Category Archives: safe water

Woman collecting water in Kauma, Malawi

Woman collecting water in Kauma, Malawi
Woman collecting water in Kauma, Malawi

A woman and children gathering water in a village near Lilongwe, Malawi. She’s lucky to have access to a water source but the water she’s collecting might not be safe to drink. There are at least two reasons: 1) the lack of a proper drainage system means that dirty water collecting around the pump may be contaminating the groundwater that supplies the pump and 2) the container she is using to collect the water is not covered meaning that dirty flies and fingers can get to it.

How different might your water look if you were poor?

Fantastically simple and touching video! We can all relate to the need for water, but depending on how wealthy we are, it may look and taste very different. Thanks CP for sharing!

The source of this video is the YouTube channel of the Korean office of US faith-based NGO Food for the Hungry. A Google translation of the caption suggests that the NGO is working to increase awareness of the need for safe drinking-water in Cambodia.

Seven nights in Lisbon, Portugal

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Welcome sign on arrival at Lisbon International Airport today

First time in Portugal! I’m in the capital city of Lisbon for seven nights to attend and present at Rotary International‘s annual Convention and Water Summit. I’ve got some fun touristy stuff in mind too, and plan to give a good shake of the dust off my Portuguese. Lisbon is an Atlantic coastal city with a population of about 3 million, lots of seafood restaurants, a rich history and culture to explore, brisk night time air, and some beautiful beaches within a few hours’ bus ride.

The Rotary Convention is a five-day event held in a different city every year that brings 25,000 Rotarians together from all over the world to celebrate continuing Rotary fellowship, the global activities of Rotary over the previous 12 months and give a big warm welcome to the incoming leadership. This is my first Convention and I’m very excited about that! I’ve been told to expect a range of activities including many meals, drinks, cultural visits, presentations and meetings. I’m hoping to see some of the Rotarians I’ve met or worked with over the last three years and others with whom I’ve formed the  bonds of friendship. There will be Rotary Peace Fellowship gatherings at which I will get to met Fellows from some of Rotary’s six other Peace Centers. Also excited to see my world traveler friend and water work mentor Sir Henk Holtslag.

The Convention will include many discussions of Rotary’s work to end polio and invest in water and sanitation, and its other core focus areas. Rotary invited me here to present on household water quality at their Water Summit, and to host an exhibition booth for The Water Institute at UNC, a supporter of the Summit. The Water Institute is based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is dedicated to providing leadership on issues related to the world’s water crisis.

Of course, I always take advantage of my work-related travel to try and see a bit of the cities and countries I visit. :-) On the plane over from Frankfurt to Lisbon, the airline’s in-flight read had a few good suggestions. Here’s some of what I plan to visit and do while I’m here:

Parque Florestal de Monsanto (Monsanto Forest), the “lungs” of Lisbon
– Casa de (Home of) Fernando Pessoa, a famous Portuguese poet (inspired by Angelica Vargas)
– Praia do Norte (North Beach) near Nazare, known for some of the biggest waves in the world
– Drink Port wine, eat fried cuttlefish, and enjoy some fado – a traditional type of music
– Museu da Agua (the Water Museum), a tour of the city’s underground waterways – cool!

Being here gives me the opportunity to brush up on my language skills and kindles fond memories of my visits to other parts of the Portuguese-speaking world: Brazil, Macau, and Mozambique. My visit to Brazil in 2001 was my first trip outside of North America and was one of the sparks for my love of language and travel that consumes me today.

Check back here soon for updates on some of of the work I am doing and the fun I am having!

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Nice to back in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA! I am here for two weeks as part of my work with the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill is a small town in the interior of the state of North Carolina on the eastern coast of the United States. The main economic driver of the town is the university and population doubles during the school year to 80,000. Chapel Hill is located in close proximity to the state capital Raleigh and the city of Durham, and together these three form the boundaries of what is known as “Research Triangle Park”, home to many firms providing finance, technology, medical and research services. The three major universities in this area are Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and they are fierce rivals in sport and academics.

Accra, Ghana

I am back in Accra, Ghana. The World Health Organization and UNICEF are sponsoring a workshop here on May 6-8 to help the governments of Gambia, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone increase access to safe drinking water. In these countries combined, at least 7 million people get their drinking water from sources considered unsafe and which can cause serious health problems. Delivering piped and safe water is complicated and costly and will take years to implement. In the meantime, people can treat their water at home using methods such as filtration or chlorination (assuming they aware that they need to treat their water, have access to effective products and know how to use them!). The workshop will provide a forum for discussing policies and strategies to deal with these issues.

Water conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I am in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia again! This marks my fourth or fifth visit in the last six months. On this trip, I’ll be attending an international water conference to deliver a presentation and a training workshop on monitoring and evaluating programs to improve access to safe drinking water. Monitoring and evaluation activities are methods used to verify that programs are working the way they are supposed to work and giving people the safe drinking water they need. Support for these activities has been provided by Aqua for All, Consultant Henk Holtslag, Tulip Addis Water Filter (a company I described in a recent blog post), Procter & Gamble, World Health Organization and UNICEF.


