A view of the camp we visited on Lingira Island
This morning, my colleague Katherine and I took a beautiful 30-minute speedboat ride from Jinja, Uganda to Lingira, a small island about five miles around, where the EDGE project partners with a group called SHIM to provide clean water, agriculture, education, and more to the several thousand residents of the island.
About three years ago, EDGE was part of a program in partnership with GlobalGiving, the Rockefeller Foundation, and InnoCentive, an organization that crowdsources innovative solutions for business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges. This program was opened to all GlobalGiving partners, and EDGE was one of only five organizations selected to present challenges they are facing to the InnoCentive community. The challenge submitted by EDGE was to find a water purification solution for the residents of Lingira Island that filled three requirements:
- Removed a sufficient amount of bacteria from the water to make it drinkable;
- Affordable for the local community;
- Could be produced locally
After sifting through the almost-100 potential solutions submitted for the challenge, the EDGE team selected a clay pot filtration system that seemed to have great potential for the Lingira community. The team purchased over 100 clay pot filtration systems to pilot the solution over the summer.
While talking with the team and community on the island, I struggled to determine whether this project was a success or failure. In the end, it was both. While the project was not a success in a traditional sense – the solution did not meet the three requirements listed above – the team quickly experimented, was honest about the challenges, and learned from the pilot in a way that will help them be more successful going forward.
As previous reports have discussed, the clay pot filtration solution removed about 98% of the bacteria in the lake water. However, the water contains such high levels of bacteria that even just 2% of the bacteria remaining leaves it unsafe to drink. The remaining water would be safe for cooking or bathing, but training people to only use the filtered water for cooking/cleaning and not for drinking would be too risky. Second, this filtration system cannot be produced locally on the island. Currently they are being imported from Kenya, which makes the product overly expensive. Third, the cost remains too high for the families on the island, as compared to other potential solutions.
About a dozen clay pot systems were distributed to families on the island. We visited one camp where four of the pots had been given out, although currently only one is being used. The other three have never been used. The women we talked to who own the unused pots said they were not used because the women did not have the buckets and taps required to use the system (this would cost them about Sh30,000, or just over $11). We did talk with one family using the system, which seemed pleased with the result. We were told that the family saves about Sh36,000 a month (about $13.50) because they are not required to buy firewood to boil water, which is how most families in the community currently purify their water.
Despite these challenges, we were impressed with the team on the ground. Their quest for a solution that is both innovative and appropriate, coupled with their honesty about the challenges faced showed their passion and commitment to a sustainable solution for the Lingira community. They are currently making plans to distribute the remaining clay pots to another NGO that can use them on the Uganda mainland, and are continuing to search for better solutions for the communities on Lingira Island.
A woman who received a clay pot filtration system
The source of drinking water for the community
One family using their filtration system