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.