Module 6: Innovations in Water

Case Study 1: Water and Sanitation Strategies of the Millennium Villages Project(1)

At the start of the Millennium Villages Project, access to water and sanitation was much worse in the Villages than in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, and some sites even totally lacked access. An improved drinking water source is defined as a safe drinking water source or delivery point that ensures protection from contamination, especially from fecal matter. Examples include piped water supply, boreholes, rainwater collection, and protected springs, streams, and shallow wells. (2)

Safe drinking water meets WHO guidelines or national standards on drinking water quality in terms of microbial, chemical, and physical characteristics. Basic sanitation protects humans from contact with feces. Improved sanitation includes pit latrines with a covered slab, ventilated improved pit latrines, pour-flush latrine, and connections to septic or public sewer systems. The MVP aims to improve drinking water and sanitation for households and public institutions, as well as to build a local capacity to maintain and manage these facilities. Critical goals for water and sanitation include:

The Villages have made great progress. In Mwandama, Malawi, new boreholes were drilled, which increased the water sources from five to fifteen. In Bonasaaso, Ghana, access has increased by rehabilitating existing boreholes, and by involving community groups in planning, construction and maintenance activities.

Testing and treatment of water is as important as improving access to water sources. Much contamination takes place at the household level from unhygienic practices. Thus, interventions at this level need to include simple hygienic storage practices and education. In Ruhiira, (Uganda) and Sauri (Kenya), a Procter & Gamble project uses Purifier of Water (PuR) treatment in households and in schools. An effective public private partnership with JM Eagle has led to an improvement in community access to water in Potou, Senegal, and expansion in other MVP clusters in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda. The piped water designs have facilitated a significant step toward efforts to achieve universal safe water access for households and public institutions.

In Sauri, Kenya, local drama groups and art exhibits have been used to spread information. In many MVP sites, the Personal Hygiene and Sanitation Education Program (PHASE) project teaches and promotes sanitation and hygiene through school programs. Partnering with GlaxoSmithKline, who designed the PHASE program, has helped to prevent diarrhea. PHASE teachers educate students about sanitation and hygiene in local schools. In Pampaida, Nigeria, monthly water and sanitation meetings educate community members.(3)

Case Study 2: Solutions

While it is fairly simple to drill a well, it is more challenging to ensure that the water and sanitation are sustainable. partners with local people in their own countries who know best how to solve many of their own problems better than external influences. The communities they serve select and contact the in-country partner organization, who makes the recommendations on water and sanitation projects. One of the first projects for the community is the election of a local water committee. This committee includes male and female members and serves as a liaison between the community and the partner organization. The committee also facilitates the hygiene education programs, and determines schedules for project construction. They are also trained in the operation and maintenance of water and sanitation systems as well as the management of finances. Local community members are involved in the construction of the water facilities, which helps to reduce costs while also fostering a better understanding about how the technology works. has also implemented WaterCredit, a program in which people take out loans to construct safe water and sanitation facilities. This is implemented through a network of local partners.(4)

Education is a very important part of water system implementation. To address sanitation and hygiene, holds intensive training and motivation seminars about the link between good health and good hygiene. These seminars link common illnesses (such as diarrhea) with proper hygiene (hand-washing before eating and food preparation).(5)

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for many organizations is measuring and monitoring the success of implemented projects. In order to ensure sustainability, undergoes rigorous monitoring and evaluation, through original research programs.(6)

Case Study 3: Acumen Fund Water Portfolios(7)

The Acumen Fund invests in water projects that focus on drinking water and sanitation.

The Aqua-Aero Water Systems project aims to bring drinking water to people in rural Rajasthan. Drinking water is especially scarce in the remote desert regions of Rajasthan. Droughts occur often, with collected rainwater only lasting for a few months. AAWS has created the “Water Pyramid” that uses solar energy to desalinate water, providing drinking water during dry months. This dome-shaped, transparent plastic structure directs solar energy onto a thin layer of saline water. Evaporating water collects inside the dome and is then stored in a tank. It produces enough highly purified water for 500 individuals on a daily basis. This innovation has provided a substantial impact on health by increasing water consumption and by reducing issues related to drinking salinated water. It is a durable solution, meeting the needs of communities in remote areas in India and other countries.(8)

The Environment Planning Group Limited (EPGL) aims to create affordable reverse osmosis systems. Water contamination with fluoride, nitrates, hardness, and salinity is a major issue in northwestern areas of India. Over 11 million people in Gujarat suffer from high levels of these contaminants, lacking access to alternatives. In Delhi, urban slums lack access to safe drinking water. Reverse osmosis (RO) techniques which can be used to treat these contaminants are limited to wealthier people because of the costs and personnel needed for operation and maintenance. Environment Planning Group Limited, based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, specializes in designing affordable RO systems. It has pioneered a new model for small groups that significantly reduces the initial installation costs and simplifies the maintenance of water systems. (9)

