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Case #875

Safe drinking water for pennies a month


A cheap way to produce drinkable water involves a special 20 liter plastic container with a narrow mouth and a spigot, and sodium hypochlorite bleach. In Kenya, pottery collectives started producing narrow mouthed pottery storage vessels.

"More than 1 billion people still lack access to safe water, despite billions of dollars spent on water infrastructure in the developing world," said Dr. Eric Mintz, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one of the developers of the Safe Water System (SWS).

Disease experts started looking for ways to improve water quality at the household level more than a decade ago, when they were working with the Pan American Health Organization to battle an outbreak of cholera in Latin America. Even though people boiled water, some still got cholera because the boiled water was stored in open pots and barrels that allowed for recontamination.

This solution by SWS circumvents recontamination introduced by dipping cups and hands in the storage vessel and provides an extra measure of safety by the remnant chlorine continually combating bacteria until the time of consumption.

Some health workers hesitate to endorse this solution since there is some basis for concern about the cancer risks associated with organochlorine compounds forming in murky water. However, most researchers agree that any risks from chlorination byproducts over a lifetime of drinking treated water are more than compensated for in developing countries by the reduced risk of death from diarrheal diseases at an early' age.

Controlled studies have indicated diarrhea being cut in half and willing acceptance among the tested populations because of the great improvement in quality of life. The slight chlorine taste seems to be accepted as the taste of health. This provides a quick excellent interim solution until the extensive infrastructure development of plumbing potable water to a point-of-use tap becomes feasible.


Location: Worldwide
Action: Direct
Setting: Third World
Extent of Action: International
Issues: Resources
Year(s): 2003
Outcome partially successful
Source: Science News 136, March 1, 2003 Vol. 163


Prepared By: dp, 07/03
Rating: 1
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