A filter with a fountain of benefits
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 30% of Ugandans lack reliable access to clean water. The situation is not much better for the rest of the population, with 60% of people reliant on boiling water to drink and 10% on purchased bottled water.
In Uganda, water-borne illnesses remain the top cause of death among children under the age of 5. This sobering figure does not even take into consideration the economic impact of diarrheal diseases due to loss of productivity and demand for healthcare, the opportunity costs of fetching water and wood for boiling water or the environmental impact of burning the wood collected. Moreover, as a method of water purification, boiling poses a risk of cross-contamination from dirty containers as the water cools.
Ceramic water filters are effective, lightweight, portable, relatively inexpensive, free of chemicals and easy to use and maintain. In Uganda they have the added advantage of being culturally and socially acceptable thanks to a longstanding tradition of storing drinking water in clay pots. The social enterprise SPOUTS of Water produces a ceramic filter called Purifaaya, which can serve an entire household for two years and, at USD 20 per unit, is the most affordable durable household filter on the Ugandan market, paying for itself in just six months by eliminating the fuel costs of boiling water.
To enable distribution throughout the country, SPOUTS segments the market by income level, selling to households and working with NGOs to provide clean drinking water to refugee camps, schools, prisons, clinics and other public spaces. In urban and peri-urban areas, it sells Purifaaya filters in retail shops patronised by households that can afford the upfront cost. SPOUTS reduces barriers to purchase by offering financing options through partnerships with microfinance institutions and Savings and Credit Cooperatives.
GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT
In the first eight months of 2016, SPOUTS of Water sold more than 3 000 filters, with demand exceeding supply. Its goal now is to increase production capacity to meet excess demand and expand its market presence.
Users of Purifaaya filters will save themselves the time it takes to boil water and wait for it to cool as well as the risk of cross-contamination. Women and children will no longer have to fetch so much firewood, freeing up time for more productive activities. For households that previously did not treat their water, Purifaaya will be the first source of safe water, with obvious health benefits. By eliminating the need to buy bottled water or collect charcoal and firewood with which to boil water, the filter will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plastic consumption. And by locally sourcing its raw materials, SPOUTS of Water will employ more than 20 people whilst minimising its carbon footprint.
By 2018 SPOUTS of Water plans to provide more than 1 500 new filters to households and more than 700 large filters to schools every month, giving an additional 37 000 people access to safe drinking water. In the long run, it aims to establish a profitable and sustainable solution to Uganda’s clean water crisis.