The United Nations has projected that by 2030 nearly half of the world’s population will face the problem of water scarcity as the demand for fresh, clean water increases in the face of limited supply. Essential on its own, water is also fundamentally linked to the most important global development challenges: food, energy, health, climate change, and poverty alleviation. In Asia, the need for access to safe water resources is especially urgent, with almost 1.8 billion people lacking access to basic sanitation in 2009. A number of exacerbating factors such as rapid population growth, urbanization, increasing water contamination, and over-extraction of groundwater make the situation especially dire.
In many parts of Asia, contaminated water, lack of sanitation facilities, and unhygienic practices contribute to the spread of waterborne diarrheal diseases, a leading cause of death in children. While communal water sources in developing countries offer an alternative to more expensive piped water systems to protect against contamination at the source, unhygienic water collection and storage practices often lead to recontamination. Low-cost innovations, though, have proven effective in ameliorating this challenge.
Innovations in household water treatment and safe storage practices (HWTS) are among the most successful and cost effective approaches to improving drinking water quality and reducing waterborne diseases. For example, water can be purified through a mix of UV radiation and heat, or through alternate means such as filtration or chlorination. Of these technologies, ceramic filtration in particular has been widely adopted in developing countries because of its simplicity of use and low cost; filters can be locally produced with clay, sawdust and water.
In Cambodia, UNICEF and the Water Sanitation Program partnered with two NGOs, Resources Development International (RDI) and International Development Enterprises (IDE), to create one of the largest ceramic filtration programs in Cambodia. Through local vendors and community based subsidized programs, RDI and IDE have distributed close to 200,000 locally produced ceramic filters that are portable, low-maintenance, and lightweight. The ceramic filters successfully improved the quality of stored water and reduced the incidence of diarrhea by nearly 50%. This innovation has the potential to be transformative for the people of Cambodia.
It is exactly this type of transformation that GKI is pressing for in a new partnership starting in Malaysia, the Southeast Asian Water Challenge. Like Cambodia, Malaysia suffers from a range of water challenges such as poor quality surface water, lack of a centralized resource management system, and need for better delivery to households. GKI’s Southeast Asian Water Challenge aims to connect the students and faculty of the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia to these challenges and produce community-driven solutions that will put Southeast Asia on a path to becoming water secure. For more information on the Southeast Asian Water Challenge, contact GKI Program Officer Courtney O’Brien.
Contributor: Srujana Penumetcha