Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Question from a reader: Fixing water filtration in India

A simple sand and activated charcoal filter ($10-15) can filter hundreds of gallons of water simply and cheaply. But will this solve India's (bottled) water issues?? Read on... (photosource: bethechangeinc)

I got the following question in my inbox recently. Its becoming a question of increasing frequency, and I want to address it properly. Here's the "question" the reader wrote:

Last year, after a research expedition [on the effect of plastics on the environment]...we were giving talks and meeting with legislators along the way [in North America].

At one of our talks, a woman who had just returned from a long trip in India approached me, and said, "this is all great what you guys are doing to educate people, BUT there are much larger problems with plastic bottles and waste overseas". She told me that due to poor sanitation, in some areas she'd been in, people had no choice but to drink out of plastic bottles, and lacked the infrastructure to deal with them.

Which made me wonder if bringing water filtration systems to India might make a difference, albeit small.... for peanuts here ($500-$1000), an entire school can have clean water.

I've never been to India, but would be interested to hear your thoughts. Perhaps we might try to raise money for a few filters, to start with...

Here was my response:

I agree with the bottled water issue. As much as I detest bottled water, I find that when I'm in the developing world for very short bursts (where I don't have the time to purge my system and adapt) and need reliable, safe water quickly, I rely on bottled water (note: I try to drink tea, boiled water, other boiled beverages or soups for the most part, and only eat fresh, cooked food. Bottled water is a substitute when I can't find these or its simply too hot!). Amongst poor communities, plastic bottles are a huge commodity. Recycling goes on in full, plus the thicker, better bottles are used as water bottles or to store other liquids. They use these for several reasons -- convenience, cost (free to find, recyclable when they are done, easy to replace), how light it is, how sturdy it is, its lack of brittleness, etc. And yes...often they have no other choice.

Water filters are available in abundance in most of the developing world, particularly in non-disaster zones. India has a lot of indigenous water filters that do a very good job...most selling for around $50-$100. Most middle, upper, even poorer class Indians have them installed in their houses, though the best and most effective need access to electricity (they are RO systems). If you really want, you can build one using sand and a large bucket (or see diagram above). This is how most wastewater is treated in the US, though on a much larger scale. Clear water combined with some bleach dosing (aka chlorine disinfection), should render perfectly safe and drinkable water, and all for less than $10.

Probably best of all, there is always the option of boiling...the problem with this is that its very energy intensive and if you use wood/charcoal/kerosene, its simply too expensive. (I tend to boil my water usually in the developing world, except when i've run out of my supply and then use the water i find either at a tea shop or i buy bottled water).

Sometimes its not the filtration that's the problem....its the sourcing of clean water, the collection, the transportation, and the storage of water that are the biggest issues. Outside of the sourcing issues, plastic generally fills these voids.

Of course, for problems like arsenic, fluoride, salinity, etc, where you need more advanced cleaning, or where the water is extremely turbid (cloudy or visibly dirty), it becomes a different issue. These are very regional issues, and generally you can figure out what the biggest water problems in that area are by visiting the NGOs, doctors or govt public health agencies in that area. If its pathogen-related (which is the majority of water quality issues), then generally some proper boiling or filtration/disinfection will quell the problem. But other issues need more specialized solutions.

Finally, I'm not a huge fan of transplanted filters or other mechanisms. Filters from here are not made to withstand water or field conditions there. Expensive systems have a short shelflife, then like every other good transplant, they wither and die. This is partially because there is no one to do regular operation and maintenance, or who has been trained properly to fix even the smallest problems. A COMMON problem is letting untrained hands take over the operation of a technology. Their curiosity gets the better of them, and the technology is quickly rendered useless. Replacement parts are hard to find and buy, and the issue of untrained hands repeats itself. Always look for indigenous units, you are much more likely to have success in terms of adoption, operation/maintenance, and replacement if necessary.

These are my immediate thoughts on the subject. I'm always happy to discuss this further with you...

Thoughts anyone??

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Truth, shame, and education

If the truth sets you free, then why do people hide behind the shame of it all?? (photo: Osvaldo Zoom)

A couple of days ago, I blogged about I Am Because We Are. It very interestingly juxtaposed with something else I saw a while ago...a critically acclaimed film called The Education of Shelby Knox on PBS.

One might wonder how I Am Because We Are, a film about orphans in Malawi, relates to a film about a kid growing up in Lubbock, TX...but its quite clear. It doesn't matter where you are, the truth seems to scare people. And further, shame is a powerful motivator.

The increasing rate of orphans in Malawi is from the increasing rate of AIDS in the country. And what is universally acknowledged as the biggest problem is the lack of openness of the issues of HIV/AIDS in their communities. Government and Community leaders are refusing to speak about the issue openly. The lack of knowledge and wisdom, and the consistent shame value placed on AIDS is perpetuating the situation. In the absence of good sensible leadership, the frustrated, largely uneducated masses are getting more and more desperate. This is leading them to even more risky behaviors -- raping virgin girls, "sexual cleansing" of AIDS widows, and every kind of nonsense witchcraft that is sinking them deeper with infection and poverty.

