Nearly a decade ago, Fernando Mazariengas sought a way to provide clean, affordable water to those living in areas without, so he created a ceramic water filter that could be made using locally-sourced materials. After some adjustments, MIT’s Susan Murcott began distributing the $6 filters in northern Ghana, where 1.5 million people lack access to potable water. Today, after nine years of effort, the project is making a real difference, reducing disease and providing jobs in areas of need.
The ceramic filter is made with clay and a combustible material like rice husks. When the clay is fired, the combustible material burns off, leaving a lot of tiny little holes that can filter out bacteria, sediment and other microbes. Factories that produce these filters have been established in 52 locations in 31 countries, including China, Ghana and South Africa.
The factory in Ghana, built two years ago, has reached full production and has provided water to over 100,000 people in the area. For the production company put in place by Murcott, each filter actually costs $10 to produce, but is sold at $6 to local people, but even that price can sometimes be unmanageable, since most people make less than a dollar a day. To help out, some organizations purchase the filters and provide them to people at no cost.
Ghana is home to one of the most polluted areas in the world and according to Murcott, “[it] has the fifth-worst rate of sanitation in the world.” Open defecation leads to dirty water. But each affordable filter can be used to clean water that would otherwise be undrinkable. To further clean the water, Murcott has also worked, along with a team from MIT and volunteers from within Ghana, to improve sanitation by building latrine facilities. “It’s been a long, hard slog,” says Murcott. But thanks to her efforts and the efforts of her team, people have access to safe, clean drinking water.