One by one, the pupils of Bright Little Angel Primary School rush toward a blue and white water dispenser, colourful plastic cups in hand. The dispenser, a “Purifaaya,” is one of four that stand at different corners of the school. Since this primary school in Nakawuka, Wakiso District of Uganda, lacks a canteen, this free drinking water is essential. “We emphasise the importance of drinking water because we want the pupils to get used to it,” says Basajja Kirinya, the school principal.
According to WHO, more than 800 million people around the world lack access to clean water. In Uganda, water-borne diseases remain a leading cause of infant mortality for children under age five. The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program notes that diarrheal diseases from poor sanitation and time spent fetching water cost the country more than $170 million every year.
Before a good Samaritan donated the Purifaaya water dispensers to the school, its pupils drank mostly boiled water. “At times, the water would still be hot by lunchtime or we would find ourselves leaving it out in the open to cool. The Purifaaya changed much of this,” says Kirinya.
The Purifaaya is manufactured in Kampala by a US-based social enterprise, Spouts of Water. Its co-founder, Kathy Ku, spent a summer in Uganda and was struck by the lack of access to safe water, so she partnered with fellow Harvard student John Kye to create the organisation in 2012. In July 2015, Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment determined that Purifaaya was 99.9 per cent effective and its water safe for consumption.
Unlike most other systems that provide safe water in developing countries, the Purifaaya has a ceramic filter inside the plastic dispenser made entirely with local materials: clay, sawdust and a thin layer of silver nitrate to enhance bacterial removal. This ceramic pot permits water to trickle through, maintaining its taste and scent, while trapping viruses, pollutants, and organic and inorganic materials larger than half a micron. Its gravity-based filtration process allows a flow rate of up to three litres per hour.
Spouts of Water employs 35 local workers at its factory while developing a vast network of partnerships to ensure distribution and reach everyone regardless of economic status or location. For a single family, a complete set of Purifaaya sells for Shs100,000 ($27). Spouts of Water aims to provide safe water to at least 10 million Ugandans who still lack access to it, and has started supplying neighboring Congo, too.
While all Purifaaya filters are the same size, they come in two different sized dispensers - one with a 20-litre capacity, purchased mostly by families, and another with a 65-litre capacity for companies or institutions. Since November 2015, more than 1,600 filters have been distributed to schools thanks to a partnership programme with the NGO Save the Children, ensuring safe water for roughly 30,000 students.
Annet Nakibinge, a counselor in Nakawuka, is one of 110,000 Ugandans who have gained access to clean drinking water since Spouts of Water was launched – she has been using the Purifaaya for five months. With a family of nine, she notes that boiling water every two days was both costly and time consuming. “Before we acquired the dispensers, we would boil water and strain it,” she explains. “We consume about 10 liters every two days” – or about one dollar’s worth of charcoal in a country where some 10 million people earn less than $1.25 a day.
The major sources of water in Nakibinge’s area are a well and a borehole. But with the well usually contaminated due to frequent use, people turn to the borehole for water instead, which appears clean yet often contains metallic objects and bits of rust.
Nakibinge has been instrumental in ensuring that more families in the area acquire the dispensers. She helps organise meetings where locals learn about the importance of clean water. At these meetings they receive a 15 percent discount on the purchase of a Purifaaya and can pay for it in monthly installments.