Chlorine Dispensers

One of the most cost-effective ways to reduce childhood diarrhea

The Problem

Globally, more than 1 million children under 5 die each year from diarrheal disease. Contaminated drinking water, poor hygiene, and the lack of sanitation facilities are leading causes of this problem.

Diarrhea is the second largest cause of mortality in children under 5 after respiratory infections, accounting for almost 19% of child deaths in developing countries. Even when episodes are not fatal, chronic diarrhea in early childhood can contribute to malnutrition, reduced resistance to infectionstunted growth, and worse performance in school.

Improving water sources is insufficient, as unhygienic water collection and unsafe storage practices often lead to recontamination, making it difficult to ensure that water is actually safe when people drink it.

The Solution

Developed in 2007 through collaboration between IPA and researchers at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, the chlorine dispense system provides a simple, affordable water treatment solution for use in poor areas where people lack access to safe water from a piped system. The solution is convenient, salient, public, and affordable.

The chlorine dispenser system consists of:

  1. Dispenser hardware: The dispenser (pictured above) is a plastic tank fitted with a valve which consistently delivers a precise dose of chlorine. The tank is filled with a chlorine solution and installed at the community water source. To use the dispenser, community members go to their water source, turn the valve to dispense chlorine, and fill their container as they normally would.
  2. Community education: The community is educated about the dangers of contaminated water and how to use the dispenser. A community member is elected to be the dispenser ‘promoter.’  Promoters encourage use of the dispenser, report any problems, and refill the dispenser with chlorine.
  3. Regular supply of chlorine: On-going chlorine delivery and maintenance of the dispensers ensures that communities have access to safe water indefinitely.

The Evidence

An early study evaluated the effectiveness of protecting springs in rural areas where piped water is not feasible or cost-effective. This study found that spring protection reduced source contamination by 66%, but that contamination of household drinking water only decreased by 24% as a result of unsanitary water collection and storage. The researchers, then, sought a solution that would protect drinking water from recontamination.

The research team next investigated strategies to encourage household chlorination. Chlorine kills 99.99% of harmful bacteria, keeps water free from contamination for up to 72 hours, and reduces the incidence of diarrhea by 40%. A randomized controlled trial was conducted in Kenya to compare chlorine dispensers to other chlorination options.

The researchers found that 50-61% of people adopted the chlorine dispenser system compared with only 6-14% in the control group, or an approximately 40 percentage point increase. Adoption was sustained over time. 


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