Weakening Nicaragua's cycle of poverty with drinking water technology, Part 1

by Mark B Published 6.21.2012

Aqua Clara provides point-of-use water filters to impoverished people in developing countries. Kinetico hosted an information session where employees from Kinetico and Fairmount Minerals learned how these slow-sand water filters are made and about the programsNicaraguan woman and child that train people in rural communities how to make and maintain them. 

Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere: the average income is about three dollars a day. There are major health problems, especially in rural areas, caused by drinking contaminated water. As a result, people have to spend money on medicines to treat water-borne diseases. Because they are sick so often, they have less time for work or going to school. This reinforces a cycle of poverty and disease that can be difficult to break without outside resources.

The Aqua Clara program includes educating the end-users on why the slow-sand filters are important and how to build, use and maintain them. A key part of program success is regular follow-up visits for additional support. In November 2011, I went to Nicaragua to be part of a team that included folks from Fairmount Minerals, Aqua Clara and Nicaraguans. We went to remote villages to see whether existing slow-sand filters were being used properly and to find out how effective they actually were. Deep in the tropical volcanic hills, we were greeted by village leaders and taken to homes where filters had been installed. The water filters were frequently located in a hot, dark kitchen that was sometimes just 6’ x 7’, had a swept dirt floor, a tin roof, and walls made from whatever was available. Often chickens and other animals were present. 

The filters we examined ranged from months to years old. Our assessments included household interviews mostly with the matriarchs. In many places, it is not unusual for women and older girls to be responsible for making sure the home has enough water for their cooking and cleaning as well as for the family to drink. In many African villages this can mean a child has to walk for miles to bring the water back home, though where we were in Nicaragua water was drawn from nearby wells. Our site visits also included measuring turbidity and taking water samples from the raw source and the filter outlet so we could grow bacteria on special plates and find out just how bad the situation was.Images of tests which show E. coli reduction by filters

As you can see from the photo, these filters dramatically reduced the amount of bacteria in the water. The blue spots are actually colonies of dangerous E. coli, and the red spots are coliform bacteria.

Once the bacteria plates had time to incubate and I saw the results, I took a moment to look around again. What I saw were toddlers exploring and children laughing, playing and going to school. I saw families who depend on being healthy enough to make whatever living they could from small plots of land way out in the hinterlands. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, it not only brought back memories, but also reinforced why this kind of work continues to be so important. Health in rural communities like the ones we were in starts with clean water. It’s good to be part of a company that intimately knows the value of water and is committed to sharing our knowledge to help others gain access to safe and adequate supplies.


Photos courtesy of Dave Chew.

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About the Author

Mark B
Mark B

I was born in Denver, raised in New England, and have had the good fortune to live in many places across the globe for work, study and the Peace Corps. No matter where I’ve lived, there has always been the need for three constants: food, shelter and water. It’s water that has always interested me - whether it is water for drinking, aquaculture or hydroponics; sailing over or exploring under the surfaces of oceans and lakes; or even the way some plants have evolved to collect mist and dew in places they could not otherwise survive. These days, it is the increasing scarcity of water suitable for drinking – for our very survival – that inspires me most. As a Research Scientist, working at Kinetico for 12 years, I’ve been able to take my passion for and knowledge about water and share it with others to help create clean water solutions.