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Safe Water Systems

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Safe Water Systems


Safe Water Systems

Safe Water Systems are water quality interventions that employ simple, inexpensive and robust technologies appropriate for the developing world. The objective is to make water safe through disinfection and safe storage at the point of use. The basis of the intervention is:

Point-of-use treatment of contaminated water using sodium hypochlorite solution purchased locally and produced in the community from water and salt using an electrolytic cell;

Safe water storage in plastic containers with a narrow mouth, lid, and a spigot to prevent recontamination;

Behaviour change techniques, including social marketing, community mobilization, motivational interviewing, communication, and education, to increase awareness of the link between contaminated water and disease and the benefits of safe water, and to influence hygiene behaviours including the purchase and proper use of the water storage vessel and disinfectant.


Name: Safe Water Systems
Theme: Safe Water Management Region and Country: Maharashtra, India
Partners: Beneficiaries:
Funding Need: Budget:
Duration: Contact:

Programme Activities:
Water disinfection can be quite effective in managing soiled water and preventing the spread of disease. In Maharashtra, however, 44% of all households do not attempt to purify water at all, and of those that do, the most common method by far is to strain water through a cloth, which offers little or no disinfection of disease-causing agents. Only 18% of households (13% rural) boil or filter their water, and predictably, diarrhoea occurs much less frequently among these households than in those that do not boil or filter water. This disinfection can be conducted on a small scale at individual households using boiling, additives of certain chemicals, or solar disinfection. These disinfection methods allow families to disinfect small quantities of water that they will use soon after disinfecting it. However, families also need to understand how to then store the clean water, and disinfect large quantities of water.

This programme targets the need for a Safe Water System -- a project enabling households to disinfect and store essential quantities of household water in safe containers. This water quality intervention employs simple, inexpensive and robust technologies appropriate for the developing world. The objective is to make water safe through disinfection and safe storage at the point of use.

The basis of the intervention is:

1. Point of use treatment:
In order to disinfect large quantities of water, the chemical disinfectant that will be used must be available. The first step is to decide on a disinfectant, and then choose a production method for the disinfectant. The disinfectant should kill or inactivate pathogens that are likely to be present in the water sources of the target population. This programme will promote the usage of sodium hypochlorite as the disinfectant. Demonstration projects have identified chlorine, specifically 0.5% to 1% sodium hypochlorite solution, as having the best overall characteristics for both production at the local level and convenient dosing for household water disinfection. It is also extremely inexpensive to produce, making it an affordable option for economically disadvantaged populations. Sodium hypochlorite solution at this concentration is also safe, with evidence that ingestion of sodium hypochlorite at 10 times greater concentration causes no lasting damage.

After necessary investigation, the decision will be made about whether the sodium hypochlorite production will be local or by an existing local or multinational business in India.

The local production will be with water and salt with a low cost hypochlorite generator that is simple to operate. Using this method, an arrangement can be made to produce sodium hypochlorite in the community. Devices are available from several manufacturers that are designed to reliably produce hypochlorite solutions through electrolysis of ordinary salt and water (3% salt solution).

If the sodium hypochlorite is produced by an existing local or multinational business in India, a business such as a bleach manufacturer produces a disinfectant product of a specified concentration. If an existing business can produce a suitable disinfectant, the manufacturer is likely to have in place procedures for quality control, bottling, labelling, and distribution. When the project is ready to expand, the manufacturer can quickly increase production. This method has been used in Kenya.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each method that will have to be evaluated to determine the best method for Maharashtra, India.

Disinfectant is put into bottles that are then distributed to outlets and sold to households. There are several issues to consider in the choice and design of a bottle.

  • Returnable or non-returnable bottles

  • Colour

  • Size

  • Paper label to be attached or labels to be silk-screened (painted) on bottle

  • Measuring cap

  • How to produce or procure the bottle

2. Safe Water Storage:
Virtually every type of tank or container imaginable has been used for household water storage. Unfortunately, most do not adequately protect water from contamination. Many are open without lid or cover. Used 55-gallon oil drums and open plastic and metal buckets are commonplace. Many people obtain or buy previously-used containers because they are cheaper. However, sometimes these containers have held poisonous substances such as pesticides. Families have become ill or have even died after drinking water stored in them. There are many characteristics that need to be considered in constructing a vessel that will prevent contamination of contents and facilitate disinfection of water. These will be researched and a decision will be made if new containers will be created (pg. 35 of Safe Water Systems for the Developing World). A local vessel could also be recommended for water storage. The community will have to be searched for possible vessels in common sizes that are widely available and used in the area. Then assess for certain characteristics (pg. 39).

3. Behaviour change techniques
including social marketing, community mobilization, motivational interviewing, communication, and education, will be used to increase awareness of the link between contaminated water and disease and the benefits of safe water. These techniques and promotion of them are to influence hygiene behaviours including the purchase and proper use of the water storage vessel and disinfectant.

Regardless of the methods that will be used in the strategy for behaviour change, there are some general principles and steps that are involved in planning all of them. Those steps are:

  • Conducting formative research

  • Identifying the specific target population for the behaviour change.

