Why clean water is a ‘best buy’ for saving lives

Why clean water is a ‘best buy’ for saving lives

By Alix Zwane, Executive Director of Evidence Action

The sun is rising over the lush hills in Sikusi Village in rural Uganda. Women and children are gathering water at their local well with large yellow jerricans balanced on their heads. There is a bright blue chlorine dispenser installed on a pole right next to the well. The women hold their jerricans under the dispenser and turn a knob to add a small amount of diluted chlorine into the containers before they head home.

Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water is a rigorously evaluated system of water purification that dramatically expands access to water treatment at an extremely low price point per user. Diluted chlorine is a safe and effective additive to water that destroys the vast majority of harmful bacteria that cause water-borne diseases such as diarrhea.

The problem of unsafe water is staggering. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Unsafe drinking water is also a leading cause of diarrheal disease with nearly two billion cases globally every year. And an estimated 760,000 children under the age of five die from diarrhea each year, making it one of the leading causes of childhood mortality.  

Dispensers for Safe Water was developed through randomized controlled trials that tested a variety of delivery methods for water sanitation products. Several studies have found that adding chlorine to drinking water is highly effective in reducing diarrhea. However, effectiveness is subject to sustained high rates of product adoption. And in practice, it can be hard to maintain high usage rates. Dispensers, in rigorous evaluations, proved the exception to this rule.

A satisfied customer makes a visit to his community's water dispenser in a village just outside Busia, in Eastern Kenya.

Based on the results of these rigorous trials, dispensers are installed right next to the local well in villages across Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi with extensive community input and participation. They are easily visible and accessible to people gathering their daily water. The use of dispensers is also entirely free to anyone in the community. Further, dispensers are maintained by a network of local health promoters who educate the community on their use, and make sure that the dispensers are filled and in good repair. Evidence Action circuit riders on motorbikes criss-cross the country to deliver the chlorine and provide any needed repairs.

There are now close to 3 million people who have safe, clean drinking water thanks to Dispensers for Safe Water. A mother, Jane Kataike from Luwanga Village in Uganda, said: “The chlorine dispenser has helped us so much, mostly for our children who used to suffer from diarrhea all the time. But we are now fine.”

The cost for Dispensers for Safe Water, when they are installed at scale, is a mere $0.50 per person per year — making this truly a ‘best buy” in development.

“Dispensers for Safe Water is one of the few proven approaches to providing safe water in poor communities that is also highly cost effective and promotes sustained usage over time.  Evidence Action’s program to scale this up in East Africa will save children’s lives and improve health while paving the way for even broader use of this evidenced-based intervention,” says Louis Boorstin, former Deputy Director for Water, Sanitation & Hygiene at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Evidence Action is now expanding Dispensers for Safe Water to reach millions more people in the next four years in Eastern and Southern Africa. 


Inspired to help save a life? Learn more about what you can do to help provide clean water to millions of people around the world.

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Evidence Action

Evidence Action is a recommended charity of The Life You Can Save. Evidence Action effectively scales interventions that support some of poorest populations in Asia and Africa, by eradicating parasitic worms and providing clean water through the Deworm the World and Dispensers for Safe Water Initiatives.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.