On the other side of the globe, in Lubbock, TX, the rate of teen pregnancy has sky-rocketed. The conservative school and town leadership are refusing to speak openly about the issue, instead pushing abstinence down the throats of their youngsters...who defy all odds and continue to reproduce at alarming rates. This is where Shelby Knox (and her truly amazing family) come into the picture; Shelby, herself a 15 y/o conservative Christian pledged to abstinence until marriage, is trying to understand what the best way is to address this problem amongst her peers. Over three years the film follows her as she lobbies and repeatedly fails to get sex education taught to young kids. In the meantime,

And so here, the two sides of the globe (and lots of places in between) are united by the shame of speaking openly about sexual issues. How is the abysmal leadership of Malawi (second poorest country in the world) any different from that of Lubbock, TX (situated in one of the richest countries in the world)?? Why is it so hard to speak the truth...even if it does set you free??

I am struggling to understand this bit. Why NOT do the sensible thing?? And how do you fix this??

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Change.org is looking for bloggers

I'm an avid reader of Change.org; they have an interesting working model and blog on a variety of topics. Most of their bloggers are extremely knowledgeable about their fields of work (I tend to read the Global Health ones). So if you want to blog, get paid, and reach a huge audience, APPLY...

Details below...

Change.org Launches Blog Action Day 2009; Expanding Team of Bloggers

Hey Changemakers,

We have two exciting announcements to make this week. First, Change.org has been asked to take the reins of Blog Action Day, the annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day.

A few weeks ago we asked bloggers everywhere to suggest topics for this year's event, and the overwhelming response was in support of focusing on the gravest threat to world today:climate change.

Blog Action Day itself is on October 15th, and we launched the new site this week at www.blogactionday.org to start accepting sign-ups. We've already received a flood of interest from bloggers around the world, with more than 1,800 blogs with seven million readers across 98 countries registered.

If you have a blog - either personal or professional - click here to find out more information and register your blog now to be part of the largest social change event on the web.

The second exciting piece of news we have to share?Change.org is expanding its team of bloggers! That's right, we're looking for writers extraordinaire who want to join our team and cover one or more of our 20 causes - from Health Care to Education to Global Poverty.

If you're interested in blogging on an issue you're passionate about for an audience of more than a million activists and nonprofit leaders - and getting paid to boot - let us know. Contracts range from 1-6 posts a week and details are atwww.change.org/bloggers.

Get some $$$ for your jingle!!

Got this in my email this morning. Write in...you never know if you might win!

(wait that's a great jingle already!!)


Global handwashing day contest

As a contribution to Global Handwashing Day on October 15, 2009, the IRC/USAID Sanitation Updates news feed is having a Handwashing Slogan Contest.
  • Participants may enter as many slogans as he or she wishes
  • Each slogan must be 8 words or less
  • October 13 is the contest deadline
  • Contest winners will be announced on October 15th and 1st, 2nd and 3rd place slogans and authors will be featured on Sanitation Updates

Please post slogan submisisons in the Comments section of Sanitation Updates, http://sanitationupdates.wordpress.com, or email them to: dcampbell@usaid.gov

Examples of slogans include:
  • Be aware, wash with care!
  • Filthy fingers forecast sickness and sadness.
  • Drown a germ and wash your hands!


"Enhancing U.S. Leadership on Drinking Water and Sanitation"

You may be interested in a report that was recently released by the CSIS Global Health Policy Center : “Enhancing U.S. Leadership on Drinking Water and Sanitation - Opportunities within Global Health Programs” by Katherine Bliss, a CSIS Senior Fellow.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

“With the Obama administration's announcement of a new Global Health Initiative, the time is right for U.S. agencies to assert political leadership in addressing the persistent and significant global health challenges related to water and sanitation. This report focuses on the links among water, sanitation, and the health sector and identifies opportunities for greater U.S. engagement on water and sanitation as global health challenges.”

A digital version is available : http://csis.org/files/publication/090924_Bliss_WaterHealth_Web.pdf . A hard-copy of the publication is forth coming.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Ubuntu: I am Because WE are

I Am Because We Are. Watch it!! (photo credit: http://blog.photoshelter.com)

I saw a beautiful documentary film today called I Am Because We Are (entire film is available below).

I had heard about it in the Spring, even gone to the official launch party in NYC. But it was made and backed by Madonna, and in the age of haute celebrity endorsements, I have become skeptical of their attention to something. How much do they really know? How much do they really care?? How long will their attention last?? Long after the cool is gone, will they still be around??

Today, in search of inspiration, I picked it up. I am glad I did.