  • Planning positioning (that is, product identification, brand name, logo, etc).

  • Planning key messages

  • Selecting methods for behaviour change and communication channels

  • Specifying communication materials needed.

For further explanation of these steps, refer to page 64 of Safe Water Systems of the Developing World.

Intended Results:
Through these three processes, a safe water system will be put in place where the local population of Maharashtra will plan, implement, and utilize a method of disinfection for water, safe water storage practices, and gain an awareness of this necessity through promotion of safe water systems. The incidences of diarrhoeal death and disease will be greatly reduced due to the consumption of clean drinking water.

Programme Management and Implementation:
The state of Maharashtra, relevant local companies, health workers, and media channels will work together to manage and implement this program.

Programme Monitoring and Evaluation:
Monitoring and evaluation will be conducted to ensure proper practices of water disinfection using the chosen methods, and eventually public awareness and understanding of the promoted method.

Learning and Dissemination:

Related Resources



“The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses” General Comment No. 15 (2002): The Right to Water

"Water and Sanitation is one of the primary drivers of public health. I often refer to it as “Health 101”, which means that once we can secure access to clean water and to adequate sanitation facilities for all people, irrespective of the difference in their living conditions, a huge battle against all kinds of diseases will be won."  
Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General, World Health Organization

“We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health care.”  Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General

"I am utterly convinced that the number of water taps per 1,000 population will be an infinitely more meaningful health indicator than the number of hospital beds per 1,000 population." Dr. Halfdan Mahler, Director-General, World Health Organization


Water Facts and Figures

  • 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe water, roughly one-sixth of the world’s population.
  • 2.4 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, about two-fifths of the world’s population.
  • 2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
  • Some 6,000 children die every day from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene – equivalent to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.
  • At any one time it is estimated that half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases.
  • 200 million people in the world are infected with schistosomiasis, of whom 20 million suffer severe consequences. The disease is still found in 74 countries of the world. Scientific studies show that a 77% reduction of incidence from the disease was achieved through well designed water and sanitation interventions.
  • The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is 6 km.
  • The weight of water that women in Africa and Asia carry on their heads is the equivalent of your airport luggage allowance (20kg).
  • The average person in the developing world uses 10 litres of water a day.
  • The average person in the United Kingdom uses 135 litres of water every day.
  • One flush of your toilet uses as much water as the average person in the developing world uses for a whole day’s washing, cleaning, cooking and drinking.
  • Comparative costs: In Europe $11 billion is spent each year on ice cream; in USA and Europe, $17 billion is spent on pet food; in Europe $105 billion is spent annually on alcoholic drinks, ten times the amount required to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene for all.
  • In the past 10 years diarrhoea has killed more children than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II.
  • In China, India and Indonesia twice as many people are dying from diarrhoeal diseases as from HIV/AIDS.
  • In 1998, 308,000 people died from war in Africa, but more than two million (six times as many) died of diarrhoeal disease.
  • The population of the Kibeira slum in Nairobi, Kenya pay up to five times the price for a litre of water than the average American citizen.
  • An estimated 25% of people in developing country cities use water vendors purchasing their water at significantly higher prices than piped water.
  • Projections for 2025 indicate that the number of people living in water-stressed countries will increase to 3 billion – a six-fold increase. Today, 470 million people live in regions where severe shortages exist.
  • The simple act of washing hands with soap and water can reduce diarrhoeal disease by one-third.
  • Following the introduction of the Guatemalan Handwashing Initiative in 1998, there were 322,000 fewer cases of diarrhoea each year amongst the 1.5 million children under 5 nationwide in the country's lowest income groups.
  • In Zambia, one in five children die before their fifth birthday. In contrast in the UK fewer than 1% of children die before they reach the age of five.
  • A study in Karachi found that people living in areas without adequate sanitation who had no hygiene education spend six times more on medical treatments than those with sanitation facilities.
  • Waterborne diseases (the consequence of a combination of lack of clean water supply and inadequate sanitation) cost the Indian economy 73 million working days a year. And a cholera outbreak in Peru in the early 1990s cost the economy US$1 billion in lost tourism and agricultural exports in just 10 weeks.
  • Improved water quality reduces childhood diarrhoea by 15-20% BUT better hygiene through handwashing and safe food handling reduces it by 35% AND safe disposal of children’s faeces leads to a reduction of nearly 40%.
  • At any time, 1.5 billion people suffer from parasitic worm infections stemming from human excreta and solid wastes in the environment. Intestinal worms can be controlled through better sanitation, hygiene and water. These parasites can lead to malnutrition, anaemia and retarded growth, depending upon the severity of the infection.
  • It is estimated that pneumonia, diarrhoea, tuberculosis and malaria, which account for 20% of global disease burden, receive less than 1% of total public and private funds devoted to health research.
  • Ecological sanitation is one option being practised in some communities in China, Mexico, Vietnam, etc. Excreta contains valuable nutrients. We produce 4.56 kg nitrogen, 0.55 kg phosphorous, and 1.28 kg potassium per person per year from faeces and urine. This is enough to produce wheat and maize for one person every year.
  • One gramme of faeces can contains:10,000,000 Viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, 100 parasite eggs.

