Chlorine Dispensers for Safe Water in Kenya
Two million children die of diarrheal disease each year and contaminated water is often to blame. Treating water with chlorine could substantially reduce this toll. The most common approach to chlorination in areas without piped water infrastructure is to offer small bottles of chlorine for sale to consumers.
However, chlorine use has been slow to catch on in this system. In this Kenyan study area, for example, less than 10% of households regularly use chlorine at a monthly cost of approximately US$0.30, despite several years of vigorous social marketing that has raised awareness about the product.
Based on this finding, the research team has developed a way to drastically cut the cost of chlorinating water by reducing packaging and distribution costs -- which account for the majority of the price of chlorine sold in individually-packaged bottles -- by installing chlorine dispensers at communal water sources. Users turn a knob on the dispenser to release a pre-measured dose of chlorine appropriate to treat the volume of water typically collected. The presence of a dispenser provides a reminder to treat water and harnesses peer effects to help increase take-up.
A randomized evaluation, in which provision of chlorine dispensers is phased in over time, is demonstrating the impact of the intervention on child health outcomes and will shed light on how the technology can be sustainably managed in a variety of settings. So far dispensers have been provided to 5,000 people at 20 rural water points.
During an unannounced visit three to six months after the installation of the dispensers, 61% of households in communities with a dispenser had detectable chlorine in their drinking water, compared to 8% of households in a comparison group. The percentage of households who use the dispensers was rising over time.
A second round of pilots is underway, with dispensers at a variety of settings, including schools, unprotected springs, and several urban sites. Work is underway to refine the dispenser hardware to further lower costs and develop strategies for marketing, cost recovery, and sustainable scale-up. The second round of the study will be completed in 2010, and further work to understand how to finance and maintain dispensers will be ongoing until the end of 2011.
Efforts are also underway to expand the program in Kenya and throughout the world. Chlorine dispensers could be appropriate for up to 2 billion people globally. Scaling up this approach globally could drastically alter the rural water landscape and save the lives of 100,000 – 250,000 children each year.