School children learn about safe water

The Fairfield Glade Rotary Club and the three Rotary Clubs in Oak Ridge have collaborated to expand on a pilot program to provide biosand water filters for rural Haitian families that started in Leogane, Haiti.

“The pilot project produced and installed 103 water filters. The expanded project will add 630 more filters,” according to Pete Peterson, president of the Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary Club.

Roger Ward, president of the Oak Ridge Sunset Rotary Club, noted that “Extensive training in good clean water practices is also an integral part of this program. A critical piece of this project will be a continuation of the partnership with the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti, which was an integral part of the pilot program. CNP provides extensive classroom training for families receiving filers to ensure their effective use.”

A unique feature of the project is an extensive clean water education, training and follow-up program that have been demonstrated to change the water habits of Haitian schools and households. Paul Wennermark, chair of the Fairfield Glade Rotary Club’s Service Project Committee says “We are totally captivated by the approach taken for promoting clean water practices under this program. The process begins in the schools where several filters are installed as teaching tools. Students then encourage their parents to acquire a filter for their home. Our club decided to adopt a small school so that we can develop a very personal connection with the problem and a solution in Haiti.”

School children learn about safe water

Sustainable use of the filters is fostered through an intensive follow-up after installation to ensure that new water habits are established in each household. First, the installation of the filter in the homes is completed by Haitian technicians who also provide instruction on correct use. Then the intensive follow-up begins with home visits by trained Haitian health workers at 2, 4, 8 and 12 weeks after installation. This is followed by a visit at six months and another at one year. The in-home visits encourage proper use and make clear that the expectation is that the filters will be used routinely. In addition, the home visits provide opportunities for other health and nutrition counseling and coaching. The distribution of the biosand filters through schools in the pilot program has demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach. Our experience is that when parents see success in the schools they become enthusiastic about having filters at home. The intensive follow-up provides training that is vital to changing water use habits and hygiene.

The need for clean water cannot be underestimated. UNICEF estimates that more than 3.5 million people die from water-related diseases each year with about 40 percent of the death attributable to diarrhea-induced dehydration. The World Health Organization and UNICEF have identified Haiti and the Dominican Republic as among the countries most impacted by contaminated water supplies. Addressing this problem is particularly difficult in Haiti. A recent study conducted by the Fund for Peace in conjunction with Foreign Policy magazine lists Haiti as a nation with one of the least stable social/political/economic situations in the world, and the worst in the Americas. The hope of infrastructure improvements that would bring clean drinking water to the people of Haiti is unlikely in the foreseeable future. For this reason, Rotary club members have helped install 19,000 bio-sand filters in the Dominican Republic, reaching an estimated 100,000 people in 300 communities across the country. The Rotary District 6,780 water filter project is designed to support similar efforts and achieve similar results in neighboring Haiti. The project is designed to produce and distribute low-cost, simple “bio-sand” water filtration systems that will each serve up to four families.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many Haitians understand and have accepted the project’s objectives. For example, a farmer from a very remote region agreed to transport his filter shell and materials from the nearest vehicle drop-off point to his home. He had to manually carry everything over a mountain pathway. It took him five days to complete the task. It took a full day of walking by a person from The Children’s Nutrition Program to supervise the installation of the filter and then return to Leogane. 

Biosand filters were developed 30 years ago at the University of Calgary in Canada. They look like a large trash can, filled with sand. Dirty water is poured in at the top and clean water comes out a spout. A biological film forms naturally on the top surface of the sand.  The sand acts to filter out particulates in the water. This filtration together with biological activity in the “bio” layer destroys harmful pathogens. These filters require no replacement parts, they require no replenishment chemicals, they require no electricity, and they do not “clog.” A biosand filter can produce about 13 gallons of clean water per day, which is enough drinking water for two families. Typically the filter should be regenerated every two years or so by scraping off the bio layer, stirring up the sand and letting a new bio layer form. In cases where the untreated water contains a lot of particulate matter it is likely that sand may need to be replaced every 10 years or so. With such maintenance, and barring any accidental breakage, the filters have essentially an unbounded lifetime.

Hundreds of thousands of “bio-sand filters” have been installed in developing countries around the world. Dirty water is poured through the sand filter and clean water is discharged

A digestive bio-layer (“schmutzdecke”) forms on surface of sand

Harmful pathogens are reduced by a factor of about 10,000

The Children’s Nutrition Program is headquartered in Chattanooga with a full time facility in Leogane, Haiti. In addition to providing the training, they supervise the construction and installation of the filters, using Haitian labor. Intensive follow-up begins with home visits by trained Haitian health workers at 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks after installation. This is followed by a visit at six months and another at one year.