Commercial approach to ceramic water filters in Ethiopia

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Getaw Cherinet and the Tulip siphon water filter, in Addis Ababa, January 2013

During my recent visit to Addis Ababa, I met with Tulip Addis Water Filter, a private company selling ceramic water filters in Ethiopia since 2010. Its product, known as the “Tulip” water filter, is a siphon device with a ceramic element. The company reports a brisk business in meeting the programmatic needs of local and international NGOs, with sales across all nine of Ethiopia’s regions and total volume of approximately 60,000 filters a year.

The filter, manufactured by Basic Water Needs of India, is sold by other companies in at least half a dozen countries around the world, including Malawi and Mozambique where it has recently been introduced by local entrepreneurs. Depending on distribution and marketing costs, the retail price tends to range from US$15 to US$25.

Although considered a relatively low-cost product, Tulip Addis General Manager Getaw Cherinet acknowledges that his filter is still unaffordable to many low-income earners. “Most of my customers are actually NGOs who give away the filters or sell them at reduced prices in order to better serve populations in need”, he says. In order to lower the retail cost further, the company has plans to build a factory and produce the ceramic element locally, in partnership with the manufacturer. With the additional production capacity, the company plans to expand into other East African markets and introduce a table-top version of the filter to make it more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. An added benefit of investing in a local production facility is to improve the availability of spare parts. Getaw also mentioned that he recently partnered on a proposal to evaluate the use of targeted vouchers to stimulate purchase by low-income families, an innovation which has been discussed at recent events of the International Network on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage.

The Tulip filter has a useful life of about 7000L of drinking water and can produce filtered water at a flow rate of about 5 litres per hour. Although no peer-reviewed studies have been published on the microbiological effectiveness of the device, Tulip Addis Water Filter says their product has been approved by government authorities prior to introduction to the market. Getaw agreed that having independent researchers monitor and evaluate his product’s performance in the field and publish the findings in a journal would be a useful addition to the evidence base and help him better market his product. He welcomed researchers who might be interested in such a study.

Getaw also shared his view on key challenges to doing business in the Ethiopian market. “There is a foreign currency shortage in Ethiopia”, he says, “This makes it difficult for vendors to obtain bank-guaranteed letters of credit with which they could purchase at higher volume from overseas. This is one of the main incentives for me to invest in a local production facility.” In addition, he reports that his clients often face funding constraints or delays making it difficult for him to reliably predict sales volume and forecast inventory requirements.

For those interested to learn more about Tulip Addis Water Filter including researchers interested in an evaluation, please contact Getaw Cherinet (getawmc@live.com).

Fruits and vegetables in Lilongwe

Fresh bananas and vegetables at the local market in Lilongwe. After five minutes of haggling, I was able to get the lot for 800 kwacha (about US$2.20). And I probably paid too much. :)

I found it interesting that the quality of the red onion and the tomatoes at this market was far superior to three other large grocery stores I visited in the city just the day before: Shoprite, SPAR and City Supermarket. If you want to find this local market, it is across from Shoprite/ John Deere next to the bus stop in Old Town Area 3.

Thanks Sophie!

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Fruits and vegetables purchased at the local market in Old Town Lilongwe, Area 3

Back in Lilongwe, Malawi

I am back in Lilongwe, Malawi after a 3-month travel hiatus. As part of my work with the Water Institute at UNC, I will be based here for the next four months, collaborating with WHO, UNICEF and the Government of Malawi on increasing access to safe drinking water. Malawi is a land-locked country of 14 million people located in Southern Africa. It is bordered on the south and the east by Mozambique, on the north by Tanzania and on the west by Zambia. The country’s most significant geographic feature is Lake Malawi, the third largest freshwater lake in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site. For past blog posts about my time in Malawi, click here. For posts about my work in water, click here.

Words to live by

What motivates me? Why do I seek to live intimately with my own life and the world? The most truthful answer to this is the simplest: because I have to. I am compelled by some deep hunger of the soul, driven by a desire that will not leave me alone, to live life to the fullest. And I know this does not mean working endlessly, accomplishing the most, or consuming the greatest amount and variety of things and experiences. It means tasting each mouthful, feeling each breath, listening to each song, being awake and aware of each moment as it unfolds.

~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Author of “The Invitation”

Unexpected overnight in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

While en route to Lilongwe, Malawi, a travel glitch sidelined me in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a night. I’m taking advantage of the time here by meeting with a local company that sells water filters and has plans for an East Africa expansion. The information I glean will be published in the next issue of my newsletter on household water treatment.

This is not the first time I have had travel trouble at Addis Ababa’s airport. In September, I tried to stop over here and was refused a visa. You can read that story here. So when I was re-booked for the following day’s flight, I crossed my fingers I would not have to sleep overnight in the airport.

But thanks to the efforts of a helpful Ethiopian Airlines transfer desk employee named Thomas Dejene, I was able to quickly secure a transit visa and overnight stay at the Panorama Hotel. The entire process took less than 20 minutes. The transit visa has a total cost of US$70 which comprises a visa processing fee of US$20 and hotel accommodation cost of US$50. (This is quite inexpensive for Addis Ababa.) The bonus? Breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as transport to and from the airport is included. Not a bad deal at all. Another plus: the transit visa is a simple stamp (a tourist visa takes up at least one whole passport page). Amesegenallo Thomas!

Organising a transit visa may not always be this easy. My previous experience suggests some rules apply, such as staying in an Ethiopian Airlines approved hotel and having no alternative flight options to your final destination in the event of a missed or cancelled flight. Contact the Ethiopian consulate or embassy nearest you well ahead of your planned travel and make sure you are informed. Wikipedia offers a list of Ethiopia’s worldwide diplomatic missions.

Memories of my father

Remembering your …

Voice when you would answer my phone calls from overseas
Smile and wave of the hand while running
Finger pointed at the ticker on the screen
Thoughts for cousins far and wide
Arm on the window while driving
Nicknames for those dear to you: chuffnut or bozo
Or politicians whose views you didn’t agree with: nut job or scallywag or scoundrel
Jokes: cheese, wit and oft-repeated
And scarfing down a bag of pretzels like no tomorrow.

These memories give me laughter.
I love you and miss you.


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