WatER (Water, Education and Research)

The rundown

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.


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.


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 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.


Ceramic Water Filters: What are they and why are they good?


One of the most common questions we receive from people interested in this project is "Why ceramic water filters?" So, we wanted to have a section here specifically addressing this. On the surface, it may appear that ceramic water filters (CWFs) are pretty much like any other similar water treatment technologies being implemented around the world, but CWFs possess some unique qualities that truly differentiate them from others. Namely, the key features demonstrating why they are appropriate in context of this project are their (1) local availability and acceptance, (2) ease of use/maintenance, (3) safety of effluent water and (4) taste of produced water. The reasons why these features are critical are as follows:

(1) Local Availability and Acceptance:

When the parent project to WatER, From Buckets to Rainbarrels, began in 2015, students from Carleton put together a list of proposed initiatives for community leaders to evaluate based on how appropriate they were for addressing challenges in Longido; one of these proposals was the introduction of CWFs. The leaders loved the idea of CWFs and felt that it was a great idea for their community, which kick-started further investigation into the viability of the product. That investigation led to the partnership with Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa (SWCEA), which is now a central pillar in the project's sustainability strategy. In other words, obtaining the endorsement of community leaders solidified the value of pursuing this technology in the first place, and our partnership with SWCEA, a locally owned and operated business in the nearby city of Arusha, made its long-term sustainability in the community possible. Because CWFs are a product that is manufactured nearby, Longido residents can easily access new filters, or support if they have issues with their existing filter (like if something breaks). In similar projects in the past, so many development initiatives have relied on the inherent value of a product to ground its sustainability, however that has been proven over and again as an insufficient strategy when focusing on program longevity. For example, one study found that the number one reason for the disuse of any home-based water treatment product was it breaking or the user running out of supplies to continue usage. Because the technologies were not locally produced or available, maintenance and/or replacements weren't possible and as a result, people just resorted back to old habits of consuming untreated water. Filters will inevitably break and people will inevitably be challenged to continue using them, which is why for Longido, having a localized supply chain ensures indefinite access to the filters for residents.

(2) Ease of Use/Maintenance:

Aside from only availability, one inherent feature of the CWF is that it is very easy to use and maintain. The only requirement from the user is that they fill the pot often enough to have sufficient water for consumption, and that they clean it once every two months. This differs significantly from other similar products that are available around the world, which often require regular maintenance or steps to use that could be confusing. For example, chlorine-based chemicals are available in Tanzania and they are very effective at cleaning water, however their use is still not widespread. Among many other issues with these solutions, most chemical products require the user to understand volume quantities and ratios (like "use 1 mL per 500 mL of water" etc.), which often is not the case. Additionally, incorrect use of these products can lead to illnesses that are even worse than what would result from drinking untreated water. Therefore, with heightened risk and difficult usage procedures, disuse becomes increasingly likely, defeating the purpose of such an initiative in the first place. Moreover, because of the easy usage procedure for CWFs, people are more likely to adopt the practice of using the filters consistently as it does not stray too far from what they were used to previously.

(3) Safety of Effluent:

Though most people actually associate a lack of access to safe water with the contamination level of the water source, this is actually a common misconception. In reality, a far larger percentage of water designated for consumption is contaminated during storage, after its drawn from the water source. In other words, even if people are drawing water from clean sources, they will often store that water in faecal-contaminated buckets or jerry-cans, which make the water unsafe to drink. CWFs, on the other hand, come as a self-contained unit with a bucket that protects the produced water from outside contamination. This feature plays a huge role in mitigating against water-borne illness, as it cuts out any container transfers that may otherwise put the water at risk.

(4) Taste of Produced Water:

The final feature of CWFs that make them our preferred choice of water treatment technology to implement in Longido is one that is often overlooked, but is truly very human. That is, people are only really interested in drinking water that tastes good. Though seemingly insignificant at first glance, the fact that CWFs produce water of which users enjoy the taste is incredibly impactful. Many studies have demonstrated that people are dissuaded from using chemical-based water treatment solutions because they taste like chlorine, and dissuaded from boiling water because it leaves the produced water hot (which one can imagine is not so satisfying to drink when you live in a desert) or metallic-tasting. In contrast, CWFs produce water that is aesthetically unchanged (in terms of taste) compared to water directly from a tap, making it far more desirable for the consumer. After initial implementation this past summer, this was the most common comment received, which indicates just how important it is for people to like their water.

There are many more reasons why CWFs are a good option for a project of this nature, but these listed here are a good starting point. If you are interested in learning more, please contact us directly and we will be more than happy to direct you to more comprehensive resources on this topic. However, it is very important to note here that even though we are advocates for CWFs at WatER, that does not mean other solutions are not valuable and this is the only good option. A water treatment solution needs to align with the geography of where it is implemented, meaning different solutions are more applicable in different locations. What is most important is assessing key features of a given locale and ensuring that the technology of choice meets the needs of those people, specifically. A CWF is not a silver bullet and it too, like all other similar technologies, has its challenges, however in this context, with these people, it is the best option available.


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