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Clay Filters are Simple Solution for Clean Water

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Access to clean water is critical to good health. It is a basic human need that when met, leads to the biggest improvements in health and well-being. Dirty water causes diarrhoea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diarrhea), cholera and typhoid. Diseases caused by dirty drinking water kill almost 5,000 children a day around the world (WHO).

But millions have benefited from a simple solution using clay filters invented and pioneered in Central America, and now manufactured by 28 small factories in 23 countries – the largest in Ghana and Cambodia. Each factory makes up to several thousand filters a day. They offer an ingenious solution that also creates local jobs and skills.

Looking like 30 centimetre-high flowerpots, the filters designed by Guatemalan chemist Fernando Mazariegos blend local clay and plant husks to create a filter capable of killing 98 percent of the contaminants that cause diarrhoea. The husks are burnt away when the filters are fired in a kiln, creating tiny holes that filter out harmful organisms. A coating of colloidal silver (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colloidal_silver) is painted on the filters after they have been fired in the kiln.

“Each filter can support a family of six,” said Kaira Wagoner, Coordinator of Ceramic Water Filter Projects with the NGO Potters for Peace (www.pottersforpeace.org). Founded in Nicaragua but now US-based, Potters for Peace has popularized the filters and helps with all the training and support required to establish the workshops and market the filters.

The first filter-making workshop was set up in Managua, Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch in 1999 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Mitch). That workshop has made and distributed 40,000 filters through the Red Cross and NGOs such as Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders. Potters for Peace has now stopped running workshops and factories themselves, and provides others with the training and advice necessary to produce clay filters.

To work, the filters are placed in a plastic bucket, a spigot added, and a cover put on top to prevent contamination. The filters are capable of filtering four litres of water an hour.

The genius behind the filters is the fact they can be made by small, local workshops – making access to clean water available anywhere, and creating jobs. Just three to four people can produce up to 50 filters a day. According to tests by the Family Foundation of the Americas, a Guatemalan NGO, the filters halve the incidence of diarrhoea in households that use them.

“The cost of establishing a workshop varies largely,” said Wagoner, “depending on the factory’s location, desired production – from 50 per day to 1000 per day – and on the equipment already available in the potter’s workshop. Potters for Peace generally tries to work with potters who already have some of the needed equipment, such as a hammer mill and clay mixer.

“Filters are distributed hand in hand with health and sanitation information which highlights practices such as hand washing,” said Wagoner. “Since many individuals would otherwise boil their water, the filter significantly reduces the time many women would spend gathering firewood. This gives them time for other things such as school and income generating activities, and is better for the environment, especially in locations where problems with deforestation are significant.”

Experience has found marketing is key to the successful adoption of the filters by communities.

“It is very difficult to create a market in a region of poverty,” said Beverly Pillars, also from Potters for Peace, “and to gain acceptance of a new product that the community will want to purchase to keep a workshop sustainable. NGOs may distribute the ceramic water filters, but for the community to fully accept the idea of seeking out clean, safe drinking water on their own, we urge the local owners of the factory to be innovative in marketing.

“Our best approach has been to select partners in developing areas that have some experience such as a potter or brick maker, and help them to find methods that work in their communities to distribute as many of the ceramic water filters as possible, such as a distribution link through local health centres and small corner markets, adds in Yellow Pages, road signs.”

To get a workshop up and running, they need to have a machine to press the clay filters, a kiln to fire them, and a pyrometer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrometer) to measure the temperature of the kiln. It usually takes between three and six weeks of training to become proficient at making the filters. Trainers help with acquiring the proper equipment, building the kiln, the clay filter formula, quality control procedures, and marketing techniques and materials.

“My advice to people wanting to start making filters is to look for local craftspeople to partner with,” said Pillars. “Look at local access to brick, clay and sawdust. Be prepared for hard and rewarding work to bring safe, clean drinking water to developing populations.

“Every location is a best location, because the demand for safe, clean drinking water worldwide is so great. The beauty of the ceramic water filter technology is that it uses very few resources: clay, sawdust or other burnout material available and bricks for a kiln. We have found these resources to be present worldwide.”

The filter has been cited by the United Nations’ Appropriate Technology Handbook, and is used by the International Red Cross and the Nobel Prize winning medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders. There are plans to start more filter factories in Cote d’Ivoire, Bolivia and Somaliland.

Published: December 2008

Resources

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Making Bamboo Houses Easier to Build

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

More than 1 billion people around the world lack decent shelter. Of these, the majority live in urban areas, usually in slums and informal settlements (UN-HABITAT). Latin America has a serious shortage of adequate housing: in Colombia, 43 percent of the population needs decent housing; in Brazil, 45 percent; Peru, 53 percent.

