In my development economics classes, I have read about research on water and sanitation in developing countries. See a fuller description about chlorine dispenser projects at The Poverty Action Lab website. A question that has always puzzled me was: if there are inexpensive ways to improve the health of the family, why don’t people adopt them?
There are several ways to kill the bacteria in the water, and adding chlorine is one convenient and inexpensive approach. But this is not widely used, maybe because people do not like the taste of chlorine in the water. Another more expensive approach is to use water filters.
Our partnering NGO, the Rural Agency of Sustainable Development (RASD) has been building biosand filters and distributing them to households where boiling water is inconvenient. Sand and gravel are collected to make the filter. When water passes the layer of sand and gravel, the bacteria are suffocated due to lack of oxegen. The main body of this filter is a blue tank about 1 meter high (see here). A family is supposed to pour in 10 to 15 liters of water per day, and drinkable water will come out of a tube into a bucket. But the household has to ensure they take every step correctly in order to make the whole treatment effective. If the water bucket is not cleaned, for example, bacteria can still enter.
When we were discussing about ways to treat the water, our guide said :”Many people here don’t care about their lives.” He implies this to be the reason why people are reluctant in treating their water even if the costs are not high. The same is true when it comes to sleeping under mosquito nets. The government of Uganda seems to be giving out free mosquito nets, but not every family is reached. The households who haven’t got the bed nets still feel reluctant to purchase them. This is not that surprising given that malaria is not expensive to treat — often times parents just buy tablets to treat their children instead of going to a doctor. There are many ways to lower the risk of getting sick, but without the awareness of the potential beneficiaries these will only be empty slogans.