According to the World Health Organization, diseases associated with unsafe water claim the lives of about 2 million people worldwide every year, most of them children under the age of 5. But recently, low-tech ceramic water filters have been saving lives and making people healthier in Ghana.
Peter Adagwine sold thousands of such filters — including one to his uncle — while working for a social enterprise, Pure Home Water, in northern Ghana.
“My uncle enjoys this simple tool that provides clean water for his family,” said Adagwine, now a student in international development at Brandeis University in Boston. “The filters have saved children who in the past had a lot of waterborne disease.”
Adagwine became involved in improving his community’s water in 2006 when he met Susan Murcott, who was in Ghana doing water and sanitation research. (Murcott now teaches civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.) The year before, with local partners and funding from the Conrad Hilton Foundation, Murcott founded Pure Home Water as a nonprofit organization.
Pure Home Water initially purchased filters from a manufacturer in Ghana’s capital, Accra. It distributed them free through aid groups such as UNICEF. In 2008, the venture started selling the filters using the brand name “Kosim,” which means “pure water” in the local language.
Each filter consists of a porous ceramic pot that holds around eight liters of water. The pot fits inside a larger plastic receptacle with a spigot. The filter screens out bacteria, microorganisms and toxic chemicals from water drawn from streams, ponds and wells. The filters come with a cleaning brush and assembly instructions.
With proceeds from sales, the enterprise was able in 2010 to build its own filter factory in Tamale, a city of 250,000 people. Since its beginning, the enterprise has provided jobs for 20 people and its filters have benefited 100,000 people.
Each filter costs around $17. “We make financing provisions available for all categories of people” so that anyone who wants a filter can get one, Adagwine said. The company has one truck and two motor bikes for deliveries. It gives filters to village schools and health centers for free.
Adagwine described Pure Home Water’s approach to getting villagers to accept filters. Its representatives first identify someone in a village who can serve as a liaison between the company and the local chief.
After securing the chief’s agreement to bring filters into the community, the representatives meet with community members to explain the health benefits of clean water and to teach them how to use and clean a filter.