The challenge is to provide good quality homes without significantly harming the environment – and with constrained budgets. Bamboo – cheap, strong, quickly renewable and beautiful to look at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo) – is an ideal solution to replace traditional wood lumber. In Bolivia, pioneering work is underway to improve the quality of homes and buildings made with bamboo.

Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world, sometimes growing over 1 metre a day. Bolivia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolivia) has about 17 identified bamboo species, of which five have a significant economic value. Around the world, there are 1,000 species of bamboo. They grow in a wide variety of climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions.

Once called the “poor man’s timber” – a temporary building material to replace once there is more money – bamboo is now getting the respect it deserves. Bamboo for housing has a long history in Latin America, stretching back 4,500 years to ancient civilizations. In Asia, it has long been a traditional construction material. But most of the existing bamboo dwellings in Latin America are 50 to 100 years old.

The most popular species of bamboo used in South America is Guadua, which is known for being large, straight and attractive.

“In Bolivia, there is no other building material more competitive in costs,” said Jose Luis Reque Campero, coordinator of the Bolbambu Programme of the Architectural Research Institute, Universidad Mayor de San Simon, Bolivia (http://www.umss.edu.bo/).

“Bamboo is the material that requires less energy, followed by wood and concrete, with steel in last place, needing energy necessary for its production 50 times greater than that required by bamboo.”

Campero also says bamboo is much less expensive than traditional building materials.

“But the biggest advantage is certainly the possibility of planting bamboo, and then reaping houses,” he said.

Campero has focused his efforts on a key component of bamboo housing: the joints that bind the bamboo poles together. Driven by the desire to find ways to improve the ease of building bamboo homes and their strength, Campero came up with the Bamboo Bolivia Space Structures, Structural System: EVO (BBSS-EVO) (named after Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evo_Morales).

Traditional joints took a long time to make and required power tools and complex instruction manuals. Simplifying the building techniques necessary for bamboo construction was important because, while bamboo was cheap, the labour costs were high.

The joint looks like a giant two-headed Q-Tip. Each end is made of four pieces of bamboo, connected by a long screw with bolts on each end taken from old cars. The joint is inserted inside the bamboo poles and snaps shut, joining poles tightly together and, as each piece is assembled, looking like a child’s building toy as the structure of the bamboo home takes shape.

The new joint was easier to assemble and was quickly adopted by local builders. It also allows for a vast range of structures and shapes to be built, limited only by imagination and physics.

Devising joints made from bamboo has the advantage of avoiding the weight and cost of bringing in concrete, especially to remote areas.

“The manufacturing process is fully in the workshop and indoors,” said Campero, “which in addition to allowing a degree of quality control in production, improves working conditions for staff and protects the material.”

The whole building process adheres to “the principles of the famous phrase: ‘do-it-yourself’.”

The Evo joint allows for flexibility and easy assembly and disassembly, enabling the builder to move around parts of the structure and not be wedded to the original structural plan. This has the advantage of customizing the building to its physical location.

Working in the tropical forests of Cochabamba (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochabamba), Campero has been testing his designs with the local people, who were looking to improve the tourist infrastructure in the resort town of Cristal Mayu.

Costa Rica in Central America – ironically a country without indigenous bamboo plants – has used its National Bamboo Project of Costa Rica (http://www.unesco.org/most/centram1.htm) to prove it is possible to both cultivate bamboo and use it to provide housing for the poor, confirming the wisdom of millions of people: bamboo is economical, convenient, safe and looks great.

Campero has received a great deal of interest in his innovations and is looking for funding partners in 2009 to take his work further.

He has this advice for other builders and designers: “Stick to developing local technologies, use what you have and innovate, use native materials and the local environment for the development of elements, components and construction systems. Don’t rely on advanced technology tools for manufacture, and stay in harmony with the human need for creativity.”

Published: December 2008

Resources

  • UNEP, the UN’s Environment Programme, has produced a report on bamboo biodiversity and how it can be preserved. Website: http://www.unep-wcmc.org
  • The Asian Development Bank is using its Markets for Poor programme to link bamboo products to marketplaces, helping poor communities. Website:http://www.markets4poor.org/
  • The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: www.unhabitat.org

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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Rammed-Earth Houses: China Shows how to Improve and Respect Traditional Homes

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

(Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The pace of change across the South has been blistering. Over the past decade, the overall population has moved from being primarily rural to majority urban. In the process, rural communities have suffered, as they have seen their young and ambitious leave in droves seeking a better life in cities.

More than 200 million Chinese farmers have moved to cities in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Chinese farms are tiny, with the average rural household farming just 0.6 hectares. And incomes are low compared to the cost of living: average annual income was just US$606 in 2007, a third of city salaries.

But it is possible to improve the quality of life in rural areas and in turn boost economic fortunes.

