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In Kenya, a water treatment so easy it raises doubts

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Sahra Abdi/Reuters

(Read caption) A refugee from Somalia fetches water from a tap at Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, in Kenya's northeastern province, Dec. 8.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

A new way to treat drinking water here could save thousands of lives among Kenya’s urban poor. The Simple Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS) method recommended by the World Health Organization uses the sun’s ultraviolet rays and heat to kill harmful microorganisms in the water.

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“We only need to leave the water out in the sun for a whole day, and it is safe to drink,” says Dushman Abdul. Ms. Abdul lives in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, where 1 million residents often suffer from waterborne diseases such as cholera due to limited access to safe drinking water.

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Many of the slum dwellers must rely on water supplied by vendors who may use unclean containers.

The simple treatment process also saves money for poor families who won’t have to buy fuel to boil the water before using it.

Beyond the initial cost of 18 cents for a reusable water bottle – good for six months before it starts to break down from use and contaminate the water – the technology is free of charge, as light and heat from the sun do the work.

Besides families, the technology is gradually finding its way to schools and other public facilities. It is hoped that it will reduce disease and therefore cut student absences and raise their performance.

Ironically, the simplicity and low cost of SODIS have also proved to be a drawback: Most people think it is too simple to work, says Lilian Shimanyula, a SODIS advocate at the Kenya Water and Health Organization.