I Am Because We Are claims to be a look at Malawi, but its really a more universal story of poverty in the developing world. The film looks at the bigger picture, examining a smaller problem (the increasing number of orphans) against the larger backdrop of economic development (where the orphaning is coming from and how it affects global poverty). There is an interconnectedness to their theory that I so believe in-- examining the history, the need for responsibility, the lack of leadership, a variety of indigenous perspectives, the positives, the negatives...its all in there. Alongside the development porn, there is an equal showcasing of the laughter, community, and resilient spirit of the locals. There are perspectives of kids, adults, Malawians, Africans, and international people with a vested interest in the country or region. The opinions are educated. It is REFRESHING to hear Malawians analyze their own country's situation in a most educated manner examining causes and effects, and solutions, rather than the typical western viewpoints. Its wonderful to hear Africans speak about their continent in an intelligent manner. I GREATLY appreciated this. The West, doesn't have all the answers. Each country needs to come up with its own.

The title comes from the Zulu word "Ubuntu" meaning "I am because we are." Think about it!! I can't think of a better term to showcase our interconnectedness.

Good News. I learned that you can watch the entire film for FREE on YouTube. Check it out here on YouTube and below (NOTE: I recommend watching it on the YouTube site. Its much faster and you get the larger, widescreen version!)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Acumen Fund Fellows Program: Deadline 5 Nov 2009!

I got this in my email box today. Please direct all questions to Blair Miller (below):



We are excited to announce that the application process for the 2010-2011 Class of Acumen Fund Fellows is now open!

Applications will be accepted online until 11:59pm on Thursday, November 5, 2009. Detailed information about the program and application the process, as well as the bios of current and past fellows, can be found on our website. To apply, or to send more information to others you know who might be interested, please go to www.http://www.acumenfund.org/get-involved/fellows-program.html

We are looking for dedicated individuals with the practical skills, the creativity, the empathy and the leadership potential to affect change by leveraging market-based solutions to create social impact. Acumen Fund Fellows are drawn from a pool of talented, passionate people from all geographies, sectors, backgrounds and religions.

Since graduating its first class of Fellows in 2007, the Fellows Program has continued to grow and expand, using the experiences of each class to continue building a unique training curriculum specifically focused on leadership and social enterprise.

Fellows Alumni have called the program a life-changing experience, and one that allowed them to build critical business skills and a better understanding of the challenges involved in serving low-income consumers around the world.

If you know exceptional individuals who should be part of our 2010-2011 class, we hope you will encourage them to apply.

We are also excited to welcome our new Class of 2009-2010 Fellows to New York. Over the coming weeks the 2010 Fellows will be training and actively preparing to support Acumen Fund investments. The Fellows have committed to sharing their experiences both from New York and on the ground, so expect to see frequent posts from them on the Acumen Fund blog.

Best regards,

Blair Miller

Fellows Program Manager

Friday, October 2, 2009

LGT Fellows Program: Deadline is 26 OCT 09!!

Got the following in my email and it looks like a GREAT opportunity!


Building on the success of last years LGT Venture Philanthropy fellowship program we are proud to announce the launch of the iCats Program! The iCats Program is an answer to the need for professional know-how and resources in many social enterprises. We created a web-based platform to match experienced professionals with specific positions in selected philanthropic organizations.

The fellow positions for 2010 are now online on www.icatsprogram.com ! Application deadline is 26th October 2009.
A fellow works 11 months on-site with a portfolio organization from February to December 2010 and receives regular mentoring from the LGT Venture Philanthropy team. In addition, a 4-day induction workshop brings all fellows together in the Swiss mountains. Go to www.icatsprogram.com to find out more and to apply.

We appreciate if you could circulate this call for applications to potentially interested people. If you have the opportunity to post an article on your website or in your newsletter, please use the text below or from the attached article. Please let us know when and where you posted it.

Thank you for helping us to spread the word!

Wolfgang Hafenmayer
Oliver Karius
LGT Venture Philanthropy



Update on LGT Venture Philanthropy

The LGT Venture Philanthropy Foundation was founded in 2007 by initiative and funds of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein. Its mission is to raise the sustainable quality of life for the less advantaged people especially in the developing world. Applying a venture philanthropy approach, LGT Venture Philanthropy supports both organizations with financial, social and intellectual capital. LGT Venture Philanthropy makes use of grants, loans and equity investments. Any generated profit is channeled back into the fund and will be used for additional investments.

LGT Venture Philanthropy is pleased to share some results of its philanthropic activities with you: The portfolio has grown to seven organizations with USD 3 Mio invested, the global team now counts 12 people in seven countries, negotiations with several clients interested in LGT Venture Philanthropy's due diligence and investment services are ongoing, and last but not least, the feedback about the 1st generation of fellows in LGT Venture Philanthropy's fellowship program has been overwhelmingly positive!


Summary iCats Program

LGT Venture Philanthropy is proud to announce the launch of the iCats Program: The iCats Program is an answer to the need for professional know-how and resources in many philanthropic organizations and social enterprises. LGT Venture Philanthropy created a web-based platform to match experienced professionals with specific positions in selected philanthropic organizations.

The fellow positions for 2010 are now online on www.icatsprogram.com ! Application deadline is 26th October 2009.
A fellow works 11 months on-site with a portfolio organization from February to December 2010 and receives regular mentoring from the LGT Venture Philanthropy team. In addition, a 4-day induction workshop brings all fellows together in the Swiss mountains. Go to www.icatsprogram.com to find out more and to apply.