Effectively Monitoring & Evaluating
Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage
Friday, April 12, 9:00am-12:30pm at the Hilton Hotel Addis Ababa

BACKGROUND: In 2012, the World Health Organization and UNICEF launched a new toolkit on conducting monitoring and evaluation activities for household water treatment and safe storage (“HWTS”) programmes. HWTS methods, when used effectively and consistently, can reduce the burden of diarrhoeal disease by improving and maintaining the quality of household drinking water through safe collection, transport, handling, treatment, and storage practices. The toolkit provides a harmonised set of tools and indicators to assist in programme monitoring and evaluation and ensure that the full health impact potential of HWTS can be achieved.

OVERVIEW: This session is an introductory workshop on effectively monitoring and evaluating household water treatment and safe storage. Workshop activities will be designed to cater to those who are interested to learn the basic practices of starting and implementing monitoring and evaluation activities for HWTS, either as an intervention within a WASH programme or broader communicable disease prevention efforts.

GOAL: The workshop aims to introduce participants to the methods, indicators and objectives of monitoring household water treatment and safe storage and provide an interactive forum for learning about how to use the toolkit, exchanging ideas and addressing questions and challenges to implementation.

DESIRED LEARNING OUTCOMES:  This three-hour workshop will enable participants to understand:

  1. Importance of M&E and HWTS, within WASH and broader health programs.
  2. Importance of achieving correct, consistent and effective use of HWTS.
  3. How to use the 20 harmonised indicators for monitoring and evaluating HWTS.
  4. How to integrate M&E data into program design and use it to improve program implementation and effectiveness.

WHO SHOULD PARTICIPATE: This session is designed for those who are interested in improving or evaluating the effectiveness of a program to promote and / or implement HWTS so as to improve access to safe drinking-water. This may include public health officers, WASH practitioners from local and international NGOs, donors, policy-makers, manufacturers, and regulators. There is no need to have any prior experience with monitoring & evaluation or HWTS to participate in this session. Participation will be limited to 30 people.

MATERIALS NEEDED: Pens and notepads will be provided. Participants should come prepared to share their experiences, challenges and questions and engage with others in dialogue and interactive activities. All who complete the session will receive a printed and bound copy of the M&E toolkit which they can take home with them. Coffee, tea and water will be provided.


Ghana National Strategy for Household Water Treatment

HWTS Strategy December 2012 Version - UNICEF HQ comments plus Rowe commentsGood news from West Africa! The Government of Ghana is making further progress on its “National Strategy on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage”. This follows a series of efforts since 2010, which included an assessment commissioned by UNICEF, an initial draft to kick off the strategy development process, and several stakeholder consultations, including one in June 2012. This is an important step to empowering households to improve the quality of their drinking water, in a country where as many as 5 million people are at risk of water-related diseases from the simple act of quenching their thirst. Now, the government plans another regional workshop and is seeking additional input to make the strategy as focused and effective as possible. As part of my work with the International Network on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage, I’ll have an opportunity to provide input to their plans over the next few months.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, household [or, point-of-use] water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) involves the application of technologies or techniques to improve the quality of drinking water in the home, or other places where water is consumed, such as schools and health clinics. Many may think of boiling when they think of water purification. Although boiling is effective if done properly, but it can also be expensive and sometimes causes other health problems, such as injuries from burns, or lead to respiratory infections if the water is boiled over an open (and smoky) fire inside the home. Other popular techniques of water purification include adding chlorine, using a filter and even solar disinfection. The “safe storage” part of HWTS comes from keeping water in clean, covered containers to makes sure it stays safe and does not get re-contaminated by dirty flies or fingers in places they shouldn’t be. :)

Many firms (for-profit, non-profit and social enterprise) around the world have come up with solutions to purify dirty drinking water. Some such companies include Procter & Gamble (P&G Purifier of Water), Vestergaard-Frandsen (the LifeStraw), Basic Water Needs (the Tulip Filter) and Ecofiltro.

In countries where not everyone has access to tap water, there are real concerns about the quality of drinking water. For example, in Ghana, about 9% of people living in cities draw water from surface sources such as lakes, ponds or unprotected wells or boreholes (JMP, 2012). In rural areas, it is much worse: about 31% of people draw water from such sources (JMP, 2012). Nationwide, that means about 5 million people (20% of the population) drink water from sources considered unsafe.

Drinking contaminated water often leads to killer diseases, the brunt of which is borne by children. In Ghana, about 7% of all deaths in children under five years old are due to diarrhoea (A Promise Renewed, 2012). Published research has shown that HWTS can reduce the incidence of diarrhoea by up to 47% (Fewtrell et al, 2005; Clasen et al, 2006; Waddington et al, 2009). Although child mortality in many Sub-Saharan African countries has declined in recent years, it remains too high.

When I first began learning more about the water crisis years ago, it struck me as incredible that hundreds of thousands (at least) of children die every year from preventable diarrhoea. Working on improving child survival has become one of my life’s passions and was the reason for why I re-focused my career on learning about and supporting efforts to increase access to safe water through methods such as HWTS.

Stay tuned to this page for more updates on Ghana’s progress in the coming months!


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.

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.