A home-based clean water revolution

December 08, 2010
IDRC Communications

Cambodian girl holds two glasses: one with clean water, one with dirty water

Highly effective yet simple BioSand Filters are providing clean water in more than 300,000 homes around the world. Early support from IDRC helped launch the devices, which have improved the lives of countless people by freeing them from the constant threat of gastrointestinal disease.

In Cambodia, for example — where 100,000 filters are in operation — a 2010 epidemiological study shows households with filters experienced a 47% drop in diarrheal diseases. That’s sure to mean drastically lowered infant mortality, higher productivity, and poor families being spared the cost of expensive medicines, says David Manz, the University of Calgary civil engineering professor who developed the filter.

Manz devised the filter after witnessing the effects of contaminated water in South Africa and the Philippines in the late 1980s. His device got a big boost after IDRC sponsored a rigorous, peer-reviewed study showing the filters to be highly effective at killing parasites, as well as eliminating organic and non-organic toxins. The findings — for example, that the filters removed 100% of giardia cysts and 99.98% of the cryptosporidium parasite — spurred their large-scale construction.

IDRC itself deployed Manz’s filter in Cuba and Chile, where several design aspects were refined. Keeping the technology in the public domain has allowed non-governmental organizations to bring the filters to communities across the globe.

“Sometimes I’ll get an email from someone saying they’ve installed 20,000 filters in a place I’ve never heard of,” says Manz, who estimates that about 60,000 new BioSand Filters are going into use every year.

“In Haiti, near the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, once people heard that the filters had come there, pregnant women would demand that they get a filter before their baby was born.”

— David Manz, BioSand Filter developer

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