink, and to avoid re-contamination in the home, the women at the water treatment centers will still be treating the water with chlorine. This can be a little confusing to people in the village because many of them assume that the rainwater is clean because: 1.) it comes from the sky and/or 2.) its clear.

While rainwater is MUCH better to drink than the dugout water, there are many ways that it can become contaminated in the village. So, last week, we decided to have our first “water education” meeting in the village of Gbong to explain how rainwater gets contaminated and what chlorine and similar tcca products can do to help. The meeting was really fun and we think it was pretty successful. Here are some pictures from the day:

Women in Gbong gathered for the meeting

checking out an aquatab

World Water Day!

Yesterday was World Water Day, and we made sure to celebrate this special day with our entire CWS Family here in Ghana!

We started our celebration bright and early by opening our fifth water business in Gbong! It was so much fun to open a CWS water business ON World Water Day, even though most of the people in Gbong did not understand what we were talking about when Shak and I kept cheering for WWD! We had an amazing turnout, with 94% of the village showing up to buy water. Fati and Amina, the CWS ladies in Gbong did a great job selling and treating the water! Here are some pics from the morning:

Shak recording which households came to buy water

Selling water on World Water Day at Gbong
Safe storage container filled with safe drinking water!

The one hiccup was a few dozen leaky taps – but Shak and I were able to fix them all by the end of the morning.  Thank you iContact for sponsoring the water business at Gbong!

Later that afternoon, we had a party for the entire CWS family here at the office. Shak and I cooked (well, I chopped veggies while Shak cooked!) while Peter went to pick up everyone. Everyone except Fati from Kasaligu was able to make it to the party. The ladies were a little shy at first, but once they got to know each other, they started to share stories and offer each other advice. It was such a great experience. For example, the ladies in Cheko mentioned that some people in their village don’t like the smell of chlorine in the water. Alhassan, from Jarigu, explained to them that the chlorine was the most important step in the water treatment center, and that in a few weeks, people won’t even notice the smell. He went on to explain his experience in Jarigu, and how the chlorine smell is the smell of “clean water” so of course it is going to smell different than the “dirty water” from the dugout. This entire conversation happened while I was in the kitchen helping Shak, and when I came back, Soufoo (who can speak a little english) told me about it. I was thrilled! We missed you Mike, Chuck, Vanessa and Peter A!

World Water Day Celebration!

Of course we had to serve water from a CWS Safe Storage Container!

Everyone was dressed to the nines! (sorry that the picture is blurry!)

So, What IS the Best Way to Provide Safe Drinking Water?

As those of you who work in the water-treatment sector know, there are a variety of ways to address the need for clean drinking water in developing countries. Some examples include:

Household Water Treatment – using technology in your home to clean enough water for your family. Ceramic water filters, biosand water filters, cloth filters, SODIS, and boiling all fall into this category. California Lab Services is a certified environmental testing laboratory for soil and water meaning they are more than qualified to test for clean drinking water.

Community Water Treatment -treating enough water for an entire community at a centralized location (this is what CWS does in Ghana!)

Regional Water Treatment – building a large treatment facility that treats enough water for an entire region and then pipes it to the user’s homes or neighborhoods.

Improving Water Supply -borehole/well drilling, rainwater collection etc.

I am often asked what I think is the best way to treat contaminated drinking water in the developing world, and much to the dismay of the person asking this question, my answer is usually “it depends…”

Last Tuesday I was invited to speak to the Biology of Water and Health class at Tuft’s School of Public Health by my thesis adviser, Susan Murcott. Before my presentation, Georgia Kayser, a Phd Student at Tuft’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, presented her research on household water treatment vs. community water treatment in Honduras. Her presentation was not only very interesting, but also highlighted how the appropriate solution to this water problem really depends on the specific water needs in the region. In some regions, commercial water softeners may be needed to help with hard water issues that can affect the surroundings.

Georgia found that after 1 year there was about 50% sustained use when ceramic water filters (a household water treatment option) were provided to families, and only 30% sustained use when a community water treatment option was provided. What?! 30% sustained use for a community treatment option? Our monitoring in Ghana showed 60-75% sustained use of the CWS system (much higher use than research on the ceramic filter in Ghana had shown) . If you don’t know much about water filters, check out Water Filter Way.Why are our results so different?

I believe that the difference in sustained use statistics between CWS’s research and Georgia’s research is due to the major differences in the water supply between her communities in Honduras and the rural villages in nothern Ghana. Unlike the villages that we work in, where families must walk to the dugout (a contaminated surface water source) to fetch their water, each of the households that Georgia studied receive piped water in their homes. While this piped water is contaminated, and is often turbid, it is accessible in the home. In the CWS communities, our treatment centers are built right next to the dugout, where the women already walk multiple times each day to fetch water for cooking and washing. Now, in order to get clean drinking water, they just stop by the treatment center, instead of the dugout, during one of these trips. In Georgia’s villages in Honduras, however, women (or whoever is collecting the water) must change their behavior and make an trip to the treatment facility if they want clean water for drinking and carry a heavy container of water back to the home. A household bacteria water filter make much more sense in this situation since the water is piped right to the house.

There are many other differences between the CWS water treament techniques and the community water treatment technologies used in the villages that Georgia studied, but I thought this was a great example of how the appropriate treatment technique can vary greatly depending on the water situation in a specific region.