In China, projects that upgrade homes to modern standards while respecting traditional designs and architecture are breathing new life into rural communities. A return to the age-old technique of using earth as the principal building material is saving energy and keeping house costs low.

The tradition of packing earth to build a wall dates back to some of the earliest stretches of the Great Wall of China in 220 BC.

Currently it is estimated that half the world’s population-approximately 3 billion people on six continents – lives or works in buildings constructed of earth.

This traditional building technique is being used in the reconstruction effort to build new homes after the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The earthquake left millions of people homeless in the country’s worst natural disaster in 30 years, and has made low-cost but efficient house building critical.

In western China, villages have been entirely rebuilt from scratch. The application of research and science to the traditional designs – roofs in the pagoda style, with buildings arranged around courtyards – enabled the development of homes that are energy efficient to run, and are more hygienic and earthquake safe. In Yongren County of Yunnan Province, over 7,000 mountain dwellers were moved to better farming land and over 2,000 homes were built in the new village of BaLaWu. Over 30 of the homes were built using rammed earth by the Xi-an team. 

“The original homes had very low living quality,” said team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology (http://www.xauat.edu.cn/jdeg/about.html), which oversees building of the new homes. “The architecture layout of the indoor space and courtyard was not reasonable. In the courtyard the areas for living, raising livestock, storing and processing crops were mixed up. The indoor environment was not comfortable. It was cold in the houses during winter and hot during summer. Most of the rooms lacked natural lighting and were dark in the daytime.

“In the poor areas, many people still live in earth houses because of the low cost. However, most of the earth houses have low living quality.

“After we finished the project, through our design, the living quality was improved very much. The dwellers were satisfied with their new houses.”

Land reform in China has brought more hope to the country’s 750 million rural poor, many of whom live on less than US$1 a day. It is hoped that giving the rural poor more control over their lives will bring an improvement in agricultural production, food security and economic prosperity. Reforms also mean the poor have more secure land rights.

Hu said gaining the trust and buy-in of the villagers was critical to the success of the project.

“We built the first home as a demonstration. After we finished, the villagers could experience the advantages of the new home. Most of them decided to use our design and they could choose the one they liked from several proposals.”

Poverty is a big problem in the villages. Incomes are very low, at 2000 RMB per year (US $290). Hu said “families were given a house-building allowance of 8000 RMB (US $1,160) to meet the cost of building materials – and the land was free for them to use.”

“The villagers built the houses by self-help. We helped them to design and build the houses for free,” Hu said.

The houses are pioneering in using natural sources to provide light, heat, waste disposal and gas for cooking and heating.

“We used natural material like earth as a main building material to get good thermal mass and also to reduce CO2 emission,” Hu said.

“We designed a simple family sewage-purge-pool and marsh-gas-well system to reduce pollution and get energy from wastes.”

Using rammed earth has a long history in China. Across Western China, there are many buildings constructed with rammed earth. And using earth has many advantages when resources are scarce or expensive: “Earth buildings avoid deforestation and pollution, and can achieve low energy costs throughout their lifetime,” said Hu.

“With living standards increasing, more and more people would like to use burned bricks and concrete to build new houses, which will consume more energy and bring pollution,” said Hu.

But like any technology, the application of modern science and environmental knowledge to the traditional designs, can reap huge improvements in the quality of the homes and comfort levels. And win people back to the benefits of rammed earth dwellings.

“Building with earth materials can be a way of helping with sustainable management of the earth’s resources,” said Hu.

And Hu is adamant the new, environmentally designed homes respect the wisdom of traditional design.

“The new earth house design should consider the local culture. It should be proved that both the house style and the construction technique can be accepted by the users.”

Published: December 2008

Resources

  • The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website: www.rdiland.org
  • Rural DeveIopment Institute has recently been given an award from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace competition to create Legal Aid and Education Centres in China’s countryside. Website:www.rdiland.org/PDF/092808_WorldBankComp.pdf
  • A blog gives more details on the Chinese rammed earth project. 
    Website:www.51xuewen.com
  • Earth Architecture, a book and blog on the practice of building with earth, including contemporary designs and projects. 
    Website: www.eartharchitecture.org

Sponsored by BSHF. BSHF is now called World Habitat and it aims to seek out and share the best solutions to housing problems from around the world.

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Two-stroke Engine Pollution Solution

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Cities across the South choke on the pollution made by the small two-stroke engines (http://www.howstuffworks.com/two-stroke.htm) powering motor scooters, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, tuk-tuks and other vehicles. People choose these vehicles to get around because they are cheap, powerful and easy to fix. But the environment – and human health – suffers as a result. And as cities balloon and populations grow, the number of journeys and two-stroke engines grows with it.

