Water, Education and Research (WatER) is a research project from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carleton University aiming to improve access to safe drinking water in East Africa, with a focus in rural Tanzania, through the holistic, data-driven and human-centred implementation of Ceramic Water Filters.

It is only with the help of donors like YOU that we may be able to initiate our research strategy and begin to tackle this enormous challenge, so the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our global society may be measurably improved, and potentially even spared.

The Background

WatER is a research project with a very applied focus. Though deeply entrenched in scientific theory and organized through an academic lens, WatER is fundamentally about improving the health and economic conditions in rural East Africa by increasing local access to safe drinking water using Ceramic Water Filters (CWFs).

Longido, a rural community in Northern Tanzania, is our pilot location and the primary focus of this initiative. The community has a long history of challenges related to water quality and quantity, and much of its population continues, at this moment, to consume only untreated water that puts many people at risk of illness, or even death. Specifically, it is pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children under the age of five whom are most vulnerable.

The Rollout

As per the name, WatER relies heavily on 3 major pillars: Water, Education and Research.

  1. Water: Ceramic Water Filters are a widely promoted technology for the removal of drinking water contaminants like E. coli, cholera and typhoid, however some gaps still remain in its acceptability among target users. For example, there is uncertainty regarding how a local, often informal economy would adopt CWFs into its marketplace. Could market demand support their continuity in the commercial sector? Would greater adoption result from promotion from local health authorities or other local institutions, rather than through market channels? Without answers to these types of questions, we are forced to rely on our own biased preconceptions of what would work best, potentially limiting the desired longevity of this endeavour. With YOUR CONTRIBUTION, we will be able to purchase enough filters from our local partner, Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa (SWCEA), to study how filters can best be integrated into a rural African community. And from this work, YOU will be contributing to real, tangible change in the lives of those community members.
  2. Education: Though introducing filters into the community is a fundamental step towards our goal of eventually having widespread and equitable access to safe drinking water in Longido, the filters alone will not be enough. From our work in the community thus far, it has become abundantly clear that a coupled education regime associated with filter distribution is necessary to ensure sustainable adoption. Now, we want the data that proves the value of education in initiatives like these. In partnership with a local NGO called Tanzania Education and Micro Business Opportunity (TEMBO), we want to see how education on filter use and maintenance, as well as on proper water and sanitation practices impacts adoption rates and user attitudes. But to do this, WE NEED FILTERS!! We want to use YOUR DONATIONS to buy filters to run randomized control trials and study how valuable education is to sustainability, as well as how different education regimes impact user behavior, while also providing our study participants with access to safe drinking water and the necessary tools to ensure that access remains.
  3. Research: The final pillar of this research is our technical questions. Though the filters currently produced are effective, the cost per unit is too high for the average family in Longido to afford. We want to reduce that cost so financial status does not act as a barrier to safe drinking water attainment, and those who need the technology most may reap its benefits. To do so, I am conducting laboratory-scale research on different materials with which to manufacture the filters, so the cost of production can be reduced, easing the economic burden on the customer. However unfortunately, this type of work can become expensive and isn’t possible without the support of people like YOU! A donation to this project will supply us with laboratory materials like petri dishes, glassware and chemicals, subsidize some of our food/accommodation costs while working in Longido, and subsizide our local travel between cities.

As a donor, you have the oppportunity to make a difference and to reduce the amount of untreated water that poses a risk to everyone that consumes it. You have an opportunity to be part of a long-lasting sustainable change in a rural African community.

The Impact

The impacts of this project will be felt by many individuals, groups and communities. Naturally, we as the research team, and Carleton University more generally, are main beneficiaries. The money raised from this initiative will allow us to grow our relationships in Tanzania and develop strong and mutually beneficial partnerships for Carleton abroad. We will also have the opportunity to extend the knowledge cultivated at Carleton to truly impact lives by developing a human-centred, community-level development model, as well as a cheaper, more affordable ceramic water filter. However beyond just us in Canada, the impacts of this research will be felt by SWCEA, our partner in filter production, as we work to improve their market penetration and spread of their project. The impact will be felt by our partner NGO, TEMBO, as we help them fulfill their mandate of improving the lives of Longido residents. And most importantly, the impacts of this campaign will be felt every Longido resident that drinks clean water from a filter and no longer has to worry about their health; it will be felt by every mother who no longer has to spend time caring for a sick family member, and every child who is no longer at risk of a potentially fatal illness. And it will be felt by you, our generous donors, who have the chance to contribute to long-lasting, sustainable change for the better.

The Team

Robbie Venis

PhD Candidate/Researcher

‘For as long as I can remember, I have always been passionate about helping people gain access to clean drinking water. I was never able to comprehend why the location of an individual’s birth played a significant role in defining the likelihood of their survival, especially considering the lucky background from whence I came. For these reasons and more, I have chosen to focus my life’s work towards providing equitable access to safe drinking water for those that were not born with the incredible fortune afforded to me at birth. This path has led me to get my undergraduate degree in engineering from Queen’s University and subsequently work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Pune, India, the Ruth Plout Foundation in the Dominican Republic and now on this, my PhD project at Carleton University. But as my career has progressed, I have continued to learn about how significant of a challenge this really is. So much work in this area has failed to maintain impacts in the long-term, sometimes even causing more harm than good, because of programs being implemented too quickly and without longevity as the primary focus. I have learned that change must be incremental, introduced slowly and through community-based avenues that ensure local ownership. And in essence, this is largely why I am doing my PhD. I know that it takes time to do anything right, and there is too much at stake to give in to haste. My philosophy, and the philosophy of this project, is to take out time, listen to the community and our partners, learn how people feel about the technology and gear our implementation towards addressing the specific needs highlighted by the community. I hope you join me on this journey.’

Dr. Onita Basu

Supervising Profesor

Dr. Onita Basu is an Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering at Carleton University and the Associate Chair (Graduate Studies) of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Professor Basu’s research in water and wastewater examines the impact of integrated processes in dynamic systems, including filtration design and optimization, membrane systems, treatment of industrial wastewaters and suitable water technology.

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