Friday, February 26, 2010

Clean, cheap, water filtration for developing communities

In the last two weeks I've been hearing a lot about several different versions of the same project - ceramic water filters. At the Abriendo Brecha VII Activist Scholar Conference at UT-Austin I saw a presentation by Oscar Muñoz, Deputy Director for the Center for Housing and Urban Development, Coloñias Program. The gist of the project is utilizing low-tech ceramic filters to provide potable water for those without access to it. Amazingly, this includes about 500,000 people in South Texas and untold millions across the globe. The way it works is, they mix fine grains of sawdust with clay, shape these cones to fit over a 5 gallon bucket and then fire the filters in a kiln. The heat burns up the sawdust leaving tiny pores for the water to seep through. Dipping the filters in collodial silver also improves the bacteria killing efficiency by another 2%.

Oscar said the cost floats depending on where you build the filters. In Texas it's about $25, but they also did a project in South America where it was much cheaper. He said their inspiration came from Potters for Peace who have a pretty good page on further details. A few days after this presentation I heard a piece on NPR about a similar program in Yemen. They mentioned a group Potters Without Borders doing very much the same thing as the A&M group.

One interesting side note to this is that local people are starting to learn the techniques and are making and selling these ceramic filters to their fellow townspeople. I haven't looked into the social entrepreneurship aspects of it but it would seem that a micro-loan would definitely fit into a more comprehensive program incorporating sustainability, clean water and economic success.