Saturday, April 28, 2007
Photo: An Ethiopian woman holds up two glasses of water - one unfiltered and one filtered. Photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse.
After more than a decade of providing clean water solutions to parts of the developing world, the Calgary-based NGO, Samaritan’s Purse, is appealing to Canadians to help them increase their ability to help others.
“With the new Turn on the Tap initiative, we are giving people the opportunity to get involved with the water filter program,” said Laurent Trabadello, a program manager with Samaritan’s Purse for Africa and Latin America, in a telephone interview from Calgary.
“We have installed 70,000 water filters around the world in the last 10 years and our goal is to install 65,000 new filters in the next three years.”
More than 560,000 people in 25 countries are currently benefiting from the BioSand water filter.
It costs about C$100 to build, install and train people on the proper use of each BioSand water filter.
“It is a simple technology and it works,” said Mr. Trabadello.
The BioSand water filter was invented by a Canadian – Dr. David Manz, who allows charitable organizations to use the patented technology for free.
Made out of concrete, sand and gravel, the filter is installed in houses and has a flow rate of 60 litres of filtered water per hour.
To function successfully, a biolayer is formed by the accumulation of organic material in the first layer of sand. Oxygen and nutrients are delivered through a small reserve of water that remains on top of the filter. This feature distinguishes the BioSand filter from similar devices. The microorganisms that make up most of the biolayer increase the effectiveness of the filter by consuming bacteria and eliminating the majority of pathogens. The sand absorbs viruses, iron and other small particles, according to the Alberta Inventors and Inventions website.
“The acceptance of the water filter system has been phenomenal,” said Mr. Trabadello. “People who don’t have it want it; and communities that have seen the filters work, want them installed in their own communities.”
One person who has seen first hand the benefits of the BioSand water filter is James Tan, 26, a business graduate from the University of Waterloo. Mr. Tan spent five months in Malawi with Samaritan’s Purse and its local partner, the Evangelical Association of Malawi, implementing the technology.
“When you go out in the villages you can see there is a lot of need for clean water,” said Mr. Tan. “They get most of their water from shallow wells and during the rainy season these wells get very dirty.”
Local health officials told Mr. Tan there were many cases of diarrhea – a key indicator of water-borne disease.
Mr. Tan not only helped install the filters, but also provided the villagers with health and sanitation training (e.g. frequent hand washing and the use of ventilated latrines).
Samaritan’s Purse works at a community level. Beneficiaries must contribute to the project.
“We would meet first with the Chief of the village and explain the water filter technology and the health and hygiene education,” said Mr. Tan. “We would then have a community-wide meeting.”
After the presentation, Mr. Tan and his fellow interns would sign up families interested in having a filter. Each family agreed to help build the filter. All of the filters are made with materials found locally.
The quality of sand is an important part of the filter. In Malawi, Mr. Tan said it took several weeks to find an acceptable sand source that would filter the water properly.
They were able to run on-site tests to find out if the sand was able to filter out the particles in the water.
Because it takes one to two weeks for the biolayer to develop at the top of the sand, Mr. Tan recommended the villagers wait that length of time before drinking the water. However, in some cases the local water sources were so bad to begin with, they went ahead and drank the filtered water immediately.
According to Mr. Tan, the only filter maintenance required is to swirl the top layer of sand (when the water output slows down). This causes the sediment to rise up toward the layer of water on top of the sand. That water is then removed.
“The beauty of the technology is that, if it is used properly and well maintained, it can last 20-25 years,” said Mr. Trabadello. So you can go back and see these households using it and because of the difference the filter makes, they are not getting sick anymore.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 billion people do not have access to a safe water supply.
For more information on this new initiative from Samaritan’s Purse, go to their website at: www.turnonthetap.ca.
Photo: A Cambodian child drawing a glass of water from a BioSand water filter. Photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse.