Clean Water for Developing Countries – Part 1.
Clean Water, Hygiene Education and Sanitation Will Reduce High Infant Mortality in Poor Countries
Water-borne disease is the leading killer of children under five years of age in Africa and other developing countries. The World Health Organization estimates that 85 percent of diseases among infants and children under the age of five are water borne. Water-borne illness is the leading cause of death worldwide. WHO estimates that worldwide 3.4 million people die each year from preventable water-borne illnesses. That’s 9,300 per day! Most of them are infants, young children, pregnant women, the ill, infirm and elderly. Surface waters are usually contaminated with bacteria and parasites because it is a multipurpose source, including waste disposal. The result is high infant and childhood mortality from intestinal parasites and diarrhea.
Comparison of under five mortality per 1,000 births in Africa (average 111/1000 or 11 percent; max 220/1000 for Angola) to that of developed countries on the same vertical scale. (Average 5/1000 or 0.5 percent; Max 11/1000 or 1.1 percent for Russian Federation) UNWHO 2010 Health Statistics
Many poor people in Africa and other developing countries lack a source of clean or purified water. Rivers and streams are used for drinking water, waste disposal, washing, and cooking. Sometimes water from streams must be carried for long distances, which is a time consuming and back breaking process. Dependence on contaminated surface water and a lack of proper toilets and waste disposal all result in cross contamination of their only drinking water source with human and animal feces, animal bodies, and other contaminating wastes. Many people without proper toilets defecate in the open, which spreads disease directly or through flies and other insects. The United Nations estimates 2.6 billion people globally have no access to clean water and toilets.
Raw human sewage and animal wastes as well as contaminated surface waters are applied to garden crops. Runoff from these fields in rainy seasons can further contaminate the streams. Applying human wastes to fields contaminates the soil so that diseases can be spread by the soil, insects, and the vegetables grown there. Without washing with soap and cooking vegetables, there is no barrier to ingestion of diseases and parasites. Even local health care facilities often lack purified water, proper toilets, and soap and water handwashing facilities. This is totally unacceptable in a world with both the knowledge and ability to clean up this mess.
So what can be done about this situation? Ideally, with electricity, water and waste treatment facilities can be built, and purified water can be piped into homes or at least into villages. Flush toilets are possible with piped in water, which is only possible with electric pumps. Septic systems could be used in lieu of waste treatment plants. However, because such systems will be implemented gradually to reach remote areas over a period of years, other means of stopping the cycle of disease must be started at once. There are some simple ways to end this tragic cycle of high infant and child mortality now. Most or all of these methods can be implemented by poor people themselves if they are first shown how to do it.
The most important aspect of this campaign is education. As teachers educate people about ending the cycle of needless water-borne diseases, they can train other trainers to spread the good news. The chain can be expanded through an “each one, teach one” approach. Posters and handouts can enhance the message that saving the lives of innocents only requires a few simple changes in daily life.
Without knowledge and an appreciation of microscopic bacteria, parasites, and worm eggs, people have no incentive to clean up old bad habits such as defecating in streams and fields and drinking unprocessed contaminated surface water. Without knowledge of these unseen microscopic monsters, there is no way to break the cycle of disease transmission. Once people are taught that there are microscopic sources of diseases, invisible to the naked eye, then remediation can be taught and adopted. It is also important that they understand that feces contamination is a major source of disease and that human and animal feces must be isolated from streams and other sources of drinking water. Families also need to understand that clear water is not clean water. Filtration through washable and reusable cloth bag filters helps to clear water but does little to remove pathogens. Slow filtration through sand will remove most pathogens and then boiling can insure purity for babies and young children.
Hand dug or drilled community wells, protected from contamination, are needed to provide a source of clean water. Ground water is usually much cleaner than surface water because it is filtered through soil and is less likely to have contaminants thrown into it. Wells need to be installed away from or above sources of animal wastes and toilets to avoid possible groundwater contamination. They need to have at least a raised wall and cover to keep surface run-off from entering
Hand pumped wells don’t need electricity. These can either have commercial manual pumps or primitive devices such as a simple bucket on a rope raised by a wench, or a shadoof, which is a bucket on a rope attached to a long counterweighted pole, or a sakieh, which consists of a series of pots attached to a continuous rope system to bring water to the surface. Sealed, covered wells with hand pumps are preferable because it is less likely that contamination can fall into the well or be transferred by exposed ropes.
In some areas where hand-dug shallow wells are unreliable, deep wells, drilled by machine can supply more people and provide more reliable clean water. Because this process is expensive and requires specialized machinery, charitable organizations or WHO loans can help to bring this about.
Low Sand Dams
In arid areas where streams dry up between rainy seasons, a low, sand dam can be built to retain rainwater runoff when the rains come. A low, stone or brick wall is constructed on bedrock across a narrow area of the dry river to catch and hold the water. The catchment behind the dam will fill with sand over time, but the sand will hold 25 to 45 percent water. This water can be accessed by digging holes and scooping out the water. In this case, the water will still be cloudy because it holds smaller suspended particles unless it is allowed to settle for a time.
The other way to access the water is to lay a slotted pipe in the bottom leading to a hand pump on the river bank or extended through the dam. In this case, the water is both cleaner and clearer. These sand dams provide water for agriculture as well as for home use. Because the water is stored in sand, there is less evaporation than from open ponds. An additional benefit is that horizontal seepage over time replenishes the underground water table.
Other Sources of Water
- Hydroelectric dams in areas where water is more abundant can be used to provide water for industry, agriculture and home use. (See chapter 12.)
- Clean springs can be used with a pipe or covered trough to carry water from its source in pristine forested mountains to villages and homes. Treatment by slow sand filter can add confidence in purity.
- Rain water can be collected from metal or tile roofs by gutters directed into rain barrels.
- Rain barrels must be securely sealed or screened except for the gutter inlet to prevent mosquitos from laying eggs.
- Cisterns are similar to rain barrel collection; they are composed of roof-like collection facilities that drain into a large protected collection tank.
- Because rain water may pick up contamination from the roof, it is best to use a slow sand filter to purify it further.
- First flush tipping gutter section may also eliminate leaves and debris before it can go into the collection container.
Dew or Fog
Dew is water that condenses on surfaces when the temperature falls to the dew point and atmospheric water vapor condenses on cool surfaces. Even in tropical or desert environments, dew often falls at night. Clear skies favor more dew; wind tends to reduce the amount of dew collected, so still air is best.
Fog is suspended water droplets that can cling to surfaces, much like dew. Dew and fog can be collected if nighttime temperatures reach the dew point. Arrays of cloth, screen, metal or plastic can be suspended off the ground so that condensation drains into a central container or trough for collection. Metal roofs with gutters can be used for both rain water and dew collection.
- Individual dew collectors, such as metal strips suspended off the ground, can be set up at intervals in fields to help water crops
- Large arrays of cloth or screen can capture fog in area where fog frequently occurs such as coastal regions. Fog fences have been installed successfully in places like Ethiopia, Chile and Morocco to collect water.
Cleaner Drinking Water
Slow sand filters are one of the easiest ways to clean water of pathogens and colloidal particles. Building a slow sand filter requires little beyond local materials. A good manual I found that explains the finer points of operation and construction is “Biosand Filter Construction Manual” from CAWST, Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, that can be downloaded as a pdf file at
Filter and boil drinking water from surface sources to kill bacteria and parasites.
- Surface water from streams may be muddy so settling and/or filtration may be necessary.
- A slow sand filter will clear the water and remove many pathogens, but further purification is recommended.
- Boiling water is the surest and quickest way to kill bacteria or parasites. Since this uses precious fuel, it may not be possible for some poor people. Other means of purification are recommended if boiling is not feasible.
- UV from sunlight will kill most bacteria and parasites in six to ten hours in clear plastic one to two liter soda or water bottles if the water is clear. Prefiltering is recommended. Laying bottles on a reflective surface will enhance purification. Larger bottles are not recommended because UV from sunlight is reduced by traveling through a greater depth of water. The larger the bottle, the longer it takes to purify.
- A solar still uses condensation inside a container. Water evaporates and condenses on the top and sides of the container and is collected in a separate container. This can also be used for desalination of brackish water or as the ultimate purification method. See illustrations below.
Infant and childhood mortality can be greatly reduced and village life can be much improved when the people are armed with the knowledge of microscopic bacteria, parasites and worm eggs, and the knowledge of how to purify water and clean surfaces by washing with soap. Control of insects and recognition of their important role in spreading diseases must be a part of education and training for healthier lives. An understanding of the role of flies in spreading disease is vital.
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