Dispensers for Safe Water Making Huge Strides in Kenya

Editors Note: This guest post was authored by Alexandra Fielden, policy coordinator for Dispensers for Safe Water at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). In it, she discusses the benefits of IPA’s Chlorine Dispenser System, an innovative water treatment solution, and how the system has been implemented in villages in western Kenya. (Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals involved.)

Caroline, the dispenser promoter in Laban Springs, shows a community member how to use the chlorine dispenser. Credit: Jonathan Kalan

Caroline, the dispenser promoter in Laban Springs, shows a community member how to use the chlorine dispenser. Credit: Jonathan Kalan

Following the death of her daughter, Adimu was left to take care of her HIV-positive granddaughter, Tabia.

HIV has severely weakened Tabia’s immune system, making her especially vulnerable to waterborne diseases. “She would always need to go to the hospital,” says Adimu, “due to her weak immunity, she suffered from diarrhea regularly.” Visits to the local clinic to treat Tabia’s diarrhea were costly, uncomfortable, and time-consuming.

But since IPA’s Chlorine Dispenser System was set up in her community in Khasolo, western Kenya, Tabia has experienced far fewer cases of diarrhea and she is doing extremely well in school. “Chlorine has improved my granddaughter’s health since she no longer suffers from diarrhea,” says Adimu, with a smile.

In poor rural areas where constructing piped water systems are prohibitively expensive, the government and donor response has generally been to fund new water sources such as wells or boreholes.

However, this approach fails to ensure the safety of water during transportation and storage at the home. Because of unhygienic water collection behaviors and unsafe storage practices, re-contamination presents a major challenge in many settings. A study in western Kenya showed that spring protection led to a 66 percent reduction in fecal contamination at the water source, but the reductions were only 24 percent in water stored in people’s homes.

One inexpensive, safe, and effective option to improve water quality while protecting against re-contamination is to treat water with chlorine using IPA’s innovative Chlorine Dispenser System.

Installed at a communal water source, users simply turn a valve on the dispenser to release a metered dose of chlorine into their jerricans, which they then fill with water as usual. The chlorine mixes with the water and kills the germs that cause many diarrheal diseases. The chlorine provides protection from recontamination for up to 48 hours, and achieves an average diarrhea reduction of 41 percent.

Five-and-a-half miles northeast of Adimu and Tabia’s village lies Laban Springs, another community with access to the Chlorine Dispenser System. Here, Caroline explains that “the dispenser is easy to use, and being next to the water source reminds you to use it.” To encourage adoption, IPA partners with community volunteers, like Caroline, who serve as “dispenser promoters.” They work to educate the community about the dangers of contaminated water, to encourage use of the technology, and to ensure that a consistent supply of chlorine is available.

Results from a randomized trial in western Kenya documented that the CDS increases chlorine use six-fold compared to the existing approach of selling small bottles of chlorine through retail outlets. In target communities, preliminary studies showed that 50-61 percent of households had sustained detectable chlorine levels in household drinking water during unannounced visits over 3 years after CDS implementation, compared to 6-14 percent with access to the standard retail model.

A majority of the funding for CDS programs to date has been provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, some early funding commitments were made by local governments in Kenya, the Kenyan Ministry of Education, and a Kenyan water services board for CDS pilot projects. The World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, as well as private foundations and individuals, have also contributed to start-up costs of the program.

Over the last several years, Dispensers for Safe Water (DSW) has been working in close collaboration with national ministries and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, to implement its programs in Kenya. Together, DSW and its partners have installed enough dispensers to provide access to safe water for more than 400,000 people across western Kenya.

DSW conducts regular spot checks to monitor the condition of the dispenser and its source, and to test that the dispenser is stocked with chlorine at the correct concentration and quality. In addition, the selection of responsible dispenser promoters and set-up of a local “hotline” for communities to report issues ensure that problems with the dispenser hardware are rapidly identified and remedied.

In 2012, DSW will continue to work with its partners to expand dispenser coverage; to pilot dispensers in other high-priority regions of Kenya; and to explore new areas where dispensers could lead to a significant reduction in diarrheal disease rates.

DSW also works in Haiti, Somalia, India, Bangladesh, Swaziland, and Uganda, and continues to explore the possibilities for piloting and scaling up dispensers in a number of target countries in sub-Saharan Africa. DSW aims to provide access to safe water for millions of people like Adimu, Tabia, and Caroline through the innovative Chlorine Dispenser System, a Proven Impact Initiative at IPA. To find out more, contact Dispensers for Safe Water: safewater@poverty-action.org.