For more information, check

Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council c/o WHO (CCW), 20 Avenue Appia, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Tel. +41 22 791 3544, fax +41 22 791 4847, e-mail: [email protected]


  • 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25: WaterAid
  • 6, 25: WELL Technical Brief (
  • 16: Water for African Cities presentation, Stockholm Water Symposium, August 2001
  • 12: Vision 21 – Water For People, March 2000, WSSCC
  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 19: WHO/UNICEF/WSSCC Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report
  • 17: WELL Planned Work studies 163 and 164.
  • 20: Saad´┐Ż et al (2001) The Story of a Successful Public-Private Partnership in Central America: Handwashing for Diarroheal Disease Prevention. BASICS, EHP, UNICEF, USAID and The World Bank
  • 27: (Esrey and Andersson (1999), Environmental Sanitation from an Ecological Systems Approach. See:
  • 26: (10/90 Report on Health Research, 2000. Global Forum for Health Research)
  • 18: (IHE Newsletter, January 2001)
  • 28: (Advocating Sanitation - how, why and when? Sanitation Connection:


Loss of Labor

Those who are ill cannot work productively, but even among those who are well, tremendous time and energy are wasted in the daily search for water.

  • In one village in Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa mothers walk for two to three hours a day to find a river or stagnant pond, and return to their homes carrying 25 kilograms(55 lbs.) of water in earthenware jugs on the heads.

  • In some slums surrounding the cities of developing countries, families often have to spend 10% of their income to buy water for household needs.


Water and Farming
Agriculture accounts for 70% of total global fresh water use.

1/3 of today's harvest comes from 17% of the world's cropland that is irrigated. Irrigation thus greatly helps meet the challenge of feeding an ever-growing population.

Worldwatch Paper 62

Irrigation can also degrade the soil. Much irrigation water is salty, causing an increased need for fertilizers.

Beyond Oil

Shrinking inland seas are a dramatic consequence of large water withdrawals to meet irrigation and other water demands. An equally grave threat is the quiet loss of fish and other aquatic life from rivers and streams whose altered flow patterns can no longer sustain them.

Raising irrigation efficiencies worldwide by just 10% would save enough water to supply all global residential water uses.

Worldwatch Paper 62

Enough for survival enough for health

Two thirds of our bodies weight and nine tenths of its volume is water.

That is why water essential for life. People can survive for up to two months without food, but die within three days without water

A person needs about 5 litres of water each day for cooking and drinking. But the World Bank estimates that a further 25-45 litres are needed for each person to stay clean and healthy. In many places the family's water must be fetched each day by women or children.


In Kenya alone, it is estimated that 3 million women each spend an average of 3 hours a days on the single task to fetching water - that equals 9 million hours daily.

Is There a Better Way?

  • The most a woman can carry in comfort is 15 litres, each litre weighing one kilogram.

  • If she carries only enough water for her family (husband, mother, five children) to survive each day, she would need to fetch about 40 litres.

  • But to keep them all clean and healthy she would need to fetch 200 litres of water every day.

This is why the amount of water consumed depends largely on whether it has to be carried to the house.  


Type of Facility

Approximate consumption per person in 10-litre buckets.

No tap or standpipe 1.2


Meanwhile people in the industrialised world use

  • 22 litres each time a toilet is flushed

  • 150,000 litres to produce a ton of steel

  • 750,000 litres to produce a ton of newsprint


  • Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades, A Summary Report. 1986. Carrying Capacity. Inc., 1325 G Street, NW, Suite 1002, Washington, D.C. 20005.

  • Courier, January 1985, a publication of UNESCO, 7 Place de Fentenoy, 75700 Paris.

  • Decade Watch, International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, published quarterly by the United Nations Development Programme. Division of Information, One UN Plaza. New York, NY 10017.

  • EPA Journal, Vol. 12 No. 7, September 1986 and Vol. 11. No. 7, September 1985, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Public Affairs, Washington. DC 20460.

  • Is There a Better Way? June 1985, United Nations Development Program, Division of Information, New York, New York 10017.

  • The New Internationalist, No. 103, September 1981, 175 Carlton St., Toronto. Ontario M5A 2K3; for subscription enquiries: P O Box 1143, Lewiston, NY 14092.

  • The Real Cost, Richard North, 1986, Chatto and Windus Ltd., 40 William IV Street. London WC2N 4DF.

  • State Government News, Vol. 29 No. 5, June 1986, The Council of State Governments. Iron Works Pike, P O Box 11910, Lexington, KY 40578.

  • World Military & Social Expenditures 1986, Ruth Leger Sivard, World Priorities, Inc., Box 25140, Washington, DC 20007. Worldwatch Paper 62 Water: Rethinking Management in an Age of Scarcity, December 1984 and

  • Worldwatch Paper 64 Investing In Children, June 1985, The Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036.


Produced by
Office on Global Education, National Council of Churches,
2115 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218- 5755
A Program of the Divisions of Education and Ministry, and Church World Service



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