Women and girls in India are often faced with the burden of spending long hours collecting water from local water sources. WaterHealth International (WHI) (WHI) developed a model that uses cost-effective technology designed for the poor. The model combines social marketing expertise, a deep knowledge of local markets, commercial financing skills, and technology for purifying bacterial contamination. WHI’s systems have given one million people in India safe and affordable water. With support from Acumen Fund’s loan, ICICI bank, and Dow Venture Capital, WHI is a leader in providing water in rural areas in a financially sustainable way.(10)

Case Study 4: The Sari Cloth: An Innovation in Water Filtration(11)

Water filtration sustainability is a serious challenge because of many factors, including cost, ease of use, production of sufficient quantities of water with minimal effort, social acceptance, and availability under natural disaster conditions. Cotton sari cloth is a material readily available to villagers across South Asia. Village women in Bangladesh use sari cloth to filter water for household activities. Simple sari cloth filtration of water is sustainable and continues to protect villagers from cholera in Matlab, Bangladesh. This simple method proved to be very effective. Four layers of sari were considered optimal for filtration purposes.

A follow-up study was conducted 5 years later to determine whether the filtration method continued to be used by villagers and whether it continued to have an impact on the incidence of cholera. The study showed that 31% of the women in the study used a filter, and 60 of those women used sari filters for household water. The sari filter was effective in reducing the incidence of cholera by 48%. The sari cloth filtration was compared with a commercially available nylon material that was used for filtration in Africa. The study showed that the cotton sari was very effective, reducing cholera cases by about 50%. The sari proved to be more effective than the nylon cloth, which was slightly less effective, and very expensive compared to the sari. The filtration method did not require financial resources or extensive training on the part of the village women, and it was easy to include in their daily activity.

Case Study 6: PlayPump: A Failed Innovation

Five years ago, Amy Costello reported a story for FRONTLINE/World on the challenges of getting water in Africa, and a promising new technology called the PlayPump. PlayPumps appeared to be a positive and innovative solution to the problem of delivering drinking water to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. It seemed like such a simple yet effective idea for children to pump fresh water just by playing with a merry-go-round type apparatus. To cover maintenance costs, the company proposed selling ads on the sides of the water tower. It was believed that the PlayPump would be a great improvement over the hand pumps that were used by the Africans. The story of the PlayPumps had a strong response, with an outpour of support across the United States and around the world. Laura Bush, First Lady at the time, announced $16.4 million in U.S. donor support to install PlayPumps across southern Africa. The company rapidly expanded its factory and produced hundreds of new PlayPumps.

However, three years later, Costello returned to Mozambique after she heard that the PlayPump was experiencing difficulties. The merry-go-round pump was still at the school, but the children were not playing with the pump. Water was not being stored in the tank. In more remote locations, there were fewer children, and the women told Costello that after working in the fields all day, spinning the merry-go-round is hard and tiring without help. The PlayPump is especially difficult for the elderly. The old hand pumps were much easier for them, and no one had consulted them about installing the PlayPump; it had simply arrived. The PlayPump didn’t produce any water for six months in this village. The original plan to cover maintenance using advertising on the tanks was also not working. When the women called the repair line, they said they received no response.

It turned out that PlayPumps had chosen poor or unsuitable sites for installation. UNICEF obtained a report that revealed that the system was not sustainable enough for rural Africa. Ultimately, the unused PlayPumps were handed over to another charity, with plans to use them only in limited circumstances. To address the remaining non-functioning pumps in Mozambique, PlayPumps returned the old hand pumps to the villagers, which had been requested by the villagers.(12)

The failed innovation of the PlayPumps serves as a reminder to us about the implementation of seemingly innovative solutions, which may in reality not be as effective as we think. The importance of consulting the local people and understanding cultural context cannot be stressed enough.

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(1) The Earth Institute, Columbia University and Millennium Promise. “Harvests of Development in Rural Africa: The Millennium Villages After Three Years.” (2003). Accessed 1 June 2020.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid

(4) “ Solutions.” Accessed 1 June 2020.

(5) Ibid

(6) Ibid

(7) “Acumen Fund: Water Portfolio.” Accessed 7 June 2020.

(8) Ibid

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Anwar, H., Yunus, M., Sohel, S., Bhuiya, A., and Emch, M. "Simple Sari Cloth Filtration of Water Is Sustainable and Continues To Protect Villagers from Cholera in Matlab, Bangladesh." American Society for Microbiology 1.1 (2010).

(12) Costello, A. (Narrator). (2010). “Southern Africa: Troubled Water.” Accessed 10 June 2020.