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The problem: Access to clean drinking water persists in part due to lack of chlorine use
As many as 780 million people worldwide live without safe drinking water, which can lead to diarrheal disease, a leading cause of death for children under 5 that is responsible for nearly 1 million deaths per year in that age group alone.
Many communities seek solutions through protected communal water sources, or, if they can afford it, water pipeline systems. But these systems are ineffective when clean water at the source is stored in the household and recontaminated with a dirty cup or an unwashed hand: one study showed that while a protected spring reduced contamination at the source by 66 percent, contamination of household drinking water only decreased by 24 percent due to recontamination during collection and storage.
The solution: Increase use of chlorine by adjusting distribution based on evaluation evidence
Using randomized control trials, the Dispensers for Safe Water (DSW) program at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) rigorously evaluated ways to increase uptake by adjusting the way chlorine is delivered: Instead of relying on household-size packages, IPA tested uptake of chlorine after positioning a large plastic dispenser filled with chlorine by a local water hole or stream. This helps drive distribution costs down, while creating social pressures to increase adoption. IPA found that the introduction of the chlorine-dispensing container led almost two thirds of the households to use chlorine to purify the water.
The potential: Cost-effectiveness, impacts, and implications
Chlorination has been estimated to reduce childhood diarrhea by between 20 and 40 percent. At scale, chlorine dispensers could cost less than $0.50 per person annually, making them one of the most cost effective ways to reduce diarrheal disease and save lives. This dispenser model capitalizes on cost savings from delivering chlorine to communities in bulk and using local promoters to encourage sustained use. The project also recovers some costs by selling the carbon credits (as households do not need to gather firewood and boil their water).
With Stage 3 support, Dispensers for Safe Water is scaling dispensers in Kenya and Uganda, and has plans to add more countries to that list. The project aims to provide 5 million people with access to dispensers over three years. It is also encouraging replication of the intervention by other actors.
Last updated: May 26, 2016