I’ve been fortunate to meet several Kenyans who have been helping on the Kibera Kiosk project including a branch manager of local MFI Jamii Bora, an entrepreneurial Kibera resident, and a water engineer (along with Steve, the general manager). Today we all met to brainstorm solutions to a big problem that was uncovered during recent business planning. If you remember from past posts, our business concept involved treating water in huge quantities and then repackaging the clean water in 500 liter containers that would be shipped to the kiosks. What didn’t initially occur to me was just how heavy a 500 liter container of water would be. As it turns out, it’s heavy (about 1,100 lbs). Considering a 500 liter container would only service about 25 households per day, that means we’d have to transfer a lot of very heavy containers all around an area with no real roads. It seemed there must be a better way to do it.
We thought up a couple different solutions, including one where we have fixed 500 liter tanks at all the kiosks and just try to connect them directly to the main public water pipe. Then they could just fill up directly whenever they ran out. That could work, but it would certainly take some effort to launch new kiosks and it’s hard to guess if the government would support the idea.
What we eventually realized is that any system that involves creating a new water source is really duplicating the distribution process. The most efficient system would be if the existing infrastructure simply delivered clean water and everyone took care to keep their water containers clean to prevent re-contamination. The next best thing would be families treating the potentially contaminated water in their homes right before usage either with a water filter or chlorine. Since many people can’t afford a filter and are unaware or unwilling to use chlorine themselves, the third best option would be to treat the water that people are already used to purchasing.
At each public tap there is a vendor who collects the water fee. If that person had a little stand with a bottle of chlorine and could add the correct dosage right after a resident refills, it would ensure that the water was now clean. If that person also had a sponge, some soap, and some chlorinated water, he could also clean out the resident’s water container on a periodic basis before refilling, thus ensuring that the clean water is still clean when it gets back to the home. Lastly, if that person sold better water containers with a spigot, it would prevent re-contamination at the point of use. (Some water containers have an opening at the top and it’s not uncommon for people to dip a cup into it to get water. Unfortunately, if their unwashed hand makes contact with the water, it can easily contaminate it)
We still need to hash out several details, but this new model of adding services to the existing water source may be a very cost-effective way to reduce water contamination at all points in the supply chain. Stay tuned for future developments and as always, please feel free to post a comment if you have a question or suggestion.