Table of Contents

Water Filters: A Retrospective Look

Water Filters: A Retrospective Look

by Nadine Hoover and Nicholas Rozard


Friends Peace Teams Asia West Pacific transferred both a micro-biology and a ceramics research lab to SHEEP in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, as well as the knowledge necessary to run these labs for the production of water filters. We also successfully challenged inflated claims in the field about the quality of existing silver-treated ceramic filters, which significantly contributed to moving the development of this technology forward. We are now looking to others with advanced development capacities to complete the final steps to make this technology a reality, at which time Friends Peace Teams and SHEEP look forward to fulfilling our hopes of bringing the clean drinking water to the poorest of the poor in Asia West Pacific with the aide of this technology. Access to cheap, clean, drinking water is critical to survival, be that surviving disaster, heat waves, war and day.-to-day life.

Friends Peace Teams Asia West Pacific introduced water filters to the Society of Health, Education, Environment and Peace (SHEEP-Indonesia) in 2008. SHEEP understood how access to drinking water is essential, and how control of drinking water becomes lucrative for the wealthy and devastating for the poor. SHEEP made a strategic decision to invest in gaining the technological capacity to produce water filters and to keep that technology in the educational and humanitarian sectors, making it accessible to poor people in Asia. SHEEP has the management capacity and professional contacts to make this happen, once they have the technology.

Friends Peace Teams-AWP sent Reid Harvey to Yogyakarta to train potters to make the filters. SHEEP invited a group of potters from various areas: Almuda Tinedung from Aceh, instructor in the isolated village of Tampor Boor and Bustanul Fakri Orphanage; Yuler from Yogyakarta, PKPEK, Tradespersons and Cottage Industry Development Group; Alim from Pati, Central Java, social justice advocate for JM-PPK; Hastono Urip Setyawan from Solo, Central Java, social justice advocate with LPH-YAPHI; Juwanto, Salatiga, Central Java, community organizer for village technology usage with Turkajaya; Purwanto from Sipen, Kasongan, potter working with children and youth; Wiyono from Salatiga, Central Java, LSKR working in organic agriculture; Bambang Tjahyono from Yogyakarta, working with SHEEP; Akhid Darmawan, Yogyakarta, ceramicist; and Gunarto from the traditional Javanese Sikep community as an observer.

Bambang, Yuler and Purwanto continued the work into 2009, supported by Wahyu at SHEEP. We were in for many surprises, however. We discovered that although this technology was produce by Reid Harvey, Potters for Peace and RDI in Cambodia, none were testing regularly for bacteria. We know that some filters were working. Pro-Nica’s Managua office used a Potters for Peace filter without any illness. But they could not guarantee the quality of every filter, nor was there any way to know how long the filters would work.

Still confident that these issues could be resolved, Nick Rozard went to Yogyakarta in March 2010. The Indonesians had made over 500 filters, but had not consistently removed enough harmful bacteria from the water. It was essential that the Indonesians understood both the ceramics and microbiological testing techniques in order to make safe filters on their own.

An early sketch of the filter! -Nick Rozard

We learned that other organizations making filters in the region primarily used western engineers, giving them travel and retirement options, while capitalizing on cheap, local unskilled labor. One of the most important results of our work over the past decade has been slow, hard work of transferring the science of the filters to the Indonesians. We also found that materials local to Indonesia act very differently from materials local to the US, so we also transferred the science of how to adapt to local materials. The Indonesians were technically and microbiologically savvy. They had skilled ceramic workers and available kilns, along with raw material suppliers and connections throughout the region to distribute filters. We were mutually confident in our investment.

We acted based on top international ceramic engineers commending the effectiveness of this technology, and the World Health Organization’s approval of the technology. Professionals spoke as if the technology existed. Again, to our surprise, when asked point-blank who had successfully produced ceramic water filters that met bacteria reduction safety standards, no one could name anyone. As a case in point, supposedly successful production of ceramic water filters in Indonesia was presented at the World Water Conference in Ghana. When we tracked down the presentation, we found that the presentation of this US$600,000 USAID project only included photos from the Friends Peace Teams original 2008 workshop! We called USAID, then their subcontractor, WatSan, then their consultant, who said he’d received photos of our work and had fired 37 filters based on the photos, but had not tested any of them. It was apparent that claims far out-stripped the actual capacity to produce.

Our work took on two directions. First, transferring to SHEEP the technical capacity to make the filters. Other interested parties could not sustain investment without immediate production. Over 2010 – 2012, Friends Peace Teams, with tremendous support from residents of Alfred, New York, were able to send Esther Buckwalter to set up a micro-biology lab and train technicians, and Nick Rozard to establish a ceramics research lab in Yogyakarta. Nick stayed in Yogyakarta full-time for one year working especially with Rina Wijaya of SHEEP, among others. During that year, we refined the technology available, but were not able to produce a filter that consistently met international drinking water standards. After his return to the US in 2012, Nick continued to work with the Indonesians over Skype to successfully transfer the micro-biology and ceramics technology necessary to produce water filters in Indonesia by Indonesians.

2011: In Yogyakarta Indonesia showing samples to Wuri, a SHEEP staffer. Testing silver in the effluent water was a long off goal at this stage. From Left: Wuri, Esther, Nick

Friends continued to invest in the research and development of ceramic filter material to meet the international drinking water standards that experts purport to be possible. Nick successfully leveraged many types of resources in Alfred, New York to produce an affordable alpha prototype. That prototype consistently met international standard for drinking water, but it “shed”, which means a fine dust came through with the water. The beta prototype eliminated the shedding, but raised the price dramatically. Our investment took the research and development as far as a non-profit could. To complete the development of the material requires technical support beyond our capacity, so Nick has moved the work to Triton Ceramics in collaboration with Alfred University.

Friends Peace Teams Asia West Pacific is proud of our technical successes and the respect and equity the relationships among Indonesians and foreigners reflects. Once a ceramic filter can consistently filter at the international standard for drinking water, the Indonesians are prepared to absorb that technology and produce filters in Indonesia, by and for Indonesians.

Friends Peace Teams successfully spoke out about the discrepancy between what was reported and what was reality. As a result, we have spurred a new line of R&D desperately needed by the poorest of the poor in the world. As university research agendas are increasingly driven by corporate interests, we have impressed on the technical community the world’s desperate need for this technology to move from theory to production. We hold out hope that Friends Peace Teams and SHEEP will someday soon bring this important technology to the region. Thank you to everyone who has supported this work.

October 2015