In large cities across Asia, 1 million three-wheeled auto-rickshaws form an important means of daily transportation, and a source of income for their drivers. And the Asian Development Bank estimates there are over 100 million vehicles using two-stroke engines in Southeast Asia. But these vehicles cause serious air pollution and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which contributes to global warming.

Because two-stroke engines burn an oil-gasoline mixture, they also emit more smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter than the gas-only, four-stroke engines found in newer vehicles.

In the Philippines, auto rickshaw drivers are pioneering specially adapted two-stroke engines that reduce particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76 percent.

Tim Bauer, the 31-year-old American mechanical engineer who developed the technology, said auto rickshaws “play an essential role in the social and economic fabric. But their impact on public health is disastrous.”

Motorized tricycles produce an astonishing amount of pollution: each one is equivalent to 50 cars. In Bangkok, Thailand, two-stroke engines contribute 47 percent of pollution particulates in the air.

The World Health Organization (www.who.org) ranks urban outdoor air pollution as the 13th greatest contributor to disease burden and death worldwide. It has been estimated that the air pollution leads to the deaths of more than half a million people a year. About two-thirds of the residents of Delhi and Calcutta suffer from respiratory symptoms such as common cold and dry and wet cough, much of this caused by two-stroke engine emissions.

Two-stroke engines are highly inefficient users of fuel: up to 40 percent of the fuel and oil goes out of the exhaust pipe unburned. This exhaust is packed with oxides of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, hydrocarbons and fine dust – all toxic contributors to air pollution.

But the attraction of these engines remains strong. “They are powerful, simple, reliable and robust,” said Bauer, “and spare parts are easy to find. They also have a long lifetime.”

Bauer faced some strict constraints in developing the technology.

“It had to substantially reduce emissions without impairing the engine’s performance. It had to be installed without machining the engine crankcase, and with only a basic tool set. Of course, it also had to be affordable for Filipino drivers.”

Using off-the-shelf components, Bauer developed a kit that turns two-stroke engines into fuel-injection machines. This adjustment reduced particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76 percent. He now sells the kits through Envirofit, a non-profit organization (http://www.envirofit.org/). It has been pilot tested at two Filipino holiday resorts, Vigan and Puerto Princesa.

Auto-rickshaw drivers tend to be poor and earn on average US $3 to US $4 a day. The cost of fitting vehicles with Bauer’s new technology is met by microcredit.

“Drivers earn money daily, so it’s easy for them to pay back their loan, and 90 percent of them do it in less than a year,” he said. Over 260 taxi drivers have already installed the new kit.

“These drivers are at the base of the economic pyramid and these tricycles are a testament to their ingenuity and work ethic. At the end of the day, we can improve their lives with a cylinder head, a few brackets and, of course, hard work.”

Bauer pioneered his solution while working on fuel injection in snowmobiles at the Engines and Energy Conservation Lab at Colorado State University. He started to market the solution in Asia in 2004. Bauer has won a Rolex Award for Enterprise to pay for the distribution of the kits throughout Asia.

There is, of course, another solution: an outright ban or measures to push the vehicles off the road. In the Philippines’ San Fernando City, economic incentives were what drove the transition from two-stroke to four-stroke (less polluting) tricycles. In 2001, three-quarters of the city’s 1,600 registered tricycles ran on two-stroke engines. But after a city council mandate to totally phase out the vehicles by 2004, and offers of interest-free loans for down-payments on four-stroke models, more than 400 four-stroke tricycles had replaced the older two-stroke models.

When Bangkok toughened up vehicle inspections and emissions standards in 2000, two-wheelers made up over 96 percent of the city’s traffic. But by March 2004, they made up only 40 percent, according to Supat Wangwongwatana, deputy director general of Thailand’s Pollution Control Department.

Published: December 2008

Resources

  • Tukshop is a website selling auto rickshaws and tuk-tuks.  Website:http://www.tukshop.biz/
  • A wide range of auto rickshaws for sale.  Website: http://www.auto-rickshaw.com/ 
  • The Hybrid Tuk Tuk Battle is a competition to come up with less polluting auto rickshaws, clean up the air in Asian cities, and improve the economic conditions for auto rickshaw drivers. 
    Website:http://hybridtuktuk.com/
  • The Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities promotes and demonstrates innovative ways to improve the air quality of Asian cities through partnerships and sharing experiences. It is run by the Asian Development Bank together with the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development. 
    Website: http://www.cleanairnet.org/
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A new book launched in April 2019 by journalist Beth Gardiner (@Gardiner_Beth), “Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future” (Granta) (University of Chicago Press), explores today’s global air pollution crisis in the world’s cities. Gardiner is an environmental journalist who writes for The New York Times, The Guardian and other publications (bethgardiner.com).  

Called “One of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2019“. The UK cover for Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future (Granta, 2019).
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022