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Clay filter offers hope for fighting waterborne diseases

Waterborne diseases are responsible for many deaths. A simple filter is promising to save lives in remote areas of Kenya

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

On a chilly morning in Chepkoya village, Bungoma county, Janet Amwai goes to the nearby river to fetch water despite the fact that it has been raining for the last few weeks and the water is not clean for drinking.

The 42-year-old mother of four comes back with a 20-litre water jerrycan. The water is dirty and brown in colour. When I saw it I was really disturbed.  Amwai assured me the water would in a few hours be safe for consumption.

She went inside her house and came out with what I assumed was a pot. I later learnt that it is a water filter. She got a bucket ready to perform her magic. She emptied half of the water in the jerry can in the pot, which she had put inside the bucket.

“I have been using this filter known as ceramaji since 2012 and the results have been positive. I once lost one of my sons to water borne diseases, but since I started using the filter no one has gone to the hospital because of waterborne complications,” she says.

After five hours the whole jerry can is filtered and when I tasted the water  and it was good. The filters come from Kenya Ceramic, a Community Based Organisation (CBO) based in Kiminini.

“The pot filters between 1.5 to 3 litres per hour, depending on the state of your water and one filter can hold up to nine litres at ago,” she says.

The brainchild of the technology, Joshua Machinga, says the filters are made using the normal ceramic clay and sawdust. They use ceramic clay so as to retain the originality and saw dust to act as a filtron.

“This is an initiative aimed at developing and promoting innovative ceramic technologies to address the need for clean and safe water. It is highly effective and can eliminate up to 99.9 per cent bacteria and other pathogens,” says Joshua.

He explains the idea was born in 2007 during a conference in USA. After four years of research he managed to come up with a prototype and together with members of Kenya Ceramic in Kiminini they started making the pots.

In 2012, they made 3,000 pieces, which they gave out to the local communities and Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (Ampath), a partnership between Moi University School of Medicine, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and a consortium of US medical schools led by Indiana University  for piloting.

“After the pilot project, which took one year we visited the required authorities such as Kebs for certification. After certification we started increasing our production gradually and we started selling the filters,” he says.

Currently, the group is making 1,000 pieces every month. When demand is high, they can increase the production capacity considering that they are using machines to make the filters. Their filter goes for between Sh1,250 and Sh1,550 and they are available in Kitale. They can deliver to any part of the country when an order is placed.

“Currently, we have 37 employees and the business has been successful because we train them. People have also embraced this technology,” says Joshua.

Last year National Environment Trust Fund (Netfund) gave them Sh1.3 million to buy modern machines and also laboratory equipment since initially they used to fabricate the machines themselves. With this help they hope to double their production capacity.

“We want to turn this CBO to a company. Already the company has been registered and will be known as Ceramic Project Kenya Limited. This will help us set up distribution centres countrywide,” he adds.

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